A Golden Anniversary

By Jon Finck

Exploratorium educators (All photos by Drew Altizer Photography)

May 3

For the Exploratorium’s annual Party at the Piers bash, this year’s 50th anniversary lent the perfect golden theme to a night that shimmered right from the entrance: Guests made their way in past the Bucky Ball and through a phalanx of high-energy solid-gold acrobats, jugglers and roller skaters all to the big sounds of MJ’s Brass Boppers Brass Band.

For such a special night of nights, the Exploratorium tapped Fannie Allen and her husband and chairman emeritus, George Cogan, to lead the gala festivities. Their passion and commitment to the nationally acclaimed science museum drew a sold-out shiny crowd of 500, including Phil and Sue Marineau, Roberta Katz, Merrill and Van Kasper, Cameron Phelger, Dennis and Suzie Bartels, Ute Bowes, State Senator Scott Weiner and Gretchen de Baubigny, the latter who, four days later, was awarded the San Francisco Village Founder’s Award for outstanding community achievement.

Guests sipped and nibbled while strolling through the museum’s interactive exhibits, getting their brain power challenged. One science demo of a different type included an aerial artist way up high and turned upside down pouring chilled Champagne into your waiting glass. Nice!

Back on terra firma in the Koret Theater, Grateful Dead drummer and Exploratorium advocate Mickey Hart introduced guests to a quartet of red-robed Tibetan Gyuto monks who provided a mini-performance of sacred chant in very, very, very bass tones. The resonance of their chanting was enhanced by the superior technology of the John and Helen Meyer Sound Constellation System.

Catching up with the exuberant executive director, Chris Flink, he shared “It’s such an honor for me to represent this great museum that reflects the Bay Area’s spirit of innovation. I’m so thankful to all of our supporters, families, and students who believe in the vitality of our mission. What a great evening to turn 50!

With a savory starter on their plates, guests turned their attention to lively English-born auctioneer Harry Santa-Olalla, an utterly charming, witty and highly kinetic chap who held the audience (and their willing wallets) in his hand. It was a breathless act of auctioneering that inspired many in the room to pledge their financial backing. The evening raised a whopping $1.8 million in support of the museum’s programs of transforming STEM education.

Leo Villareal, the creative genius behind the luminescent 25,000-LED installation of the Bay Lights, was on hand to give the keynote speech while guests dined.

A beaming Exploratorium Board Chair Roberta Katz shared with me, “We’re all so proud of the Exploratorium and thrilled with to-night’s sold-out success. We’ve seen generations of individuals come here as kids and later as adults, and then bringing their own children. It’s amazing. While our immediate reach may seem local, the ramifications of our work is felt nationwide.”

With dinner over, the Party at the Piers shifted into phase 2: the high-voltage Afterglow party attracting a young flashy crowd of 600 Bay Area revelers intent on raising the roof and seeing the stars. Leading the musical charge was headliner extraordinaire Reggie Watts, the oh-so-cool bandleader of TV’s Late, Late Show with James Corden who turned in a solid-gold performance. Happy Anniversary, Exploratorium.

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