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


"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, " says Jonathan Katz, CEO of Cinnabar Inc., Los Angeles. "That’s why it was important to design and produce the new "Altered State" exhibits – which account for 10, 000 square feet of the 35, 000 square feet of exhibits we created for the new California Academy of Sciences – as a participatory guest experience. The issue becomes real in terms of people’s daily lives – the choices we make – and how we perceive California."

Katz is the executive producer responsible for assembling the team that conceptualized, designed, wrote, fabricated and installed the new exhibits for the Kimball Natural History Museum in the main hall of the new California Academy of Sciences, including "Altered State." A man with a strong bond to his home state of California, Katz is particularly well-qualified to produce "Altered State, " with twin passions for design and conservation, and professional credentials in each. As part of the Jerry Brown gubernatorial administration in the 1970s, Katz helped implement conservation initiatives such as the Office of Appropriate Technology and the California Conservation Corps.  And, as a producer/fabricator of scenery and special effects for movies, television and commercials as well as museums, Katz is known for a bold approach to content delivery, straightforward project management and a track record of getting things done.

"Altered State" provides a museum visitor experience that conveys the urgency and power of its subject with a contemporary approach to information delivery. The exhibits draw upon the findings of research scientists and the institution’s formidable specimen collection, along with live animal displays, media, interactives, and graphic panels to present information authoritatively about how unchecked climate change will alter California in regard to its weather, water, wildlife, wildfires, vegetation, recreation, tourism and economic production. The exhibits invite the museum visitor to join the conversation in a variety of ways.
The new $488 million, 410, 000 square-foot Academy is home to the Steinhart Aquarium and the Morrison Planetarium, in addition to the Kimball Museum. The new building itself is a celebrated structure and model of "green" principles – Pritzker Prize winner Renzo Piano’s "non-museum" (his words) is expected to earn a LEED Platinum certification.

Taking a Stand

 "CAS saw it had a critical mandate and a responsibility in accordance with its stated mission ‘to explore, explain and protect the natural world, ‘" comments Katz. "As a respected scientific institution, it saw the need to present the story of climate change, and boldly took that on. It’s important for museums to step up. They have the authenticity to take a stand."

Highlights of "Altered State"

  • Oceans Are Rising: This exhibit module shows how human activity is altering the oceans and the unprecedented consequences thereof. 
  • A Hotter World: This display explains how humans’ use of fossil fuels is driving changes in seasonal weather patterns around the world, and how those changed patterns affect California. 
  • The Melting Point: This exhibit shows the ongoing damage to the world’s glaciers, alpine regions and polar caps that results from the use of fossil fuels, and the impact it is having on both water supplies and wildlife.
  • Mass Extinction: This exhibit examines the loss of species attributable to climate change and other human impacts, and raises the question of what that loss means to the Golden State. In California alone, the alpine Pika, Pacific hake, and salmon are leaving their traditional habitats, and in some cases, vanishing altogether.
  • Impact Videos:  These four brief videos explore climate change and its effects, each tied to one of the four exhibits listed above. They are designed to focus visitors’ minds and hearts on the issues that face humanity on a warming world.
  • Polar Ice: Critical Zone: In this interactive, big-screen simulation, people must use their bodies to block the rays of the Sun in order to stem the melting of ice floes and enable a baby polar bear to reach its mother. It conveys empathy for creatures whose habitats are threatened, and teaches the value of teamwork, as several people working together can block more sunlight.

The Arena for Engagement

The Arena for Engagement is an exhibit-within-an-exhibit area that invites visitors to learn more about the effects of their own actions in the global warming crisis and what they can do as individuals and as a community to address the issues. The highlights of Arena For Engagement are:

  • I Had No Idea! A display of products people take for granted in their daily lives, accompanied by alarming information about the extent to which they contribute to global warming.
  • Carbon Cafe: In a restaurant setting, learn the carboncosts of various food choices.
  • Share Your Ideas: A bulletin board where visitors can post their ideas for mitigating climate change.
  • Send a Message: Computer stations set up to email legislators in support of CO2 emission reduction measures.
  • Global Push: A large map highlighting climate-change initiatives being taken in countries around the world.
  • Emerging Solutions: An array of available alternative energy solutions for the heaviest CO2-emitting sectors, such as transportation, energy and building materials.
  • Info Network: Computer stations linking to some of the information sources used in the "Altered States" exhibits, so visitors can learn more about what they have seen.

Contemporary information design

The "Altered State" exhibits are designed to engage and inform the visitor, reinforcing their awareness of the environment, their connections to others, and their power to act. This goal is achieved partly through the Altered State Oceansapplication of "Museum 2.0" design principles – a way of sharing information that takes its cue from the egalitarian interactivity of Web-based social interfaces such as Wikipedia, Digg and Twitter. "If you want people to be touched, to integrate the message into their lives, you have to integrate them into the exhibit, " says Katz. "Through an effective combination of physical design and information delivery, people recognize the pattern that’s been set up and become comfortable in the environment, going from one place to another, discovering things on their own and focusing on them with ease – similar to navigating from one level to another within a well-designed social networking site. They will explore and they will take part in the dialogue to the level that suits them. It’s been documented that 94% of museum visitors don’t read exhibit labels. That calls for alternative forms of information delivery."

