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National Science Foundation Awards Museum $2.5 Million Grant

Oakland, CA, September 22, 2009—The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) today announced that it received a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in support of a groundbreaking transformation of its Gallery of California Natural Sciences and related programming. OMCA will draw upon the grant to develop Hotspot California, a dynamic, participatory installation that redefines the educational potential of wildlife dioramas and may serve as a model for the field at the national level.

Dedicated to sharing the many extraordinary stories of California and its people, OMCA is adopting innovative exhibition and programming strategies and setting a new paradigm for how a museum can engage its public. Hotspot California is part of a major renovation and expansion of the Museum’s landmark Kevin Roche building and dramatic reinstallation of its collections of art, history, and natural sciences.  

The NSF grant comes only weeks after the Museum announced 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 in support of the museum-wide renovation, reinstallation, and development of related programming. With the new grant from NSF, OMCA has surpassed 95% of its capital campaign goal for the $56.2 million transformation.
“We’re moving away from static wildlife dioramas toward a more interactive, open-source exhibition model,” said Lori Fogarty, OMCA’s executive director. “Californians are being invited to contribute ideas and design sections of the installation, which will allow them to experience a stronger connection to the environments featured at the Museum and within greater California.”

“It has never been easy to secure funding for radical new ideas and programs, much less at times like these,” said Sheryl Wong, chair of the Oakland Museum of California Campaign.  “The strong response from national, regional, and local funders to OMCA’s ongoing transformation reflects the power of ideas that come from this institution and its greater community. It confirms the Museum’s role as a leader in fundamentally rethinking the all-important ‘visitor experience.‘”

OMCA is temporarily closed to the public 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.    

The New Gallery of California Natural Sciences: Hotspot California
Funding from the National Science Foundation will support the project Hotspot California: Bringing Dioramas to Life Through Community Voices, part of OMCA’s reinstallation of the Gallery of California Natural Sciences. Hotspot California will feature innovative displays about California places that exemplify the state’s biological and geological diversity as well as its complex environmental challenges—climate change, urbanization, pollution, and invasive species, among others.  

Initially, the 25,000 square feet of gallery space dedicated to the project will focus on places such as Oakland (coastal mountains), Sutter Buttes (central valley), Yosemite (Sierra Nevada range), Joshua Tree (southern deserts), and Cordell Bank/Pt. Reyes (nearshore). Interactive exhibits, learning stations, testimony from scientists and local residents, and related programming will encourage visitors to learn more about these environments and how they have evolved over time, visit them, and get involved in protecting them.

The NSF grant is also designed to foster applications of Hotspot California at the national level. For example, OMCA is planning "Diorama Dilemmas: A Source Book for Museums," a publication that will bring together findings from the project duplicable for the field.

“When the Natural Sciences Gallery reopens its doors, it will inspire visitors about California’s incredible natural resources, raise their awareness of the state’s pressing environmental challenges, and strengthen their sense of place and responsibility toward the natural landscape that we share and treasure,” said Douglas Long, chief curator of natural sciences at the Oakland Museum of California. ”The many participatory exhibition elements will invite contributions and feedback from the community and foster dialogue and discovery.”

The Museum will partner with several institutions on this project, including The Nature Conservancy, Golden Gate Audubon Society, Field Museum, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Bay Nature magazine, YMCA of the East Bay, and East Bay Regional Park District.

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 perspectives, questions, and stories.  

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 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 includes expanding education spaces and the Gallery of California Natural Sciences, the latter by 7000 square feet.

While OMCA will be closed for renovation after August 23, 2009, the Museum will continue to present public programs at various Oakland venues. Details about these programs will be announced soon. In the meantime, please visit the website at for further information and updates.


For more information and visuals, please contact:

Scott Horton 
Oakland Museum of California
[email protected]

Chris d’Aleo / Anja Wodsak
Resnicow Schroeder Associates
212-671-5178 / 212-671-5171 
[email protected]
[email protected]