Become An Oakland Museum Docent

If you are a California history or art lover, then here’s a really neat opportunity:  volunteer to become an Oakland Museum docent.  You need to apply, get trained for a year, and then be available to teach kids and other museum visitors.  With this level of commitment, it’s not for everyone – but maybe for you?

The Oakland Museum has terrific permanent galleries covering history, art and the natural world.  These exhibits are closed while the museum undergoes modernization, and are slated to re-open in 2010.  Yet museum staff is already preparing to train docents, and get ready for next year.

Oakland Museum Of California

Interested?  Decide whether history or art turns you on. The history gallery contains over a million holdings “from the pre-Spanish Indian era to the late 20th century,”  while the art gallery includes “more than 70,100 works by California artists from the late 18th century to the present.”  Not an easy choice.

Then commit to docent training and more training. The application deadlines are February 1st for history or April 15 for art. There’s a $150 fee for training, and scholarships are available.  If accepted, you need to commit to these training schedules:

  • History Docents – Attend classes starting February 17th and each Tuesday afternoon through January 2010 (with summer break), and also take an external college course on local history.
  • Art Docents – Attend two orientation meetings this May, followed by weekly classes from mid-September through March 2010.

Since the docent programs have so many prerequisites, museum staff will hold an open house for interested volunteers Sunday at 1pm.  Otherwise, please contact or call 510-238-3514 for more guidance.

Check Out Monroy’s Photoshop Realism

For a little diversion, drive through the Caldecott and check out what artist Bert Monroy has been doing lately.  An exhibit of his digital paintings opens tomorrow at the Hearst Art Gallery, St. Mary’s College (map) – and the artist presents a photoshop demo on Sunday, at 2pm.

Monroy’s artwork looks amazingly realistic and, at first glance, seems to be based on snapped photos which have been digitally enhanced.  When you look more closely, you realize Monroy creates place-portraits.  “I consider myself a hyper-realist because my paintings are in focus everywhere you look,” he explains.

As a preview of the Hearst exhibit, take a quick peek at the Fox Theater in Oakland painting below.  Monroy pays homage to this newly-refurbished entertainment palace, and makes the place come alive.

Fox Theater - Bert Monroy

Another Monroy painting caught my attention as well, which captures a lunch scene in Tiburon.  I’m guessing this is an outdoor table at Sam’s Cafe, located near the Angel Island Ferry.  Even the typical condiments and drinks look fascinating here.

Lunch In Tiburon - Bert Monroy

Although this kind of digital art is only possible in the modern era, it makes me think about American photo-realism over the years.  There’s a fine tradition here in the Bay Area, especially with Robert Bechtle.  A few years ago, the SFMOMA exhibited a retrospective filled with rooms of his California dreamin’ paintings.  Here is a perfect example of a classic mid-1970s car, parked in Alameda.

Rather than snapping photos, these artists are attracted to depicting common life with their own brushes – and we all like to look at their artistic efforts too.  With this new twist from photoshop, I wonder what kinds of things artists will create and how their work will be exhibited in the real world.

Bert Monroy’s one of the earliest artists on this digital bandwagon.  “This [exhibit] is a retrospective, so it traces my work back to the MacPaint days of 1984,”  says Monroy.  “It moves forward to early Illustrator, PixelPaint and so on.”  To see how the evolving tools impact his work, put the Hearst Gallery on your “must-do” list.  The exhibit opens tomorrow and runs through April 5th.

Montclarions Too Distant From Oscar’s Death

Oaklanders rang in 2009 with our first killing, amplified for the world to see.  There’s plenty to say about Oscar Grant’s terrible demise, the BART cop, the inflamed protests, more orderly rallies – and seeing justice served.

In peaceful Montclair, we seem to be appropriately horrified by the killing and relieved the BART cop will be tried for murder.  But is that really enough?

Oscar Grant Rally

As I meet folks around Montclair Village, there’s not a high level of outrage here.  While I genuinely believe that people care, there’s a certain and clear distance from the goings-on.  Here’s an unadorned list of our reactions and behaviors:

  1. The action’s just a few miles away.
  2. We make sure not to drive downtown.
  3. We check the news obsessively.
  4. There’s chatter about this murder and its aftermath.
  5. Everyone feels safe in the hills, anyway.
  6. Everyone goes about their regular, daily lives.
  7. We talk about patronizing downtown businesses.
  8. We are hoping the BART cop gets put away.
  9. We don’t really do anything about the events.
  10. And we accept this is Oakland life.

