Tucked away at Coyote Point is a tinkerer’s dream with a long history, a recent stretch of stability and the signs of upcoming progress. CuriOdyssey, formerly the Coyote Point Museum, is popular with the sippy cup crowd simply because its features are kid-sized and hands-on with the simple rule that they are all rooted in science.
The expansive building on the top of the hill at the county-owned Coyote Point Park has seen better days, but then it’s also seen worse days. In 2006, it was nearly closed by a lack of enthusiasm and a revolving door of leadership. It was also nearly sold off to a nonprofit that envisioned a global warming museum of sorts. But it was rescued by a group of supporters who ousted the old board and reinfused the place with a sense of promise. Rachel Meyer, the current executive director, has righted the ship and created a sense of stability while focusing on its core mission on children and science literacy.
It is for that reason that Eric Maschwitz, director of exhibits, can be found fine-tuning interactive exhibits in the lower levels of the wooden building. In his workshop, Maschwitz was working on a new exhibit based on Newton’s laws of motion using magnets on a recent weekday. Other exhibits use scientific principals in an accessible way for kids. Maybe the kids get some science education out of it, or maybe they think it’s just fun. Either way, it’s something that can build in their mind over time. There are only a few exhibits on the main floor at a time, but they are constantly exchanged for new ones with unique lessons so they’re fresh for kids.
With the advent of the DIY and maker movements, such exhibits incorporating real science are becoming more popular and Maschwitz is able to fine-tune them through mobile demos at libraries and places like Powell’s Sweet Shop in Burlingame. Popular summer camps also give children the opportunity to explore and create on their own, said Meyer.
The museum combines its focus on science with animal exhibits outside which allow for real-life visits with such creatures as eagles, road runners, vultures, great blue herons, sea otters and foxes. That has long been a staple of the museum.
Another staple, the environmental hall, is shut down. It featured a sloped series of walkways that mimicked the California environment. It outlined the eventual destruction of man, and was a bit avant-garde when installed decades ago, but it was a little, “heavy-handed,” said Meyer.
When the museum undergoes a renovation, the hall will likely be transformed into two levels with more windows to take advantage of the natural setting with views of the San Francisco Bay, skyline and airport. That renovation, however, is still in the planning stages. And for those who may be impatient, consider where the museum was a mere six years ago. It was no longer renewing or taking memberships, it was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, had a history of five directors in five years and considered closing down forever. The building, once grand in 1981, had fallen into disrepair.
Now, its leadership is building membership and donations while shifting the ratio of income from 70 percent contributed and 30 earned to 60 percent contributed to 40 percent earned while seeing its attendance increase 77 percent since its lowest point of 2008. It has 3,000 members with a goal of 6,000 and is exploring partnerships with other environmental groups. But its adherence to biology and science and its delivery method to children is at its core. There is a movement in the classroom toward science, technology, engineering and math and the museum is the perfect location for partnerships in that focus. But technology is only one component.
“[Children] are into technology early. Well, that’s fine. But it’s a real miss if you’re not interacting with the natural and physical world,” said Meyer.
And the aptly named CuriOdyssey is the perfect spot for that piece of the puzzle.
Jon Mays is the editor in chief of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Jon on Twitter @jonmays.