Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits & Behaviour

place:London, England
role:Exhibtion Designer, Project Lead

The Sainsbury Wellcome Centre is a new, purpose-built Research Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour, at University College London, a site designed by Ian Ritchie Architects.

Working with content experts Dr. Marty Banks, of the Banks Lab at UC Berkeley and Dr. Hany Farid of Dartmouth, we created an exhibition on visual perception and cognitive function, resulting in five large, street-front vitrines. Fabrication design was done by Science Projects of London.

The project was funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation.

Sainsbury Wellcome Centre Street Front Exhibition from Maria Mortati on Vimeo.

Image credit: Carl Bigmore
Video production: Joe Wilinkski

Tell Me Where The Mirrors Go, Oakland Museum

place:Oakland Museum of California
role:Artist and Designer

Through the Irvine Foundation’s New California Arts Fund grant, I was invited to do a project of my own choosing at the Oakland Museum of California. The grant focused on their local, non-visiting community. I chose to work with a single family (vs. a community group) in order to create an intimate project that would illicit specific ideas from the family for the museum.

During a series of meetings and visits (onsite and off) the family shared their perspectives about the museum experience. Through them, and through the act of doing the project, lessons were learned in terms of how to not only reach but engage in meaningful ways: from the obvious (how can you be free when they are free? what does relevance look like?) to the foundational (who are you responsible to?).

The project resulted in an in-gallery installation where their insights or impressions were installed adjacent to works of art (in Spanish first), tours led by the family, public events put on by the museum, and a project documentary at the start of the gallery.

Walker Art Center Field Lab & Field Cart

date:June 2014
place:Walker Art Center
role:Developer, Designer

This project was a collaboration with the Education and Community Programs staff on the Field Lab, which transformed the Star Tribune Foundation Art Lab into an open laboratory and residency space for research and development for local and visiting artists. We held workshops to develop the ideas and explore how to integrate them into the museums operations.

Stakeholder workshop

As an extension of their work on the Open Field project, Education and Community Programs wanted to think about how they might utilize the Art Lab during the non-school year in support of artists and the Walker’s work. With the artists first in mind, we developed low cost ways to transform and signal this new usage.

To complement the work in the Lab, I designed and developed a mobile cart which was realized with the Pseudo Studio design/build team in San Francisco.  It is a a nimble-yet-durable platform for art-making activities, local artists pop-up residencies, and small performances. You can read the Walker’s review of the cart in Can I Have An Idea.

Image credits: Walker Art Center, Maria Mortati, Maria Mortati

Open Field Research Residency, Walker Art Center

date:Spring - Summer 2014
place:Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
role:Designer, Artist

This residency was about exploring new approaches for interpretation and interaction with the art movement Fluxus. Hosted by the Open Field project at the Walker, it manifested in an interpretive trail across the grounds for a day which played out notions of Fluxus in score form. Accompanying was an event called “Fluxus Drawing Club,” where visitors were given Flux Kits akin to the historic forms and drew listening to a family reading of A Child’s History of Fluxus, by Dick Higgins, the founding artist. Visitors walked the trail, drew scores, and shared them on a custom-built mobile display unit.

For a write-up see the Walker blog:  A FluxField Research Residency

Project credits:
Fluxux Drawing Club was a collaboration with local artist Margaret Pezzella
Letterpress by Jenni Undis of Lunalux Letterpress
Penny Event by Mayor Mike Haeg
Audio recording Dick Higgins Child’s History of Fluxus performed by the Pezalla-Grandlund family

People Imitating Cats, Walker Art Center

date:August 28, 2013
place:Walker Art Center at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds

People Imitating Cats was a project created for the Walker Art Center in conjunction with their Internet Cat Video Festival. Held at the Minnesota State Fair, I decided to invert the concept of internet cat videos, and created a mobile cat head recording unit to capture people and their imitations of cats. That evening, the recordings were edited and played for 13,000 as a precursor to the main event.

