The Exploratorium debuted an interactive installation Tuesday built directly in front of San Francisco’s Main Library. The project’s goal is to challenge people and their social perceptions in an accessible space.

Entitled “Middle Ground,” the Exploratorium invites public to learn more about how they interact and perceive other people around them. With 14 different, interactive, large-scale designs, the exhibit touches on topics of bias, stereotypes, social behavior, prosocial behavior and social polarization with activities that test assumptions.

Exploratorium Executive Director Chris Flink joined city officials Tuesday for the installation’s opening.

Flink said:

“Together with our civic partners, who have their own super powers, we are reimagining our public spaces by advocating for and implementing open ended inquiry-based installations like the ones we’re surrounded by today.”

Aaron Levy-Wolins/SFBay Judy looks through cards related to health care during the opening of the public installation Middle Ground: Reconsidering Ourselves and Others at the Main Library in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019.

City Librarian Michael Lambert said the library was the perfect location to install the exhibit as the library represents inclusion, social bonding and learning:

“This installation is a grand, social science experiment that will allow us to reconsider ourselves and others.”

Middle Ground is part of a project to make the Civic Center area a more inviting place for the public. A new children’s playground, Bi-Rite Café and a Friday farmer’s market at the United Nations Plaza are just a few recent changes The City has made in the area.

Mayor London Breed said The City is doing what it can to create a better environment around Civic Center.

Breed said:

“We are trying to do everything we can to transform this public space so that everyone is welcomed. So that everyone has access to the library and the Asian Art Museum and everyone can enjoy the beauty of the front yard of City Hall.”

John Rahaim, The City’s planning director, said there is a long-term vistion to transform Civic Center and that pop-up installations, like Middle Ground, will be used as guidance as the department faces future planning decisions.

“These kind of spaces, these kind of installations, can teach us some lessons about what we can do in the future.”

Aaron Levy-Wolins/SFBay Visitors mingle during the opening of the public installation Middle Ground: Reconsidering Ourselves and Others at the Main Library in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019.

The installation is part of the Civic Center Commons Initiative that seeks to refresh the area around Civic Center Plaza, United Nations Plaza and Fulton Street — the space between the Asian Art Museum and the Main Library.

Middle Ground will remain at the Main Library for one year. The nonprofit organization Urban Alchemy, which serves formerly incarcerated individuals, has partnered to help facilitate and care for the interactive installation.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to jerold@sfbay.ca or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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