Jonathan Katz

Jonathan Katz, CEO of Cinnabar Inc., commenced his design career in high school, building floats for the Pasadena Rose Parade. Eventually he managed the whole process for a float design and construction company. He shifted gears in the 1970s and went to work for then-California Gov. Jerry Brown, helping implement key Brown initiatives such as the Office of Appropriate Technology and the California Conservation Corps. Returning to the world of design & production, Katz founded Cinnabar in 1981. The company started out creating scenery and special effects for television, movies and commercials, then expanded into retail, theme parks and public venues.

Museums: An Outpouring in Paper and Pencil – Visitors to Calif Academy Get to the Point on Climate Change

By Jonathan Katz, executive producer, “Altered State”

The exhibit has been very well received by the public and garnered a critical writeup in the Los Angeles Times (A Museum That Shouts Climate Change) and quite a bit of coverage in the industry media as well.

Defining an interactive as a venue with a screen is limiting, and most often puts the museum at a comparative disadvantage. Although “Altered State” contains several high-tech interactives of which we are very proud, “Share Your Ideas,” one of the outstanding successes, is decidedly low-tech, involving little more than paper and pencil. It’s located at the center of “Altered State,” within the Arena for Engagement where the content focuses on communities, families and individuals, so it was an obvious site to invite folks to contribute to the exhibit.

In this simplest and most direct of interfaces, visitors write and sketch their own suggestions and ideas for conserving energy, reducing carbon footprint and combating climate change. Pencils and slips of paper about the size of luggage tags are supplied by the Academy for this purpose. Visitors hang their completed entries on hooks for others to view. People respond to the succinct format: each individual entry has the feeling of a work of art.

This community outpouring of messages on a vital topic that touches us all has been so successful that the museum has had to work to keep up the supply of pencils and paper. In search of a sustainable  source for the tags, the Academy’s creative services department recruited their printer, Paragraphics, to cut them from make-readies (paper that has been test-printed on one side).

Interactives in the built environment should be literally active, having some quality of physicality. Visitors have to move their arms, their legs, their bodies, and their minds. The idea for “Share Your Ideas” arose from conversations with our lead exhibit developer Darcie Fohrmam, Emily Routman and myself. We had been looking for simple and direct ways for visitors to contribute content, and had noticed lots of informal efforts at other museums, i.e. sticky notes on foamcore, to let visitors leave messages and comments. We wanted people to see their work in its rightful place, so the design of hooks in rows was used to make the display self organizing, yet give each contributor the freedom to choose where on the board to place their tag.

The simple act of writing and mounting the tag for others to see is a meaningful experience for the visitor. But the tags themselves – already numbering in the tens of thousands – will also go on to help spread the word in various ways. Some will be scanned and posted on the Academy website. Others will be used to aid classroom projects. The tags are being saved by Carol Tang, director, visitor interpretive programs for the Academy, as the basis for a research paper (educators interested in obtaining access to the tags can email Ms. Tang: ctang@calacademy.org). This prolific outpouring will not go unheard.

Photos: Joe Fletcher

See also:

Museums: Jonathan Katz, exec producer of groundbreaking “Altered State” exhibit (Cal Academy of Sciences) to speak May 30 at JFKU “Risk” colloquium

Eco-friendly Immersive Theater Launched at New California Academy of Sciences

Digital Innovator Mindi Lipschultz Creates Interactive Media Experiences for New California Academy of Sciences

Rana Creek Raises the Roof on the California Academy of Sciences

At the New California Academy of Sciences, Cinnabar’s Climate Change Exhibits Speak Up About State’s Environment and Future

Museums and Green Building: Look at the big picture to create a truly sustainable facility and establish a basis for meaningful decisions

Green building does not transfer human responsibility to bricks and mortar. And green isn’t just  altruistic – it has measurable economic benefits. When you create an environment that is better for people in terms of enhancing their sense of well-being and comfort, the gains are significant. Rates of absenteeism go down and productivity goes up.