Wow, reactions from residents are almost…like Israelis.  Yes, there’s a war going on with Hamas in Gaza.  We are in Tel Aviv and just know these things happen.  We continue with our lives, because we live like this.  It’s a bit of a metaphorical stretch, I admit.

But have we become so accepting of greater Oakland’s ills that we sort of ignore them in our daily lives?  Maybe there are some important lessons to learn, because we haven’t really entered the post-racial Obama heaven.   We could keep up the spirit of giving and helping, beyond the holidays.  Every small gesture helps.

How Oakland Looks To Hip San Franciscan

Let’s take a moment to smile about how Oakland looks to a hip San Franciscan and her friends.  This now-former Yahoo employee commuted from San Francisco to Sunnyvale daily, and decided to map her commute a while ago.

You can see the length of her daily drive and world view, in a thick blue line running 36 miles along 101S.   It’s a classic and traffic-filled journey that she endured for many years.

Perception Of Oakland

The ex-Yahoo displayed the whole Bay Area map, and began annotating areas beyond the commute.  A friend joined the game, and described an unknown and unexplored East Bay:  The mysterious land to the East.  Here be Berkeley and Oakland (and dragons).

I wonder how often some San Franciscans leave their tip of land and head east?  Maybe Marco Polo should be shipped out on an adventure, to find the shortest routes to spices.  I swear there is already a there, there…we’re here and willing to conduct trade.

Perception Of 94611

Then our commuter pointed to the Oakland Hills again, singling out what appears to be our 94611 zip code:  This is the mysterious section known as “French Oakland.”  They speak in an entirely different dialect over there.

At least we all speak the same language, right?  I could not have described our world any better than this hip chick, who has only passing interest in our city.  Touche.

Pay For Additional Private Patrols

As you know, burglaries are one the more common crimes around the Oakland Hills and they tend to occur in neighborhood waves.  Typically an unknown car is seen, some guys (at least so far) are walking around and visiting neighbors, and ultimately homes are hit.

“Casing vehicles and persons are a daily occurrence in Oakland,” said John Sebastian, who runs Safety Dynamics.  “The only effective viable solution is to flood the area with marked patrol cars on a regular basis so that anyone casing will just go somewhere else.  It is impossible to stop criminal activity altogether…you can only hope to push it out of your area.”

Crown Victoria

What Oakland Cops Do: Our city police are assigned to cover the “beat 13” areas of Rockridge and Montclair, and they patrol areas around our neighborhoods.  Besides paying attention to what’s been formally reported by residents, officers serving Montclair also receive a list of monthly priorities from the Montclair Safety Council.

We are trained to call and let the Oakland Police know about suspicious-looking activity.  There are different levels of alerts, and spotting unfamiliar folks isn’t exactly an emergency because there’s no actual crime underway.  Still this has played out pretty consistently, and the descriptions help cops ultimately nab burglars.

What Private Patrols Do: Some residents are looking for additional reinforcement, and they hire private patrols for more security and protection.  These services can fill in the gaps because they patrol 24×7, and can respond to homes or businesses within five minutes.  They still respect and work with the cops, who are alerted first by alarms – but act as backup for their clients.

Private patrols can bolster the safety of entire blocks, too.  In the Estates neighborhood, the local watch group recently confirmed that a black Chevy Suburban had been spotted in the area and later served as “getaway car” from a home burglary.  They shared this beta with private patrollers, as well as city police.

Demand Is Steady: “Crimes in this area are a serious problem in our view,” explained John Sebastian.  “I do not think that any where else in America would the frequency of armed robberies, auto thefts and home burglaries be tolerated.”

Sebastian’s been running a local private alarm and patrol service for 17 years in the Oakland Hills, primarily covering the 94618, 94705 and 94611 zips.  My guess is that business is pretty good for Sebastian and his competitors.  It makes sense to have a third eye out there, if you can afford to protect yourself.

We continue to rely on the Oakland Police, who have stepped up their responsiveness.  But constant coverage of your own home or business is ideal, and that won’t happen anytime soon from the public dole.