The Gates Foundation Visitor Center is no more. Instead, say hello to the Gates Foundation Discovery Center.
The public education and exhibit galleries, housed in a building across the street from Seattle Center, opened in 2012 to highlight the global activities of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (which is headquartered directly behind it). This month, both the name on the outside and the emphasis on the inside changed. But the topic remains the foundation’s work aimed at improving lives and tackling various global challenges.
The major revisions include a lot more explanation and the opportunity, or inspiration, for visitors to take individual action.
Curator of Exhibits Aleen Adams says the changes, in part, reflect visitor feedback that the earlier exhibits were so optimistic about the work being done by the foundation and its partners, it wasn’t always clear what the underlying problem was. Adams said they moved toward “intentionally putting hands-on things in each area” to enhance visitor understanding of the issues being addressed and individual impact.
Some of the changes are subtle, such as adding quotations from real people by the pictures in the welcome and orientation gallery. Others are more overt. In the same gallery, large-scale “interactive portrait” touch screens allow visitors to hear stories about the foundation’s work, including from Bill and Melinda Gates.
The other three main galleries have received similar exhibit overhauls and technology upgrades in the move from static to interactive. A new Global Challenges exhibit features a huge, angled screen on the floor with a map. This shows “why we do the work we do, and how all of the issues cross boundaries,” Adams says. Visitors can manipulate pucks on two nearby interactive tabletops, representing different issues, to see how problems, such as poverty or malnutrition, affect worldwide populations.
“The way we’re telling the stories is very different,” Adams adds. “Because we’re cross-cutting now.”
A first for the Discovery Center is a special exhibits gallery. Working with organizations across the country, such as Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles and the American Museum of Natural History, temporary exhibits will rotate through the space. Up first is Women Hold Up Half the Sky on the worldwide oppression of women and girls and the individual’s role in solutions.
Reaction to the inaugural special exhibit has already exceeded the foundation’s expectations, Adams says. Visitors are provided with blank white discs, and purple or blue markers, to offer wishes for women. Now the gallery is overwhelmed with streamers of white discs cascading down from the ceiling. “We didn’t quite know how galvanizing it would be,” Adams says.
Half the Sky runs through Jan. 27. Then Countdown to Zero, about efforts to eradicate neglected tropical diseases, will open March 1.
A final gallery, themed “Get Involved,” is perhaps the most hands-on. Visitors can help make menstrual kits that will be sent to girls who need them around the world. Another activity in December will let visitors assemble winter kits for homeless youth.
The Discovery Center will host a Giving Marketplace on Dec. 1 and 2, featuring more than 30 vendors and organizations selling holiday gifts that give back, either through donations or by directly funding causes.
The revamp isn’t quite complete, Adams notes. Before the end of the year, new product-related exhibits will be added to the ramp that connects all four galleries, including an Arktek cooler developed by Intellectual Ventures for preserving vaccines without power, and a “nanomembrane toilet” that exists off the grid and generates its own power and water.
Admission to the Gates Foundation Discovery Center remains free of charge, Tuesday through Saturday, at 440 5th Avenue N. in Seattle. Adams suggests visitors plan on spending at least an hour for a first visit.