The Whole Shmear 

Oakland Museum kicks off its grand renovation.

After garnering $23.6 million with the 2002 passage of Measure G, the Oakland Museum was well on its way to a giant two-stage renovation project — a projected $53 million total will cover "the whole shmear," said communications manager Elizabeth Whipple. Phase I, which starts in January, will add a stainless steel canopy and wheelchair ramp to the Oak Street entrance. They'll also tear down the art and history galleries and reinstall everything with a more "interactive" presentation. "History is one thing, you look at an old wagon, and you can imagine someone sitting on it and driving into the fire," Whipple explained. "But with art, people may want to know more about the materials, or the artist, or the era." During Phase II, which should begin shortly after Phase I culminates in October 2009, the museum will focus on its natural sciences gallery and improve its educational facilities for students.

Accessibility is, in fact, the main thrust behind Oakland Museum's forthcoming swath of improvements. The revitalized museum will have more captions in Chinese and Spanish, and a better place for students to store their backpacks. But visitor amenities are just the tip of the iceberg. Now operating under new leadership — including director Cherie Newell and senior curator René de Guzman — the museum staff want to better integrate their collections and take a more interdisciplinary approach, said Whipple. After all, she said, "it's more a community resource than a museum. It's nothing pretentious."

This weekend, the Oakland Museum celebrates its grand revitalization plan with Off-the-Wall, a three-day event featuring musicians, artists, lecturers, dance performances, guided tours, yoga, a Feria Urbana, hands-on crafts, and food. Friday night's grownup entertainment features live improvisation by members of Velocity Circus! and music by Candido Oye-Oba. Saturday's "access"-themed events include "tactile textiles" for sight-impaired visitors, performances by Axis Dance Company, spoken word by Avotcja, and a special activist panel co-moderated by de Guzman and Black New World gallery owner Marcel Diallo. Sunday's family-oriented activities feature crafts and more circus performances. Considering the breakout success of the museum's new "First Fridays After 5" series, it appears the venue is trying to establish itself as more of a cultural center than a petrified collection of artifacts. This weekend's celebration should provide some clues as to how the new museum will look. Off-the-Wall runs Friday (5-10 p.m.), Saturday (11 a.m.-5 p.m.), and Sunday (noon-5 p.m.), Dec. 7-10, and costs $8 for adults and $5 for students; Sunday's events are free.


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