It’s important to favor long-term thinking over short-term, and recognize the difference. Recycling is short-term: throwing things away in three bins instead of one. A longer-term strategy is to think about consumption patterns, and look at design from a more responsible and more economical long-term viewpoint: Use recyclable materials, but also design re-use into the product so that those materials have a longer life.

This is how my company, Cinnabar, approached exhibit design and production for the Kimball Museum of Natural History at the new California Academy of Sciences, now one of the most celebrated green facilities in the world. We established a standard framework – a modular platform called the “kit of parts.” These modules are made primarily of sustainable materials, but more importantly, they enable the museum to change the content while keeping the physical framework. The framework can be used again and again, and is reconfigurable – you can move things around, change heights, couple modules together or separate them – but continue to re-use them.

In selecting materials, apply long-term thinking by considering the life cycle of a product along with its carbon footprint. Acrylic materials have their conveniences, but carry a heavy carbon footprint. They also scratch and age and warp. Not only can glass be recycled, it also looks a lot better than most plastics after five years.

Acknowledge that resources are limited and their consumption has an impact on the world. Make judicious choices. In green building and green design, you don’t necessarily draw hard, prescriptive rules (which we’re seeing a lot of as people scramble onto the green wagon) but rather begin to establish a sense of principles and understanding about the system, and about behavior and consumption relative to the particular project. At that point it becomes easier to make decisions.

Sometimes, taking a certain action is much simpler and less disruptive than anticipated. About two years ago when some museums proposed eliminating bottled water at their facilities, discussion was very contentious. But when it was actually put into practice, it became a non-issue and people adapted easily.

Being green requires that you enter into an honest debate to achieve an understanding of consumption-related issues that go far beyond just the selection of materials. You do have to have an understanding of materials, where they come from and how available they are. You do have to think about their inherent carbon footprint and carbon miles. But it is equally critical to ask questions about how the institution functions and how the people in it function. Going green is good for your image, but it’s not just about the public face – it’s about being green in who you are and what you do – while also being economical, efficient, and providing a great guest experience.

Jonathan Katz will speak at two industry gatherings in San Francisco about the California Academy of Sciences: The panel, “Exhibitions: Experimentation, Risk and Reward,” takes place Feb 27 at the Hotel Kabuki in San Francisco and is part of the annual conference of the California Association of Museums, www.calmuseums.org. The panel, “The Living Building” is a by-invitation event for the design community on April 3, presented by Metropolis magazine and Coalesse, www.coalesse.com.

Photo: JOE FLETCHER.  Exhibits produced by Cinnabar Inc. for the California Academy of Sciences Kimball Museum of Natural History. Video showing the devastating environmental effects of a hotter and drier Earth.

See also: Cinnabar Installation Diary: The California Academy of Sciences

Collaborate, Design, Engage, Succeed! An Interview with Jonathan Katz

Cinnabar Inc. Executive Produces Major Exhibits For New California Academy of Sciences

This Is – and Isn’t – Your Grandfather’s Science Museum

We are in the thick of installation here at the new California Academy of Sciences, and the clock is ticking down to the museum’s Sept 27 opening date. The Foucault Pendulum has been reinstalled and has resumed rotation. Interactives for “Islands of Evolution” (documenting Academy research expeditions to Madagascar and Galápagos) have been installed.

The focus now is on completing the installation of “Altered State” – the exhibits about California and Climate Change. As a longtime environmentalist, these are very close to my heart and I am indebted to the Academy for the opportunity to participate in this meaningful statement. We have set up Altered State to stimulate visitor participation and engagement not just while in the museum but afterwards. One way in which we do that is by providing a dedicated area where visitors may submit their own ideas and comments, and also explore resources that provide information about  what they can do as individuals, families, and communities to make carbon-friendly choices in life and help save planet Earth.

On Sunday 7 Sept the Academy held a soft opening event, to which were invited some 2,500 people who had participated in one way or another over the last five years. The response was very favorable and I look forward to seeing how our exhibits are received by the public at large, the museum community and the media in the near future.

Photo: Cinnabar.  Pin and the Pendulum – Sam Snow sets pins in place for the reinstallation of the Foucault Pendulum at the new California Academy of Sciences.

