The first thing that struck me upon entering the recently reopened, remodeled & restructured Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) is how much more hands-on and visitor friendly it is now as compared to before it closed its doors to the public eight months ago to undergo its first major makeover since the museum first opened back in 1969. On re-opening day earlier this month everywhere I looked throughout the museum's many exhibits I saw people of all ages getting hands-on involvement from museum-headphone wearing folks voting via "Yes" or "No" tickets in the "What is Art?" exhibit, and other participants scribbling down personal histories on post-its to add to the exhibit wall that asks museum-goers, "What events in recent history will have the biggest impact on our future?"
This radical move away from the staid traditional model of museum-goer as non-participant observer and toward becoming encouraged active participant is a deliberate one by the downtown Oakland museum, which invested $58-million into its recent refurbishing. "Interactivity is so important and that is one of the challenges for museums," noted OMCA curator Rene de Guzman in the Amoeblog interview (video below). "Museums traditionally have been talking at people. And you really have to create a new model where you are in conversation with people," said the curator, whose rich Bay Area gallery/museum background includes influential positions at such respected San Francisco arts entities as Intersection for the Arts, Southern Exposure (as artist committee member), and Yerba Buena Center for The Arts (YBCA), where he was the visual arts director (along with Renny Pritikin, de Guzman curated the progressive & popular Hip-Hop Nation exhibit in 2001). de Guzman, who joined OMCA in time for this renovation, pinpoints "community" and "culture" as the two key elements of the East Bay institution, which he put plainly-but-profoundly as, "People telling their point of view."