Bringing out the Masses at OMCA

OMCA celebrates local culture and community.


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Free monthly drop-in art activities are a family friendly element of Friday Nights @ OMCA.

Photo by Shaun Roberts, courtesy of Oakland Museum of California

Every Friday, as the surrounding court buildings close for the week, Off the Grid food trucks line up along 10th Street at Oak Street, but at the Oakland Museum of California, the party is just getting started.

Pretty soon Korean-fusion spicy pork tacos, chicken and waffles, and lemongrass tofu spring rolls from the trucks’ small windows are in customers’ hands. Diners cluster on the steps, pockets of them expanding and joining others for a communal picnic. A small stage completes the makeshift auditorium with music switching between the month’s resident DJ and a live band strumming up salsa, Cumbia, soul, and R&B.

Whatever the soundtrack, children dance in the courtyard with a joyful abandon that brings everyone—young couples, new families, and an ethnically diverse crowd—onto the dance floor. People mill around the weekly art project—making paper flowers or Mexican tin art—or near the koi pond, watching cooking demos or sipping local brews and wines. It’s chill, casual and friendly, not too raucous and not too mild. However, compared to the serene calm within the museum, it’s a full-blown festival.

Welcome to Friday Nights @ OMCA, which is approaching the end of its second year. It’s the OMCA’s free, weekly, late-night block party full of local artists, food trucks, and entertainers, as well as discounted museum admission.

The party outside is too good to miss, but many set aside time to venture indoors. When they do, they find the museum eerily empty—which presents a perfect opportunity to browse the exhibits, uninterrupted. A spooky stillness rests over the stuffed-and-staged flora and fauna in the Gallery of California Natural Sciences; hollow eyes stare back from the skull-filled altars of the annual Day of the Dead exhibit; elsewhere, an interactive exhibit and accompanying audio rampage through the halls, and the ideas, priorities, and perspectives of previous cultures reflected in the Native People, Gold Rush, and Civil Rights Movement exhibits put visitors in a contemplative state as the party outside gets lively.

It’s fitting that OMCA, as caretakers of the city’s and California’s history, offers such a weekly program that celebrates the present in addition to the past. Friday Nights @ OMCA turns the museum into custodians of current culture through the food, art, music, and dance of the community—it’s a snapshot of what Oaklanders value and what brings residents together.

Oakland Museum of California, Friday Nights @ OMCA, 5–9 p.m. Fridays, 1000 Oak St., Oakland, www.MuseumCA.org/Friday-Nights-OMCA

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