Museums are known to provide educational experiences, and here's something I learned at Friday Nights @ OMCA (Oakland Museum of California) last weekend: As with some art, snacks, too, can be conceptual.
My spouse was a bit bummed about this realization, hoping the "snack-size" 15-minute mini gallery tour during the fun after-hours event involved perhaps Cheetos (crunchy only) and Red Vines (certainly not Twizzlers). Instead, we munched on morsels of inspiration and nibbles of knowledge as a delightful docent led us through the visual feast in the Gallery of Art, feeding us short-sweet tidbits about two historic paintings of San Francisco.
Not sure why the spouse wanted more food anyway. We had just stuffed our respective maws at the smorgasbord of Off the Grid food trucks parked out front, feeling naughty after gorging on the Jesse James (black forest ham and cheddar basted with white truffle oil) and the Butch Cassidy (provolone and Russian dry salami on sourdough) at the Grilled Cheese Bandits truck, followed by a double dose of double-chocolate cupcakes at the Cupkates Bakery van. It was a tough call. I almost went for the s'mores or the red velvet.
Oh, well. We can try those next week if we want to. Or the next. Or next. See, that's the beauty of this event. A lot of museums have been doing the after-hours thing, but not many do it every single week, and not all with such an abundance of food, beverages, music, performances, art-craft workshops and gallery tours. And it's free! Well, you pay for your food and drink, and it's half-price for adults (free for kids) to go through the galleries. But all the other entertainment and workshops are yours for the enjoying.
What may have begun with a clientele of mostly young artsy types has evolved into a gathering of young and old, artsy and non. A real neighborhood event. The hip crowd is there, too, but also regular residents with dogs, strollers and kids, even tiny babies (one lady had one so small I thought she'd perhaps given birth while in line at The Chairman for a tender pork belly with turmeric-pickled daikon and green shiso).
The event runs from 5 to 9 p.m. They block off 10th Street at Oak and string up strands of white globe lights overhead. Get there early if you want food fast -- later, it's more crowded, but still pleasant on a nice summery evening in this street-party atmosphere. On this night, a DJ spun some spunky tunes. I started dancing the cha-cha. Sorry, I couldn't help it! Dozens of people sat in the mini amphitheater of the lower courtyard, clapping to the music, occasionally dancing and laughing at Unique Derique, a clown who launched into a slapstick shtick with cartwheels that (purposely?) didn't end well.
We wandered through to the lower lobby, where kids were painting their own album covers -- a Wizard of Oz theme, a happy face. Aptly, Derique began dancing to the Pharrell song "Happy," and so did I. I'm sorry, I can't help it!
In the main exhibit hall, we explored "Vinyl: The Sound and Culture of Records." The show, up through July 27, is a celebration of records. You know, those old-fangled black discs people used to spin to hear music? It's basically a mock record store with bins holding an unusual collection of titles ("The Manson Family Sings" -- yikes!).
On over we went to the connecting exhibit, "SuperAwesome: Art and Giant Robot," also up through July with works by 15 artists who have been part of the alternative art-culture magazine, Giant Robot. My favorite was the big robot monkey sculpture powered by tiny monkeys and the occasional cat.
After a quick tour of the history gallery and a chat with a friendly docent stationed at a "touch" station with obsidian arrowheads and animal skins, we hit the newly remodeled natural sciences wing, traveling through the Tehachapis, Yosemite and Coachella Valley, stopping to play with the big magnifying glass to examine a slab of old-growth redwood.
At 7:30 p.m., we gathered with a knot of people on the second level for the snackless snack-size tour. Docent Tom Coulter led us to a painting titled, "The Return of the Whaling Fleet," a beautiful scene of a sailing ship on the bay. We learned actual stuff about how San Francisco was the largest whaling port in the world in the 1880s and demand for the whales' baleen was high -- mostly for stays in ladies' corsets. Coulter was highly knowledgeable about this painting, and with good reason -- turns out the artist was his grandfather, William Alexander Coulter. Fun fact!
We wandered some more, then headed home, stopping at a 7-Eleven to grasp the concept of Red Vines and Cheetos.
Find more information at www.museum.ca.org.
Follow Angela Hill on Twitter @GiveEmHill.
What: Friday Nights @ OMCA, the Oakland Museum of California is a family-friendly take on a festive night market with gourmet food trucks, local beer, wine, and nonalcoholic beverages at the Blue Oak beer garden, plus live music and drop-in art/craft workshops.
When: 5 to 9 p.m. every Friday.
Where: Oakland Museum of California, at Oak and 10th streets in downtown Oakland, one block from the Lake Merritt BART Station.
Cost: Free for outside events; half-price gallery admission for adults; those 18 and under get in free. Drinks may be purchased at a cash bar, and prices vary for Off the Grid food trucks.
Parking: $5 flat rate at the museum garage after 5 p.m., and free street parking after 6 p.m.
Good to know: Some Fridays feature story time with the Oakland Public Library. Artists and performers rotate each week. The Makers & Tasters Series partners with local beer brewers, coffee roasters, organic farmers and authors hosting talks, demos, and tastings on the first and last Friday of the month, from 6 to 8 p.m. Local vendors from Whole Foods Market are featured the last Friday of each month.
Details: 888-OAKMUSE (625-6873), http://museumca.org/friday-nights-omca