People Imitating Cats video:

Project documentary:

Oakland Museum Natural Sciences Gallery: Water Game

date:Spring 2013
place:Oakland Museum of California
role:Developer, designer

For the re-opening of the Natural Sciences Gallery at the Oakland Museum of California, they wanted to find a way to engage the public with the complexities and nuances involved in the state water story. We determined that a table-top game approach was the first step to finding out what is possible to convey. This game was devised so that the museum could swap out the content in the Q&A to try out other approaches with their audience over time.

Baltimore Museum of Art, Interactive Education Spaces

place:Baltimore, MD
role:Exhibit Design and Project Management

Designed 2 interactive galleries for a recently renovated Contemporary Arts wing. Worked on early stage Strategic Planning for a large, interactive arts education gallery in another wing of the Museum. You can read more about the project here:

The Great Calculation Residencies

date:2012 (LA), 2013, (SF)
place:Machine Project, Southern Exposure Gallery
role:Artist and Curator

Early calculators were unwieldy, noisy, smelly machines that required constant maintenance. Mechanical engineer Mark Glusker collects them and Maria Mortati explored them during residencies at Machine Project and Southern Exposure GalleryTGC was of a series of lectures, interactive performances, workshops, and an exhibition focused on the machines and their pre-solid state nature. Work created by participants was on display along with the calculators. Workshops consisted of drawing and dissection of machines and custom coloring books enhanced by music by local artists Aero Mic’d. After the talks were machine-inspired performances by Deadalus, and Matt Dryhurst.

Project documentary:

Center for Creative Connections, Dallas Museum of Art

place:Dallas, TX
role:Project Facilitation & Concept Development

The Center for Creative Connections is a 12,000 sq ft interactive art gallery and studio space at the center of the Museum. Working with the Director and staff, we created a new exhibition development process.


Desire Trails, “Open Air Museum,” Headlands Center for the Arts

date:Fall, 2011

From HCA: “Join us for a far-flung series of walking and talking tours through the rich, mysterious, and sensorial landscape of the Marin Headlands. A diverse group of artists and creative thinkers—including DEMILIT, Nicole LoBue, Maria Mortati, Jeannene Przyblyski, Stephanie Rosenbaum, Richard A. Walker, David Wilson, Cooley Windsor (AIR ’00, Affiliate ‘01-‘02), and Devin Zuber—offer fresh perspectives into the natural environment and human history in this complex locale. Gather and disperse, walk and talk, hear, touch, see, smell, and encounter Headlands anew.”

Children’s Creativity Museum Redesign

date:Opened: 2011
place:San Francisco, CA
role:Concept Development, Exhibtion Design & Implementation

Lead the exhibition redesign transforming the Main Gallery and related spaces from Zeum to the Children’s Creativity Museum. This consisted of crafting a sustainable vision, and leading design through opening. Managed teams, budgets, and resources. Resulted in exponential growth in terms of visitation and membership (project images here).

Maria led the exhibition development and design for the rebrand of Zeum and launch of the Children’s Creativity Museum in 2011. Her approach was collaborative, experimental, and incredibly creative. She connected us to a team of local fabricators, designers, and artist who produced an experience that combined our mission with the needs of our expanding audience through flexible platforms designed to evolve through layered content. Maria worked with staff, board, artists, and visitors to transform the museum into an inspirational and inclusive community resource.

Irina Zadov, then Director of Experience and Community Engagement at the Children’s Creativity Museum

Giant Hand, Machine Project at the Hammer Museum

place:San Francisco, CA
role:Concept and Design

Through the Public Engagement Artist-in-Residence Program at the Hammer, explored interventions to address wayfinding and lunchtime audiences. Our inquiry resulted in a large, physical installation, The Giant Hand. This mechanized,informational sign points visitors to stairways, elevators, galleries, other points of interest, and finally themselves. Project Credits: Concept Maria Mortati & Mark Allen, Exhibit Design: Maria Mortati, Fabrication: Matt Jones, Programming: Ben Dean. Press can be found here.

