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San Francisco Bay Aerial Shot.

OMCA “Changing Bay” exhibit aligns with Bay Bridge opening

on September 9, 2013

Blue waves surge overhead and an eerie, underwater soundscape submerges guests into the world that lies below the San Francisco Bay.

“Above and Below: Stories From Our Changing Bay,” opened Aug. 31 at the Oakland Museum of California. The exhibition takes guests on a multidimensional journey through the iconic San Francisco Bay with interactive displays, aerial views and artifacts.

Aligned with the opening of the new East Span of the Bay Bridge, the exhibition explores the bay’s complex history and human impact upon it over the last 6,000 years.

“We wanted to bring out some of the hidden or quirky stories of the bay,” said Louise Pubols, OMCA’s senior curator of history.

The exhibition is divided into two sections. “Above” takes visitors over the bay with panoramic, aerial shots. It also includes stories about the bay’s past and present, asking visitors to ponder what it could be in the future. “Below” mimics life in the evolving, underwater world, while highlighting challenges to its wildlife and ecology.

“I like how they paired the history of [the bay] with pollution,” said museumgoer Dave Bologna, 32, of Ukiah.

In “Below,” an open toilet reminds us of our impact on this estuary – a body of water where fresh and saltwater meet. Sewage treatment plants remove 80% of pollutants from water, but chemicals such as antibacterial soap, detergents, flea killers and prescription drugs pass through to reach the bay.

“There’s stuff that’s just there, and is never going to go away, which was, for me, some of the real eye opening stuff,” said Pubols. During the Gold Rush, mercury was used to extract gold and “there’s still a lot of that left at the bottom of the bay,” she said.

“It turns into methyl mercury, which can be ingested by animals and then works its way up the food chain,” she added.

“Portraits at the Shoreline” is a 2013 photo series by Douglas Adesko that offers a contemporary perspective and opens “Above.” Adesko has lived in the Bay Area for 20 years, but said he “never knew much about the bay before doing this project.”

A video projection of the Bay Area’s shoreline produced by the Center for Land Use Interpretation, awed visitors Marian and David Kolm of Hayward.

“It’s unbelievable,” David said. “We can point out a lot of the places we’ve been.”

“We were both born and raised in the Bay Area, and to see it like this is breathtaking,” Marian added. “It’s like being on a kite and getting a whole different view of the Bay Area.”

“Above” also explores the former hunting community and current ghost town known as Drawbridge. On weekends 100 years ago, duck hunters stayed in shacks suspended over the water.

“They would go do market hunting and that meant they could sell the ducks they shot in the marketplace, which you’re not allowed to do anymore,” Pubols said. “This was something that working class people did to supplement their income.”

The exhibition is a part of the regional “Year of the Bay” celebration, commemorating milestones such as the 150th anniversary of the Port of San Francisco. It is also the first major public exhibition presented with all of the museum’s galleries: Art, History and Natural Sciences.

The “Bay Futures Lounge” allows visitors to reimagine the bay, discuss its issues and share the future they see. “In the Headlines,” an in-gallery discussion series, gives the public a chance to explore relevant news topics and debate ideas for the bay’s future. “In the Headlines” will take place on the second and fourth Fridays of the month from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

“The bay has always been changing; people have always been changing it,” said Pubols. “We’re at an inflection point now where we seriously have to think about what the infrastructure is going to look like in the future.”

“Above and Below: Stories From Our Changing Bay” runs until February at the Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak Street,

Image: Visitors tour the San Francisco Bay Area shoreline with a video projection commissioned by the Museum for “Above and Below: Stories From Our Changing Bay” and created by the Center for Land Use Interpretation. Photo by Shaun Roberts. Courtesy of Oakland Museum of California.

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