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‘Designing Motherhood’ at the Gates Foundation’s Discovery Center Set to Close Dec. 30

There’s still time to catch this ground-breaking exhibit before it’s gone

Author Kari Hanson

Published on: December 01, 2023

Visitors at the Designing Motherhood exhibit
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Charina Pitzel

Editor’s note: This article was sponsored by the Gates Foundation Discovery Center.

During the upcoming winter break, many families head downtown in search of things to do with their children. Seattle Center is a hotbed of activities, performances and exhibitions that offer learning opportunities during the winter months. One such experience, the “Designing Motherhood” exhibit, now on display at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center, is approaching its final weeks. Families have until Dec. 30 to catch this ground-breaking exhibition that explores motherhood and what it means.

About the exhibit

Designing Motherhood” has been an exhibition at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center for most of 2023. It encourages visitors to think deeply about conception, contraception, pregnancy, birth and postpartum experiences. It includes some 200 objects that tell the story of human reproduction and maternal and newborn health, including historical artifacts, works of art and Gates Foundation–funded innovations (read our full review for more detail).

“Designing Motherhood” was chosen as the temporary exhibition for 2023 because maternal, child and newborn health have always been pivotal to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s work. Exhibition curator, Sarah Bloom, explained that, “the exhibition looks at the history of the arc of reproduction through the lens of design. It also includes 12 contemporary artists that examine their own journeys around Motherhood, as well as objects and innovations that the Gates Foundation has supported on maternal, newborn, and child health globally.”

On Dec. 30 the exhibit will be leaving Seattle. Its next stop? The Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design in Stockholm.

"An exhibit inviting people to try baby wearing at the Designing Motherhood exhibit"
Visitors get a chance to try different baby carriers. Credit: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Charina Pitzel

Making an impact

Over the past year an array of visitors viewed “Designing Motherhood,” from birthing families and birth advocates to healthcare workers to PEPS groups and tourists visiting Seattle.

This exhibition is the first of its kind to examine the evolution of rights and societal norms connected to contraception, pregnancy, birth and postpartum experiences over the last 150 years. The Discovery Center hopes that exhibitions such as this will help visitors inspire action around global and local issues.

“If you are curious about maternal health and the culture surrounding it, this exhibition draws you in immediately. Even my teenagers were very engaged.”
– exhibition visitor

Bloom hopes that “visitors will walk away with a bigger scope and perspective on how much progress has been made and yet how much more work needs to be done.” She hopes visitors will understand “the notion that ‘motherhood’ isn’t a monolith, but myriad and very diverse” after they visit.

"Visitors to the Designing Motherhood exhibit"
Visitors at the “Designing Motherhood” exhibition. Credit: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Charina Pitzel

Visitors' voices become part of the exhibition

One part of the exhibit asks visitors to place a dot on the wall near their country to mark how much paid or unpaid parental leave they or their family received. The dots tell a visual story about areas of the world and the differences and similarities in the policies around parental leave.

Throughout the year that the exhibition has been on view, amazing stories have been shared from all over the world, from family planning and birthing experiences, to how we care for families and babies in our communities.

"A woman looking at an exhibit at the Designing Motherhood exhibition at the Gates foundation's Discovery Center"
A visitor looking at an exhibit gathering information about parental leave. Credit: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Charina Pitzel

A closing reception on Dec. 12

To mark the closing of this remarkable exhibition, a public reception will be held at the Discovery Center on Dec. 12, from 4–7 p.m. The reception is free and open to all, though an online RSVP is requested. The reception will be a celebration of the exhibit and will include a variety of activities and entertainment, including:

  • Artist chat with Aimee Koran who works across the mediums of sculpture, photography and mixed-media installation. Her practice questions how the images, issues and objects closely associated with motherhood inform the social-political structure of the care economy.
  • Live music by Kenyan-American singer-songwriter Naomi Wachira. Wachira’s songs are moving and uplifting, with an expansive quality that calls us all to rest, heal and take part in the rich human experience. She is known for her soulful and powerful vocals, poignant lyrics and captivating live performances.

Attendees will also have the opportunity to meet local organizations working in the motherhood space, including Families of Color Seattle, Nurturely and more.

So unless your holiday travel plans include a trip to Stockholm, make sure you take the time to visit “Designing Motherhood” by Dec. 30. You’ll be glad you did.

If you go ...

When: Designing Motherhood” runs through Dec. 30 at the Gates Foundation Discovery Center, open Thursday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., first Thursday hours extend to 7 p.m.

Where: 440 Fifth Avenue North, Seattle, across the street from the east side of Seattle Center, near Memorial Stadium.

Cost: Free

Getting there: There’s a surface lot at Seattle Center, directly across Fifth Avenue, as well as parking garages nearby. For public transit, take the Monorail to the Seattle Center or Metro bus route 3 and 4.

Sponsored by:

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