In practice, I think everyone was a little surprised by the Giant Hand’s efficacy and popularity. Nonetheless, a pragmatic solution would have made the problem invisible such that it functionally ceased to exist… What I find valuable in thinking about these conflicting approaches is that they point to different potential identities for the Museum. Understood as a container, the Museum, along with its infrastructure and operations, is ideally unobtrusive. Machine’s wayfinding proposals, on the other hand, made the Hammer’s infrastructural concerns part of the art that it displayed. The value of this, from a public engagement perspective, is that the Museum becomes a more dynamic and approachable entity—and one that includes the public in discussions about the nature and function of the Museum. The invitation to think critically about the Museum itself is a gambit that implicitly extends to the art: it sends visitors a clear message that the Museum is a space in which art serves as the basis for a conversation about values in which they are welcome to participate.

– Mark Allen, Director and Founder, Machine Project. Excerpt from Public Engagement Artist in Residence Report

San Francisco Mobile Museum

date:2009 – 2012

From 2009 to 2012, the SFMM was an experimental, pop-up museum platform. Exhibits were annual, and resulted from a challenge-based approach to the general public. A platform approach was developed to support both the mobility and to highlight the work of the participants and public.

The first exhibition was a dual city collaboration with the Denver Community Museum. The SFMM has appeared at sites such as the Studio for Urban Projects, various parks in the Bay Area and at the Exploratorium. This project is captured by its participatory blog.

Project images can be found here on Flickr.

Ruckus Nation,

date:Opened: 2008
role:Exhibit Designer

The Ruckus Nation project was a collaborative exhibit project developed with Daylight Design The exhibition and event were to honor children who were finalists in an international competition held at the de Young Museum. Sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, it resulted in a 4,000 square foot temporary exhibition.

Maria delivered spectacular work for HopeLab on an unusual project with an incredibly tight deadline. Drawing upon her expertise as an exhibit developer, she created an inspiring, highly creative, and beautiful installation showcasing our work for an event at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. I would welcome an opportunity to work with Maria again! – Richard Tate, then Vice President of Communications and Marketing, HopeLabs

Maria was the perfect partner for Daylight when we needed a professional to lead an exhibit design program. If you are looking for someone with strong design talent, deep exhibit expertise, who also happens to be a caring, enjoyable collaborator, work with Maria! – Sven Newman, Partner, Daylight Design

Fort Collins Museum of Discovery

date:2008 - 2011 (opened 2011)
place:Fort Collins, CO
role:Project Lead and Senior Exhibit Developer

As an employee at Gyroscope Inc., worked as the project lead for a new hybrid science and culture museum in Northern Colorado.

From Master Planning through Final Design, co-crafted a vision and strategy for the institution through opening. This process included; engaging staff and board, managing outreach to key contributors in the community and exhibition development. Provided tracking and cost estimating of over 16,000 sq. ft. of graphics and interactive exhibits.

Maria has the rare combination of strong project management skills along with a dedication to making projects enjoyable. She has great people skills and is very up to date with current developments within the museum field. – Scott Moulton, Design Director, Oakland Museum of California (then Designer at Gyroscope Inc.)

Image credit: Fort Collins Museum of Discovery


Power of the Prototype Exhibit, MakerFaire


Curated and designed “Power of the Prototype,” an experimental concept exhibit alongside artist Phil Ross’ technebiotic exhibition at MakerFaire. The exhibit was a way to invite the public to understand how complex creativity is achievable by looking at prototypes made by artists, engineers, scientists and designers.

“As a professional curator, her creation was a small scale museum exhibit on the importance of prototypes. A proletariat, mass consumer product like a Glade fragrance spritzing machine is not classically inspiring, but Mike Strasser’s foam core prototype is completely captivating when you are able come face to face with the original idea. One wouldn’t think there would be a celebrity quality to prototypes but, when you have the singular relic in your hand, it is easier to be awed by a fragrance dispenser than you would think.”

Dinosaurs and Robots

Critter Salon by Phil Ross

date:2007 - 2010
place:UCLA Hammer Museum

Critter Salon is an entity created by artist Phil Ross as a way to engage the public in the deep exploration of science. I worked with Phil on a couple of Critter events, most recently the “Enormous Microscopic Evening” at the Hammer. Also assisted on the Technebiotics project.