See also:

Giant Tortoises and Museum 2.0: Cinnabar Installation Diary

More news from the installation front!

Cinnabar Installation Diary: The California Academy of Sciences

Collaborate, Design, Engage, Succeed! An Interview with Jonathan Katz

Cinnabar Inc. Executive Produces Major Exhibits For New California Academy of Sciences

Giant Tortoises and Museum 2.0: Cinnabar Installation Diary

writes Jonathan Katz

We’re installing specimens and putting up tortoise shells on the Galápagos wall.

The expectation is that our team will finish up this portion of the installation by the weekend and then turn our full attention to setting up the 10,000 square feet of California exhibits at the other end of the hall, in the west gallery. We have begun putting in the main structures there already. “Altered State” is the official name and the theme running through these California exhibits is climate change, and the specific ways in which it affects the state of California. Altered State spells out some of the consequences in terms of habitat, agriculture, recreation, tourism and livability – and also shows what people can do about it.

Climate change doesn’t have a fixed outcome – what we do as individuals and as a community will affect the next part of the story. It was, therefore, important to design and produce “Altered State” as an active, participatory guest experience. We applied “Museum 2.0” principles of information design, presenting the material in browsable layers, inviting the visitor to become part of the conversation and showcasing some user-generated content. This helps the issue to become real in terms of people’s daily lives – the choices we make – and how we perceive California.

Special acknowledgement to team members Mindy Lipschulz (media producer) and Volume Inc. (information design). Photos: Cinnabar

See also: 

More news from the installation front!

Cinnabar Installation Diary: The California Academy of Sciences

Collaborate, Design, Engage, Succeed! An Interview with Jonathan Katz

Cinnabar Inc. Executive Produces Major Exhibits For New California Academy of Sciences

Museums: More news from the installation front!

Project: Kimball Natural History Museum at the new California Academy of Sciences

Opening date: 27 September 2008

Location: Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

The Cinnabar install team is finishing up all the structures on the east side of the building including the installation of Bug Rug, a floor interactive developed by Snibbe Interactive, that will entertain visitors of all ages while educating them about how researchers capture insects on the Madagascar forest floor.

We are starting installation of the modules for the California exhibit on the building’s west side.  You can see the first module – Oceans- in place under the skeleton of the blue whale in the photo. Beautiful Golden Gate Park  is ever-present through the new museum’s window wall.

See also

Cinnabar Installation Diary: The California Academy of Sciences

Collaborate, Design, Engage, Succeed! An Interview with Jonathan Katz

Cinnabar Inc. Executive Produces Major Exhibits For New California Academy of Sciences

California Academy of Sciences undertakes "Great Migration" in Anticipation of Sept 27 Re-opening

Cinnabar Installation Diary: The California Academy of Sciences

By Jonathan Katz, Executive Producer, and Jeannie Lomma, Project Manager

Project: Kimball Natural History Museum at the new California Academy of Sciences

Opening date: 27 September 2008

Cinnabar has just sent two truckloads of exhibit components to Golden Gate Park. Everything is individually labeled and wrapped in order to move smoothly through the highly orchestrated receiving logistics at the museum. Everything was designed in sections to be bolted back together once inside the double doors.

We are using aircraft cable to suspend overhead items – such as the gigantic blue whale skeleton that hangs over the California exhibits – and to stabilize the taller items, producing what the building architect, Renzo Piano, calls the “zero gravity” effect – the feeling that things are floating within the vast, open space of the facility. 

We are nearly finished with the Early Explorers Cove, an educational play area for children and families. A feature of that installation, being managed by Cinnabar art director Andrea Whittier, is the Academy Schooner,  named in honor of the eponymous real craft that sailed to the Galápagos Islands in the early 1900s on a research expedition. It returned shortly after the great earthquake of 1906 and the crew was shocked to discover that much of San Francisco had burned.

See also: 

Collaborate, Design, Engage, Succeed! An Interview with Jonathan Katz

Cinnabar Inc. Executive Produces Major Exhibits For New California Academy of Sciences

California Academy of Sciences undertakes "Great Migration" in Anticipation of Sept 27 Re-opening