When the Oakland Museum of California's natural science gallery reopens in 2012, the California mountain lion diorama — which visitors may remember from years past — will still be there, the big cat posing in its dramatic, taxidermied glory.
But in the future he will not stand alone. He'll be accompanied by exhibits on the latest scientific research on habitat restoration, climate change, human encroachment on wildlife territories and displays created by people who live in various regions of the state.
Building on what they've learned from the reinstallation of the museum's art and history galleries, which will reopen next weekend, curators are developing big plans for the 30,000-square-foot science wing, repurposing many of the original exhibits, in new ways and new contexts.
"Often when a museum remodels or builds a new building, they sweep all the old exhibits out the back door and start with all new stuff," said Kathleen McLean, principal consultant for gallery reinstallation. "In the spirit of sustainability, we're reusing existing exhibits, but bringing them to life with individual stories and voices from people of California on this place they love so much."
Construction on the final phase of the Oakland Museum of California's $62.2 million transformation begins this year. Along with new exhibits, exiting ones will be enhanced with new technologies for audio and visual data display and even links to websites and social media forums. With a working title of "Bringing Nature to Life through Community Voices," curators are already working with residents of seven distinct California habitats and collaborating with research scientists and conservation groups such as the Nature Conservancy, the Golden Gate Audubon Society and the East Bay Regional Park District among others to develop programs and displays.
"We're going to places in the state considered 'hot spots' of spectacular biodiversity in terms of the amount of birds, plant life, animal life, and we'll work with local groups in places like Palm Springs, the Shasta area, the Mojave Desert, having the people themselves make exhibits about the area — not just scientists telling you what kind of rock this is," McLean said. "And as current scientific discoveries are made, we'll have various venues in the gallery where they can be shared and discussed."
As well as rethinking the presentation of the gallery's holdings — said to be the largest collection of California plant and animal species in the world — curators in all of the museum's departments are connecting the dots between their disciplines, recognizing the relationships between art, nature and history.
"In the history gallery, for instance, there's a section that describes the booming housing development, the bridges, freeways that arrived in the 1950s," said Lori Fogarty, the museum's executive director. "We'll also have a display next to that talking about how the environment and habitats took a big hit. You usually don't hear that story in a history gallery.
"Plus, we plan to have a few science exhibits in art and history so that, while construction is going on, people won't forget there's a science gallery here, too," she said. "So stay tuned."