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Oakland Museum of California Awarded $3.1M in New Grants

Oakland, CA, August 13, 2009—The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) is undergoing a major renovation and expansion of its landmark Kevin Roche building and a reinstallation of its art and history collections, adopting innovative exhibition and programming strategies to make museum visitors into museum participants.

With $3.1 million in new grants—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 will renovate and expand its galleries, enhance its public spaces, and develop tools and programs that encourage visitors to share their own California experiences and help shape special exhibitions and displays.

With these grants, OMCA surpasses 92% of its capital campaign goal for the $56.2 million transformation.

“We envision a more dynamic museum experience that will offer more 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.”

“The strong response we’ve had from local, regional, and national funding sources is a reflection of OMCA’s standing as a significant cultural, educational, and community resource,” said Sheryl Wong, chair of the Oakland Museum of California Campaign. “We’re grateful for the widespread support.”

On Sunday, August 23 at 5 p.m., OMCA will temporarily close to the public to complete the renovation. The Art and History Galleries and many of the Museum’s enhanced public spaces are scheduled to reopen 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 integrate chronological and theme-based installations to explore different notions of California identity and reality. Interpretive tools and interactive features will animate the collections; new gathering spaces and program areas will allow visitors to share their own perspectives and stories.

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

Funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities ($300,000) will support the reinstallation of the Museum’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 2200 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.

The Museum is experimenting with 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 via new audience engagement ideas. The Museum continues to explore ways to connect with people of disparate backgrounds; novel 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’re challenging conventional ways of interpretation and emphasizing 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, 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.

Support from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation ($1 million) will go toward the Gallery of California Natural Sciences, scheduled for completion in 2012. 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 for the capital campaign, 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 public programs that will investigate effective ways to broaden and deepen relationships with the Museum’s adult audiences. The new program series will advance 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. New gallery-based programming and public forums will give visitors the opportunity to work with artists, scientists, and historians to explore the region at multiple levels and from multiple perspectives.

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 art galleries that can accommodate large-scale 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 include expanding education spaces and a 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. Details about these programs will be announced soon. In the meantime, please visit for further information and updates.


For more information and visuals, please contact:

Elizabeth Whipple 
Oakland Museum of California
[email protected]

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