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When 11-year-old Tyler Gange visited the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center on a class trip, he marveled at one particular exhibit.
“I liked this fog tornado they had,” Gange said, when I interviewed him for the last installation of the San Diego People Project. “There’s this box on the floor and there’s four poles and then there’s this roof thing with a screen, and fog’s coming out of the bottom. And then the pipes, there’s holes and there’s air shooting out of it and you’ve gotta get four people and we all rub our hands on the poles and it forms a tornado. So that’s one of the main reasons I liked the science museum.”
It was a glowing endorsement of the museum’s exhibits. So I set out to photograph the person who pulls all those exhibits together.
Paul Siboroski is that person. As exhibits director for the museum, he likens himself to an orchestra conductor.
“I don’t play every instrument in the orchestra, but I know how to bring all the instruments together and make the right kind of music together,” he said. “So that’s my goal, to get everyone playing the right song and projecting the right experience for visitors.”
Name: Paul Siboroski
Occupation: Exhibits director at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. “Some places say director of exhibits. Here it’s exhibits director.”
Part of Town: Golden Hill
I’m curious, first of all, what you really call your profession. You’re not an exhibitionist. You’re a what?
Well a lot of it is project management. So basically, I’m responsible for developing projects related to education and it’s oversight of exhibit development, project management, maintenance.
So it’s project management. It’s considered operational and long range planning.
OK. But if someone asked me “What do you do?” I could either say, I take pictures for voiceofsandiego.org, or I could say I’m a photojournalist. If you had to give the latter answer, you would say, “I’m a …?”
Oh, I’m a informal science educator? (laughs) I’m an educator, although I don’t have that background. Because, what we do here is that we teach science. And I help do that.
How did you find your way into a field like this?
Desperation. Really, my undergraduate background was graphic design. So my working trade was graphic design. So the only job I could get in a museum was as a graphic designer. And that is usually in the exhibits department because that’s where the creative development of projects is. So I was doing the exhibit design and eventually just moved up to curator of exhibits, where I was responsible for all of the exhibit development. So I kind of moved into it through my art background.
So what is it that you’re doing on a daily basis?
Oh wow. On a daily basis I’m dealing with exhibits on the floor, whether they’re part of our collection, or finding new exhibits to bring on our floor — anything that relates to fulfilling the Fleet Science Center’s mission, which is science education and technology. So I do a lot of bringing those experiences to the floor.
It seems like you kind of have to get into the mind of a very young person to do this job.
Yes, well that’s the easy part, pretending “What would a 10-year-old like?” And because my background is not in a science discipline, I find that I’m attracted to and curious about the same things that most people are with respect to science. I want to know how something works, why something is the way it is. So it’s easy for me, because I always kind of question things much like any kid would or any adult who doesn’t have a science background. I’m always curious.
What does it take to have a successful exhibit? What is the mark of a successful exhibit?
Lines out the door. That’s the first thing. It has to be popular. In addition to teaching something it has to be popular and it has to strike a chord with people. Whether it’s a controversial topic, like say stem cells or embryonic stem cells. You know, I think that might be something that people are interested in, because it’s controversial. Or it has to be fun. When I first started out, I had someone in the business say, “the most popular things in science museums are either babies, dinosaurs, or something gross.” Those are the things people are most interested in. So if you could do an exhibit on baby dinosaur poop, that would be the ultimate exhibit experience.
Do you foresee an exhibit on baby dinosaur poop at any time?
Well unfortunately, dinosaurs are already covered by other museums. But we have had exhibits on gross things. We had this exhibit called Grossology, which was an exhibit on gross things in the human body, and I’ll leave that to the imagination. And then we did one called Animal Grossology, which is gross things that animals do. And they were really popular.
— SAM HODGSON