Visit to renovated Oakland Museum a hands-on experience

The newly renovated Art Gallery where guests were welcomed to take part in a drawing workshop or simply view the 3,000 artifacts and art works. Photo courtesy of Tim Griffith

The newly renovated Art Gallery where guests were welcomed to take part in a drawing workshop or simply view the 3,000 artifacts and art works. Photo courtesy of Tim Griffith

As Alyssia Alexandria entered the newly renovated History Gallery at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) Friday night, a museum volunteer handed her a few scraps of drawing paper, a small yellow pencil, and a black and white pamphlet, an official invitation to play “Choose Your Own California Adventure.”

With the materials clutched in her hand, Alexandria had free reign to explore the gallery and its rich history through this self-guided informational tour, reminiscent of a childlike scavenger hunt—one of the activities at the museum’s new monthly educational program, O Zone at the OMCA.

“All the time we flip through history books, and we go online, but it’s always scattered research,” said Alexandria, a 13-year supporter-level museum member—that’s the $125 annual membership, which is three times the amount of an individual membership.  “It’s really great to go through all the phases of history; it’s a great layout, a great space.”

Along with the scavenger hunt, the OMCA offered the 1,600 September O Zone visitors the chance to work one-on-one with local artists during drawing workshops—where guests learned to draw characters like those featured in Pixar films, dance in the outside garden to Bollywood music, and watch a screening of the movie Up! in the renovated James Moore Theatre, complete with a high-definition projector and surround sound.

The celebration on Friday evening kicked off the new program: a series of events, each with its own theme and selection of activities, held beyond normal museum hours and scheduled for the second Friday of each month until 2012.

“Our new programming aspires to go deeper into the ‘Californian,’”said Cynthia Taylor, the museum’s adult program manager.  “It’s not just a stroll through the museum.  We are looking to have the museum stroll through the visitor.”

The museum, which spans four square blocks, reopened last May after undergoing a two-year, $58 million renovation.  Inspired by the transformation, the new O Zone program was designed to showcase the art, history and natural sciences of California through interactive displays and exhibits within the galleries, allowing the museum to “not only engage our past audiences, but to develop new audiences,” said Taylor.

Though he’s been a loyal supporter for 40 years, David Margolies said this was his first visit to the museum since its re-opening. “It’s much more interesting to see things grouped that way,” he said as he realized the museum had switched the set-up of pieces in the Art Gallery.  Now guests are able to view the artwork by theme, versus in chronological order.  “What I like is people putting thought into things and doing displays based on their ideas.”

Showcasing the museum’s extensive collaboration with Pixar—the Emeryville animation studio known for films such as The Incredibles, Monsters Inc., and the Toy Story series—local artists offered drawing workshops in the art gallery and on-site café, Blue Oak.  And there was a special pre-screening artist talk by Bryn Imagire, the art director for Pixar’s Up!

“I’m excited about all the ways we are sharing Pixar with the public through the exhibit, screenings and artist talks,” Taylor said.  “OMCA is a place to create, in real time.  Hands-on activities are a thriving standard to family and youth programs, and adults like and need hands-on activities as well.”

For those who wanted to peek into the creative process behind each animated Pixar film, the Great Hall housed a collection of 500 sketches, sculptures and paintings created by the studio’s artists.  Displayed on the walls were black-and-white sketches of Buzz Lightyear, from the Toy Story series; and polymer clay sculptures of Sully, the friendly blue monster in Monsters Inc. The exhibit returned to Oakland this past July after a five-year worldwide tour, and will continue running through January 2011.

After sunset, guests walked past the theatre and Natural Sciences Gallery toward the garden.  A pathway of flickering candles in white paper bags led to the hour-long NonStop Bhangra Bollywood Dance Party, featuring the San Francisco-based Dholrhythms Dance Troupe.  The dance party was a hit among guests at the museum’s reopening celebrations earlier in the year, and the repeat was just as entertaining, as guests joined in on learning the Punjabi dance form.  Dressed in a traditional Punjabi sari, common attire for festivals and weddings, a member of the dance troupe swiftly moved her arms from side to side, never letting them fall to her sides as she kept to the beat of the music.  Guests followed suit as they tried to perform Bhangra—traditionally based on movements similar to plowing, sowing and harvesting.

“It really invites the public to come in and see our history in California,” said Alexandria.  “Not only are there adults here, but there are children here.  It’s a really good opportunity for museums to invite people to come back and discover the beauty of museums.”

The next O Zone at the OMCA event is October 8 and will run from 5 pm to 9 pm.  The theme will be based on the Pixar film The Incredibles and activities will range from an all-ages superhero costume contest to a dance party with Latin and Cuban style music.  The event is included with museum admission.

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