Exploratorium’s Opening Gala: An Evening of Design and Surprises

Images by Drew Altizer Photography

The Exploratorium’s Opening Gala on Friday, April 12, 2013, marked an unforgettable evening of revelry on a scale beyond anything that has been seen in the museum’s 44-year history. With the theme, “This is where things get interesting,” the spectacular three-tiered extravaganza brought together the cognoscenti from San Francisco and Silicon Valley society and business, along with notable artists, scientists and Exploratorium enthusiasts for a festive evening full of surprises.

Beginning at 6pm a fleet of whimsical chariots – including art cars in the shape of serpents and a giant snail by Oakland artist Jon Sarriugarte – whisked guests down the length of Pier 15’s Outdoor Gallery to enter the museum for cocktails in the East Gallery followed by a lavish sit-down dinner in the all-glass Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery with spectacular views of the bay and the city, as the sun made it’s slow descent, and the Bay Lights began blinking in hypnotic patterns. Among the best-dressed Grand Dames of the evening was the East Gallery herself, resplendent in the fashions of 24 different designers who created custom lounges that served as fanciful hideaways for Supper Club attendees later that evening. Guests, who included Board member Bill Fisher and three generations of the Fisher family, Honorary Chairmen Charlotte and George Shultz, Board member Michelle Yee and husband Reid Hoffman, sipped cocktails among the lounges, before ascending to the Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery for a dinner of that included a salad of Maine lobster, Chiogga beets and hearts of palm and grass-fed filet mignon with smoked potato gratin and asparagus.

“This has been a very long journey for us,” said George Cogan, Exploratorium Board Chairman in his opening remarks. “We found this place in 2004 and a thousand people, maybe two thousand people, have worked really hard for 9 years, to create this incredible 9-acre science park in San Francisco.”

Exploratorium board member Stan Wojcicki had the pleasure of announcing the evening’s biggest surprise, a capital campaign gift of $5 million from his daughter Anne Wojcicki and her husband Sergey Brin. In a statement read by the senior Wojcicki, Anne conveyed regrets that she and Sergey were unable to attend due to prior commitments, then shared her fondness for the Exploratorium and her delight in the museum’s new site, which she hopes to bring her own children to in the coming years.

Exploratorium Executive Director Dennis Bartels wrapped up the announcements, noting that Gala chairs Sandy and Paul Otellini surpassed the evening’s fundraising goal of $1.5 million, raising $2.2 million for the Exploratorium’s education programs.

“I have to express from the bottom of my heart how humbled I am,” said Bartels as he acknowledged the donors, board members, construction workers and staff members who have made the project a reality. “As one person said to me,” continued Bartels, “‘it’s still the Exploratorium, just increasingly so.’ And it’s no surprise, because the very same people who have been prototyping the Exploratorium for 44 years at the Palace of Fine Arts are the very people who built the new one here at Piers 15 and 17.”

As the wine flowed and conversations swelled in the Bay Observatory, the party was just getting started at the Supper Club. Guests dined on sushi, artisanal salumi, and cassoulet in themed lounges that ranged from an antique apothecary’s chamber to an inventor’s laboratory, to a rock n’ roll VW bus campout, to a vignette paying homage in muslin to the classic Tornado exhibit. Seductive and haunting strains of the Earth Harp – an instrument with strings tied to the very structure of the building, making the museum itself part of the instrument – added subtle electricity to the already humming atmosphere.

“Have you ever seen anything like this?” said a woman in a spangled dress to her well-coiffed companion as they strolled past a lounge called Grand Luxe. “It’s amazing!”

Supper Club attendees were then treated to a surprise performance by comedian and musician Reggie Watts, a longtime friend of the museum. “We need more scientists, you know, those people behind science,” said Watts in his characteristic tongue-in-cheek comedy style. “We need the scientists to make more scientists.”

Following Watts was another surprise, a two-set performance by SXSW favorite alt-dance group Captial Cities. “There’s no paaarrtaaay like an Exploratorium paaaarrtaaay,” hollered co-frontman Sebu Simonian as stylish After Party and Supper Club attendees danced to the band’s signature electronic pop rock.  Guests sampled from an extravagant dessert buffet that included mini fruit trifle shots, saffron panna cotta and chocolate rum decadence, among many others.

By 11pm the After Party crowd dancing in the West Gallery to beloved San Francisco 80’s rock cover band Tainted Love was so thick, there was no choice but to dance. And, in the end, who would want to do anything else? The cocktails, desserts, and 80’s pop hits just kept on coming until 1am, in a night that seemed to have endless possibilities – a fitting celebration for a museum with a long history and an even longer future ahead of it.

For more information, visit www.exploratorium.edu/visit.

Hours of Operation & New Evening Hours
Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm; Wednesday evenings until 10pm; Thursday evening adults only (ages 18 and up) 6pm-10pm.

$25 for adults, with lower rates for SF Bay Area residents, youth, seniors, students, teachers and the disabled. Advance ticket purchase strongly recommended, including opening day. Note that all tickets will be for timed entry through September 2013. Online ticket sales are scheduled to begin April 1, 2013.