Oakland’s Museum Temporarily Fades From View

Like most Oaklanders, we’re saddened by the upcoming closure of the Oakland Museum of California.  Where will we go for our traditional wildflower and mushroom shows?  Where will we take visitors, who always get a kick out of the old timey, California galleries?  And where will we get a reliable, satisfying hit of art and culture?

Assuming the Oakland Museum holds on to its unique identity, we’re all for overdue improvements to the physical plant.  These are the first renovations since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the Moon (and the Hornet, but that’s another Oakland story).  In fact, the museum and gallery design plans look terrific and you can view them here.

Favianna Posters

As Oakland’s museum temporarily fades from view, the natives are curious about what happens after August 23rd.  We already know the history and art galleries are supposed to re-open in May 2010, while the natural sciences gallery re-emerges sometime in 2012.  Meanwhile, the museum will continue living, breathing and transforming itself.

Museum Collection Moves Out

Well, there’s a lot of time involved in dismantling rooms, exhibits and an entire museum.  “It depends on the size and complexity of the exhibition.  A painting show will dissemble more easily than large sculpture or fragile artifacts,” explained Elizabeth Whipple, Communications Manager for the Oakland Museum.  “Think of the water pump truck used in the 1906 fire and quake:  valuable, fragile, hard to move and store, essential to the History Gallery.”

The difficult move means that the treasure trove won’t move (or hasn’t moved) far away.  Back in 2007, the museum opened their state-of-the-art California Collections and Research Center.  So the trove is getting sorted, conserved and stored in a safe and undisclosed location within city limits.

It’s mind-boggling to deal with more than 1.2 million objects in the collection – including over 70,100 works by California artists, one million objects and photographs about state history and people, and 112,090 objects documenting the local ecology.

Museum Brain Trust Keeps Working

Whipple said the staff remains hard at work, as usual.  “Curators do much of their work at their desks (on the phone and internet), in meetings, and visits to other museums and artists’ studios.  That won’t change.  They don’t work in the galleries, except to give occasional tours to peers and the public.”

More importantly, no one will lose their jobs at the museum.  Due to the one-time nature of the renovations, some  staff will be assigned to other roles – and there’s plenty to do before next spring’s launch and reopening.

Even the museum docents will continue their training courses.  The history docents have received initial training at a live exhibit, and will attend storytelling and improv workshops.  Their art counterparts are learning how to look at art carefully, and will train in the unfinished art gallery this winter.

Museum Offers Cultural Snacks

Oaklanders won’t be left completely high and dry during the closure period, because the museum will offer cultural snacks to all takers.  Keep on the lookout for a range of talks, presentations and displays in the months ahead.  Here are few things already planned:

  • Public Art – The construction zone will become an art zone instead.  Oakland arts activist Favianna Rodriguez has been asked by the museum to install public art on the plywood wall fronting Oak Street.  She does beautiful and provocative work, including the posters shown above, and we can’t wait to see what she’ll do with all that space.
  • Native Crafts – Ohlone historian Linda Yamane has been commissioned to create an authentic basket, which Whipple declared as “the first Ohlone basket created in California in hundreds of years.”  Yamane will grow, dry, flatten, design and weave it herself – and visitors will be able to see her working on the heirloom.
  • Online Dia – A “Virtual Day of the Dead” is in the planning stages, where Oaklanders would submit ofrenda images for this composite, online show.  Oakland celebrates Dia de los Muertos on a grand scale every year, so why not pay homage to it?

Museum Still Visits The Public

Educational programs will be available without interruption as well, including presentations at classrooms and other city venues.  On the agenda are the Gold Rush, a nature sciences class about birds, and the California Indian Lifeways program.  If you would like more information, then please reach Joan Collignon, at (510) 238-3515.

Last but not least, the Museum Store will be available online.  While this store offers only a few books and maps today, it’s supposed to get stocked more fully.  We depend on their selection for many “what should I buy” gifts, especially around the holidays.

Remember, the countdown begins now.  You have only a few weeks, until August 23rd, to drop by the museum before it shutters for eight full months.  We suggest checking out the current exhibits – about Africans in Mexico,  Berkeley-based artist Squeak Carnwath, and the Giant Sequoias – as a fond farewell to this unrenovated friend.

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