Outdoor Exploratorium, The Exploratorium

date:2004 – 2006
place:San Francisco, CA
role:Exhibit Developer

As an employee of the Exploratorium, worked on the N.S.F. Funded “Outdoor Exploratorium” grant. During the Research and Prototyping phase,  conceived, built and tested prototypes with team, public and evaluators. In collaboration, developed the project Conceptual Framework, and created a strategy for site selection. Also a member of the Artist in Residency review team. [project images can be found here]

Maria was an energetic developer full of diverse ideas. She wasn’t afraid to try things, and had a keen interest in how her work played out with visitors. She was a strong team player and always brought a positive attitude to her work. –Erik Thogersen, Senior Exhibit Developer / Project Director at Exploratorium

It was a pleasure to work with Maria at the Exploratorium. She’s creative, motivated, and organized, and stood out for her professionalism. – Rae Ostman, then Exhibits Manager



Bay Area Furniture Art

role:Co-Curator & Exhibition Designer

BAFA was the first survey of it’s kind in the region which looked at the intersection of art, craft and design. Included curating, exhibit development, catalog, exhibit design and production. Became an annual event for several years subsequently curated by staff from CCA and SFMOMA. Review here.

Various Projects (Gyroscope Inc.)

date:2003 – 2004
role:Exhibit Designer

While an employee at Gyroscope Inc. worked on a spectrum of projects such as exhibit design and development for The Leonardo, The Bishop Science Adventure Center, the San Francisco Zoo, and the Oslo Barnemuseum. Often with a focus on interactives. Also wrote proposals and edited grants.

Maria has the rare combination of strong project management skills along with a dedication to making projects enjoyable. She has great people skills and is very up to date with current developments within the museum field. – Scott Moulton, Design Director, Oakland Museum of California (then Designer, Gyroscope Inc.)

West Office Exhibition Design

date:2002 – 2003
role:Senior Exhibit Designer

As an employee of West Office, worked as a Sr. Exhibit Designer on projects such as Final Design for the Las Vegas Springs Preserve and Concept Development for the California Science Center.

La Mola Da Arrotino

place:Stanford University

La Mola, known in the Italian-Tirolese dialect as a muola, was the term for an early 20th century knife grinder’s cart. What you see are photographs of a sculpture based around the original design of that machine. This exhibit was created to enable those unfamiliar with the story of the molete (the grinders) to learn by experience and vision: by replacing the grinding stone with a mutoscope of a grinder working on an original mola in the Alps. When the cart’s foot treadle is pumped, the animation is activated. As an individual’s body learns the movement, their eyes see history.

The first mechanical models of this piece were produced with information from old photographs. Later prototypes drew from research, testing, and interviews conducted in Italy. Materials used: walnut, hand-forged steel, machined and bought parts, leather. This was developed during my MFA Thesis at Stanford.

Seeing, The Exploratorium

date:2001 – 2002
role:Online exhibit designer

Working as a volunteer designer, created an online interactive that was a biographical immersion into the life and mind of a writer with limited sight. Called Joel’s World, it was part of the larger Exploratorium’s NSF Funded “Seeing” project

Bay Area Now 2, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

role:Artist & Designer

Co-created a large, interactive installation which consisted of a product show room “,” by artist Neil Grimmer. Concept development through installation consisted of a kiosk-to-modified pager system, with accompanying interactives, wall art, website and visual system.

“In the galleries, many of the artists play with other Bay Area archetypes such as new-age movements, Silicon Valley commercialization and outrageous real estate prices. “Metatherapy” (1999) by Neil Grimmer (with Maria Mortati) combines a few of these issues into one. He creates a business,, which offers New Age personal therapy over the Internet. If you register, every hour you will receive a mantra in a vibrating page. Using pagers, computers, glass and steel to produce little codes for life at the touch of a button, Grimmer combines body and machine, incorporating the high tech and the spiritual with art and commerce.”

– excerpt from Amy Berk, Forever on the Move, San Francisco Bay Area Overview


As an adjunct, I teach a variety of graduate and undergraduate Interaction Design Studios at California College of the Arts.  My work focuses on public interaction design in particular. Their work has been situated at sites across the Bay Area: museums, libraries, homes, and businesses.

Shown: Ghost Library, by Annika Bastasky and Secret Library, by Mingke Yu.