Academy exhibits under Cinnabar’s stewardship

  • Altered State: An exhibit about climate change, focusing on California (10, 000 square feet).
  • Islands of Evolution: Illustrating Academy research expeditions to Galápagos and Madagascar, while explaining key concepts about evolution and biodiversity. (10, 000 square feet)
  • Tusher African Center: a recreation of this classic diorama hall. Digital projection creates the effect of a herd of elephants walking through the landscape in one of the dioramas, which also features day-for-night lighting and a custom audioscape. (7, 600 square feet)
  • Wilson Naturalist Center, a research center open to Academy visitors
  • Early Explorers Cove, an educational play area for children and their families, featuring California Back Yard and the Academy Schooner.
  • And, the reinstallation of the Foucault Pendulum.


About Jonathan Katz, California, Cinnabar and the creative team

Jonathan Katz commenced his design career in high school, building floats for the Pasadena Rose Parade during winter breaks. 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, programs which addressed alternative technologies and resource conservation. Returning to the world of design & production, Katz founded Cinnabar Inc. in Los Angeles in 1981.

Today, Cinnabar is a leading production and fabrication company that works in film and television, museums and themed attractions. Cinnabar and Katz have, over the years, been written up in the business media for an innovative, pro-active approach to business. "What they do is transform people’s fancies into fact, by building sets and creating special effects, " wrote Michael Barrier (Lights! Action! Hammer and Nails! Nation’s Business, June 1989). "For entrepreneurs like Cinnabar’s Jonathan Katz, association with Hollywood not only gives him a special cachet in world markets but also provides day-to-day contact with the most demanding clients in the world, virtually forcing him to remain at the forefront of his craft, " wrote David Friedman (Why Every Business Will Be Like Show Business,, March 1995).

Playing a key role on Cinnabar’s creative team for the California Academy of Sciences was the San Francisco based company, Volume Inc., headed by Adam Brodsley and Eric Heiman. Volume helped develop and execute the exhibit displays’ visual identity and information design system. Other members of the production team include Cinnabar’s Jeannie Lomma (project manager), Juan Corral (productionmanager) and Tom Mullaly (AV manager), along with Mindi Lipschultz (media director), Dante Thomas (interactive developer), and Snibbe Interactive (interactive multimedia).  Cinnabar’s Andrea Whittier was art director for the Early Explorers Cove. Pixie Hearn oversaw specimen and content integration. For Exhibit Development, Darcie Fohrman led the Exhibit Development group and Tim Newman was the writer/director/producer for the Climate Change Impact media.
Katz also assembled a world-class team of science writers whose words grace the panels in each exhibit. Carolyn Collins Petersen wrote most of the "Altered State" exhibits under Katz’s direction. Jeremy Bloom, Sophie Katz, and the Academy’s own Aaron Pope wrote the Arena for Engagement exhibits within "Altered State, " while Michael Rigsby wrote the Islands of Evolution exhibits.

About the California Academy of Sciences

Since 1853, the California Academy of Sciences has been dedicated to exploring, explaining and protecting the natural world. It is the oldest scientific institution in the West and one of the oldest in the nation. Today, it is one of the largest natural history museums in the US, and the only one in the nation to include both an aquarium and a planetarium. The Academy provides scientific knowledge and expertise to visiting scientists, educators, adults, students, parents, children, conservation organizations, government leaders, and the media. The Academy has a research staff of 30 Ph.D.-level scientists – supported by more than 100 research and field associates and over 300 fellows – who launch dozens of expeditions each year to explore the natural world and discover more about our planet. It has eight scientific research departments in the fields of anthropology, aquatic biology, botany, entomology, herpetology, ichthyology, invertebrate zoology and geology, and ornithology and mammalogy. The Academy’s research collections, which are among the world’s largest, include more than 18 million specimens – essential tools for comparative studies on the history and future of the natural world.

How Climate Change is Changing California
These and other points are documented in the "Altered State" exhibits produced by Cinnabar for the new California Academy of Sciences

  • Ocean warming contributes to Arctic sea ice melting
  • Storms break up coral reefs
  • Clams, oysters and abalone lose much of their food supply
  • Fisheries become less productive
  • Coastal erosion
  • Coldwater local species migrating northward; warm-water species moving in
  • Contamination of fresh water by rising sea levels; loss of wetlands
  • Mountain landscapes changed by melting glaciers (Sierras, Yosemite, Trinity Alps, Shasta)
  • Outdoor recreation and tourism affected by melting snowpack
  • Air quality diminished by increased carbon dioxide
  • Salmon, beavers, smelt, frogs, trees, sturgeon all adversely affected
  • Hotter, drier climate affects canals, reservoirs, fishing, home water supplies, hydro-electric power
  • More wildfires
  • Fruit production affected
  • Shifting reproductive cycles of birds, butterflies, flowers, pollinating insects
  • More plant pests threaten agriculture
  • Extinction threat increased for grizzly bear, mountain lion, sea otter, spotted owl, salamander

Cinnabar Inc. 4571 Electronics Place  Los Angeles, CA 90039 USA  Tel. 818-842-8190  Cinnabar blog
Media Contact:  Judith Rubin  314-361-3138

See alsoMore 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

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