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New Grants Totaling $3.1 Million Awarded to Oakland Museum of California
Aerial view of the Oakland Museum of California. Photo: T.L. Cheung.

OAKLAND, CA.- The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) is undergoing a major renovation and expansion of its landmark Kevin Roche building and a groundbreaking reinstallation of its collections, adopting innovative exhibition and programming strategies and setting a new paradigm for the way a museum can engage its public.

With the support of new grants totaling $3.1 million from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and the S. D. Bechtel, Jr., The James Irvine, and The Kresge foundations, the Museum is renovating and expanding its galleries, enhancing its public spaces, and developing educational tools and programs that will encourage visitors to contribute information about California based on their own lived experiences, and to help shape special exhibitions and displays. With these grants, OMCA surpasses 92% of its capital campaign goal for the $56.2 million transformation.

“We are envisioning a more dynamic museum experience that will offer many opportunities for dialogue and visitor feedback,” said Lori Fogarty, OMCA’s executive director. “Founded as a ‘museum for the people,’ we have to reflect the state’s ever-changing demographic and embrace the varied communities, environments, and perspectives that give California its many identities.”

“We’ve had a strong response from local, regional, and national funding sources, which is a reflection of OMCA’s standing as an important cultural, educational, and community resource,” said Sheryl Wong, chair of the Oakland Museum of California Campaign. “We’re grateful for the support throughout the Bay Area and beyond.”

On Sunday, August 23 at 5 p.m., OMCA will temporarily close as work on the galleries continues. The Art and History Galleries and many of the Museum’s enhanced public spaces are scheduled to reopen in May 2010.

OMCA’s Transformation and New Educational Tools
The transformation touches almost every aspect of the 300,000-square-foot Museum.

The new galleries will weave together chronological and theme-based installations to explore different notions of California identity and reality. Innovative interpretive tools and interactive features will animate the collections, and new gathering spaces and program areas will allow visitors to share their own perspectives, questions, and stories.

The grants will be used for the following museum upgrades and educational initiatives:

Funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities ($300,000) will support the reinstallation of OMCA’s 25,800-square-foot Gallery of California History and the development and implementation of accompanying educational programs, including a permanent exhibition, docent tours, a web site, and public programs on the history of California.

The History Gallery will showcase more than 2,200 historical artifacts, works of art, ethnographic materials, and original photographs to illuminate the influence of successive waves of migration—from the earliest Natives, to settlers during the Spanish and Mexican periods, to more recent immigrants and their interactions with people who arrived before them.

Four sub-themes will further guide the History Gallery’s presentation: the diverse identities of the state’s people (The Diverse Peoples of California), the relationship of people to the environment (People and the Environment), the contrast between the myth of innovation, freedom, and self-fulfillment and often conflicting realities (The California Dream), and California’s relationship with the rest of the world (Global Connections). Oral histories and storytelling will play a prominent role throughout the gallery. The Museum is experimenting with a range of technologies, such as digital interactive exhibits and audio stations, to encourage visitors to contribute their own storylines.

Funding from The James Irvine Foundation ($600,000) will support the launch of a special project that will build on OMCA’s leadership in redefining the museum experience through new ways of audience engagement. The Museum continues to explore ways to connect with people of disparate backgrounds; progressive exhibition models; and new technologies to engage the community inside the museum galleries and online.

“The initiative will significantly advance how we work with our collections to engage Californians and visitors from other places,” said Barbara Henry, OMCA’s chief curator of education. “We are challenging conventional ways of interpretation and placing more emphasis on flexibility, transparency, and community involvement in the curatorial process.”

The James Irvine Foundation’s grant through its Artistic Innovation Fund initiative is the second secured by OMCA, making it one of only two arts organizations in the state to receive a second AIF grant. The first grant, awarded in 2006, supported the Museum’s vision to make its Gallery of California Art more welcoming and relevant to diverse visitors. Three other California arts organizations also received grants through this second round of AIF grants. They are The American Conservatory Theater Foundation, the Armand Hammer Museum, and San Diego’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

Support from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation ($1 million) will go toward the Gallery of California Natural Sciences, scheduled for completion in 2011. The Gallery will explore California as a “hotspot,’” a place that ranks among the greatest in the world in biological and geological diversity but whose ecosystems also suffer from enormous pressures—urbanization, pollution, large-scale agriculture, and invasive species, among others. OMCA is reinventing the visitor experience to encourage a compelling connection to place, an understanding of the issues facing the natural environment, and a sense of urgency for sustainability and conservation. Bechtel is a leading grantmaker in the area of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

In addition, OMCA received a $1 million challenge grant from The Kresge Foundation toward the capital campaign for the transformation, to be met by December 2010.

Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services ($150,000) will allow OMCA to produce a focused series of innovative public programs that will investigate effective ways to broaden and deepen relationships with the Museum’s adult audiences. The new program series will play a significant role in advancing the institution’s mission to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds to think creatively and critically about the natural, artistic, and social forces that characterize California and influence its relationship to the world. New gallery based programming as well as major public forums will give visitors the opportunity to work with artists, scientists, and historians to explore the region at local, national, and international levels and from multiple perspectives, exploring the meaning of identity as Californians.

San Francisco architectural firm Mark Cavagnero Associates is overseeing OMCA’s renovation and expansion, honoring the original architecture and landscape vision of Kevin Roche of Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates and landscape architect Dan Kiley. Modifications encompass new exhibition and programming space, including two galleries that can accommodate large-scale art works; seating; and modernized lighting for better viewing of the collections. The first phase of external construction—a sky-lit central staircase, new main entrance, and ADA accommodations—was finished in June 2009. Subsequent construction phases will include expanding education spaces and major renovation of its Gallery of California Natural Sciences.

While OMCA will be closed for renovation after August 23, 2009, the Museum will continue to present public programs in a variety of venues throughout Oakland.

Oakland Museum of California | National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) | the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) | and the S. D. Bechtel | Jr. | The James Irvine | The Kresge foundations |

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