Reimagining the Oakland Museum of California

by: Elise Craig/OaklandNorth Staff

The Oakland Museum of California reopens May 1 after a two-year, $58 million renovation—the first major renovation since it was founded in 1969. The art and history galleries have both been remodeled and reinstalled with new artifacts, arrangements, themes and interactives.

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The museum’s third gallery, natural sciences, and new education spaces will open in 2012. When the third gallery opens, the museum will comprise 94,000 square feet.

“Just as California is not a ‘fixed’ place but constantly evolving, this museum is embracing change and openness to new ideas,” said Lori Fogarty, the executive director of OMCA.

“While most museums talk about these things, the OMCA is walking the talk,” said Kathy McLean, the museum’s consultant for gallery reinstallation.

Curators redesigned their exhibits with the modern visitor in mind—more seating, more things to touch and more things to play with. The art gallery features “poufs,” small portable stools that visitors are encouraged to plop front of works or art. The history gallery has an interactive “Land Grab” so that visitors see what life was like for earlier Californians. The OMCA has also mingled artifacts from all three galleries –so that a painting of a golden bear on the wall in the art gallery is displayed with a bear skull borrowed from natural sciences, and a rifle from history.

Funding for the renovations came from donors and foundations like the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as Measure G, a bond measure passed by Oakland voters in 2002 that provided the capital campaign with $23.6 million. The capital campaign passed its fundraising goal of $62.2 million on April 28.

To celebrate the reopening, the “museum of the people” is hosting 31 straight hours of programming—and is even inviting visitors to bring their pajamas to wear into the late night hours. The festivities start with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11 a. m. Saturday, and will continue with DJs, food and drink overnight, yoga Sunday morning,and family events until 6 p.m.. The events are free and open to the public..

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