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November 7, 2017
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OMCA at MASS Action

Two OMCA staffers talk about museums as a site for social action

By OMCA Staff

Since our founding in 1969, the Oakland Museum of California’s mission has been “to be the museum of the People.” That mission remains at the core of who we are and what we do today. But what does it mean to be the “Museum of the People” in the 21st century? One of the ways we live out this value today is through the unique way we create our exhibitions—we invite members of the community to collaborate with us as a key part of the exhibit development process. 

Two of OMCA’s staff, Experience Developer Christine Lashaw and Independent Curator and Community Engagement Consultant (formerly Curator of Public Practice) Evelyn Orantes, recently presented on this topic at the national convening Museum As Site for Social Action (MASS Action), which took place at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in October 2017. It was a gathering that reflects a movement towards utilizing museums as spaces for social action, which is right in line with OMCA’s mission. MASS Action also produced a publication for employees in the museum field to use as a tool for transforming their institutions. This toolkit includes a chapter co-authored by Christine and Evelyn. 

In the presentation and publication, Christine and Evelyn shared two examples of exhibitions at OMCA that centered the voices and perspectives from people in the community: 2015’s Pacific Worlds and 2016’s Oakland, I want you to know… From each of these exhibitions, there are examples of how OMCA worked in close collaboration with the community to develop the final exhibitions. 

“Our contributions to the MASS Action toolkit were about how OMCA shares authority by creating exhibitions in collaboration with community members,” explains Christine. “It’s about the Museum building on the legacy of its inception, and being part of a nationwide movement to transform museums into places for social action.” 

“The toolkit is available to museum practitioners who want to advance this kind of work in their own institutions,” Evelyn shares. “We presented a video created by OMCA which showcases the work we did over the course of 2013–2016 that included Pacific Worlds and Oakland, I want you to know..., among other projects.” 

In this video, you’ll also notice mentions of other familiar names—like artist Chris Johnson, whose work in collaboration with Hank Willis Thomas on Question Bridge: Black Males is now on view, and artist Chris Treggiari, whose work with Peter Foucault is included in Metamorphosis & Migration: Days of the Dead, which Evelyn guest-curated. You can also see clips from Jessie Crime’s film, I Am Oakland, featuring local residents sharing what makes Oakland home. Take a look!