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


Jonathan Katz, CEO of Cinnabar Inc. and executive producer of the provocative “Altered State” exhibit on climate change for the celebrated new California Academy of Sciences, will speak to the museum/academic community about risk-taking at the May 30 “Risk and Reality” colloquium organized by Dr. Susan Spero of John F. Kennedy University.

Related: Cinnabar company profile / Collaborate, Design, Engage, Succeed! An Interview with Jonathan Katz

The colloquium runs 10:00 a.m. to 3.30 p.m.,   at the JFKU Berkeley campus, 2956 San Pablo Avenue. Attendance is free to JFKU students, faculty and staff, $15 for alumni and $30 for the general public. More information:

Katz’s presentation, “Seven Rules of Risk, ” will examine the nature of creative risk and provide specific tools for its successful mitigation. “Taking creative risks is an integral part of developing exhibits that raise vital social and political issues, ” says Katz. “Many interesting and engaging subjects have elements of risk attached, but we have to tackle them because they are important to the audience. “Instead of trying to avoid risk, which in the museum community is all too often the typical response, we need to learn to embrace risk.”

The 10, 000 sq. ft. “Altered State, ” part of 35, 000 square feet of multimedia exhibits that Katz’s company, Cinnabar Inc., produced for the California Academy of Sciences, is a prime modern example of a museum embracing a risky topic. “As a respected scientific institution, the Academy went beyond simply presenting information and took an advocacy position to tell visitors what the situation is and what they should do about it, ” says Katz.  “It’s important for museums to step up. They have the authenticity to take a stand.”

Margot Roosevelt wrote in The Los Angeles Times that, “For all its theatricality, what makes the Academy even more unusual is its uncompromising stance on climate change.” (“A museum that shouts climate change, ” Jan. 14). “This is a museum with a point of view. It all but shouts at the visitor: ‘Do something about it!’”

Embracing the “risky” climate change topic could be considered inherent to the Academy’s overall approach in creating what Conde Nast Traveler named “the greenest museum ever constructed” (Architecture’s New Wonders of the World, April 2009). Explains Katz: “With Renzo Piano as architect, the Academy recreated itself as a world-class demonstration of green building principles in addition to recreating its exhibits. Going ‘green’ couldn’t just be about how the building was built – it had to also be about what statements were made. ‘Altered State’ is a deeper illustration of the sustainability advocacy that the building represents.”

Katz’s own background and lifelong dedication to conservation and green building extend back some three decades, to political work in the 1970s, when, as part of the Jerry Brown gubernatorial administration, he helped implement conservation initiatives such as the Office of Appropriate Technology and the California Conservation Corps. He founded Cinnabar in 1991.

Dr. Susan Spero, JFKU faculty member and organizer of the May 30 colloquium, also considers understanding creative risk as vital to success in a changing museum landscape. “I believe that we are in a huge transition for our cultural institutions right now. We are again defining our purpose and ways to best serve our communities, ” she says. “A conversation with an open and trusting group of people is one of the steps toward understanding what these big, ever-present ideas mean to each one of us.”

Sponsored by the Helzel Family Foundation, the event is organized by the JFKU Department of Museum Studies as part of its graduate program and is aimed at exploring the complex issues of personal, institutional and field-wide risk of museums and museum professionals. Other highlights of the program include a presentation by Robert Garfinkle, director of the Science and Social Change Program at the Science Museum of Minnesota, and a discussion facilitated by Gail Anderson, president of Gail Anderson and Associates.

About Jonathan Katz

Jonathan Katz is a Los Angeles-based producer, concept developer, fabricator and consultant serving museums, themed attractions and retail as well as film and television. He is known for a bold approach to content delivery, straightforward project management and for getting things done. His signature approach is one of integrated creative management – applying the tools and techniques of experiential entertainment, and the efficient business production models of the film and television industry, to the development of exhibits, multimedia and built environments that engage, entertain and educate modern audiences.

Recently, Katz brought his innovative creative approach, his green-building expertise, his efficient management style  and his company, Cinnabar Inc., to the production of 35, 000 sq. ft. of original, new exhibits and multimedia for the Kimball Museum of Natural History within the new California Academy of Sciences, a $488 million, 400, 000 sq. ft. facility which opened in September 2008. As executive producer, Katz assembled and oversaw the creative team to develop the exhibits on a modular, sustainable scale to complement the architecture, fulfill green building criteria, minimize power usage while meeting high project standards, adhere to the Academy’s budget and timeframe, and facilitate future modification.

More information:,

About JFKU Museum Studies Program

Founded in 1974, the Masters of Arts in Museum Studies is a two-year program with specializations in administration, collections management or education and interpretation. It is considered one of the top programs in the U.S. and now offers a dual MA/MBA degree option.

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

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

Exhibits produced by Cinnabar Inc. for the California Academy of Sciences Kimball Museum of Natural History. This interactive exhibit tallies the carbon footprint of breakfast, lunch, and dinner foods, allowing the visitor to create the optimum meal. PHOTO CREDIT: JOE FLETCHER

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