Kelly Fernandi
Illustration: Joel Kimmel
Kelly Fernandi ’87

Never Failing to A-Maze

by Kristin Baird Rattini
As the president and creative director of Seattle-based Minotaur Mazes, Kelly Fernandi ’87 creates interactive educational walk-through mazes. What started as a project for the business administration major’s business strategies class during his last semester at Bucknell evolved into an award-winning museum exhibit company with global reach: It has installed immersive mazes in more than 250 museums, zoos, theme parks and other venues in all 50 states and 11 countries on four continents.

Q: What was your inspiration for launching Minotaur Mazes?

It was January break of my senior year when a stint of jury duty back home in New Jersey led me to a short Wall Street Journal article about mazes in Japan. It was a huge craze, with more than 150 mazes built across Japan in little more than five years during the 1980s. When I returned to my business strategies class two weeks later, the professor said, “Write a business plan on anything you want.” Not only were these mazes super-popular in Japan, I couldn’t find anything like them in the U.S. It was a ripe and intriguing opportunity.

Q: What themes have your mazes explored?

Exhibits that are currently touring range from Dinosaur Revolution to Mission Aerospace, Tropical Odyssey to American Adventure. Previously we created a chimpanzee exhibit with the Jane Goodall Institute and a GPS treasure-hunting exhibit with our friends at We’ve also created permanent attractions, like the Where’s Woodstock? Adventure Maze, which delighted guests at Knott’s Camp Snoopy in the Mall of America from 1996 to 2006.

Q: What changes have you seen in the museum world, and how has Minotaur Mazes responded to those changes?

Funding from government and private sources has diminished, requiring museums to evolve and increase their earned income. Traveling exhibits and their ability to attract existing and new audiences are a piece of this revenue puzzle. We have always focused on creating fun and engaging exhibits at an attractive price point. This combination has allowed us to survive and thrive in an increasingly competitive environment.

Q: What have been some favorite features you’ve installed in your mazes?

American Adventure has a bunch of standout features, including a climbing wall and monorail zip slide, but the most impactful I think is its overall gamification. It turns American history into a live-action survival game.

Q: Your newest maze, “Amazing Pollinators,” is your most complex yet. How so?

This bilingual exhibit took about two years to develop. Visitors can role-play eight pollinator groups with 48 unique species missions. The exhibit empowers visitors to take these stories and messages with them by observing pollinators at home, planting pollinator-friendly gardens, and participating in local conservation efforts and activities. This combination of features led to a prestigious Thea Award from the Themed Entertainment Association, alongside fellow recipients including Disney, Universal Studios and the National Geographic Museum.

Q: What are your greatest thrills in creating and installing your mazes?

No matter how many times you’ve heard a child shrieking in delight, or making an ‘Aha!’ connection, it’s always thrilling. And to know that these experiences have reached tens of millions of kids and adults here and abroad is a source of ongoing pride.