Oakland Museum of California

To begin the new academic year, Odette Lockwood-Stewart, Director of Field Education and Contextual Learning at the Pacific School of Religion, organized a trip to the Oakland Museum of California for new and returning PSR students, faculty, and staff to explore “California as Context.”

On September 2, 49 PSR participants headed to the “Friday Nights @ OMCA” program. Everyone experienced the “Oakland, I want you to know…” exhibition. As Chris Treggari, artist and one of the exhibit organizers, explained, “This exhibition is a microcosm of the conversation about gentrification that’s going on in Oakland and the Bay Area… It amplifies those voices through art and provides another way to enter this complex conversation.”

PSR students also chose a gallery to visit: Art, Science, or History; participated in the launch for the new zine, “Lost + Found,” and had conversation with Niva Flor, the Museum’s Public Programs Developer.

In this blog post, two new students, Paige Foreman-Smith and Joseph Ramelo, reflected on their experiences at the Oakland Museum of California (photos by Erin Burns, Marketing & Communications Manager, PSR).

Oakland Museum Reflection by Paige Foreman

One of the first things I found in the art museum was this cube with mirrors that faded into transparent glass, and I was drawn to it. I must have spent five minutes walking around the cube and watching myself fade in and out of existence. It was an experience that bordered on mysticism, but I was unable to explain why it was so powerful right away.

After the guest speaker event, I found a meal at one of the many food trucks and a friend invited me to eat with a group of people. I am deaf and depend on reading people’s lips to understand spoken language. With people talking over each other and loud music playing in the background, I found the conversation hard to follow. I felt myself fading, slowly becoming transparent as glass. I left the group and explored the quiet museum alone.

I visited the Oakland, I want you to know… exhibit and learned about how issues such as gentrification, food deserts, and rising housing prices are affecting this diverse community. People in Oakland have varying degrees of visibility depending on their race or socioeconomic backgrounds, for example. Art has allowed us to see the invisible in new ways.

Then, I made my way to the science museum, where there was an exhibit detailing the plight of the bees. They are dwindling due to environmental damage and the effects of climate change. The bees are extremely important for agriculture, and their fading out of existence impacts nature’s delicate balance.

When I made my way to the history museum, I learned about the oppression of the Native People by the Spanish. One culture declared theirs visible and the other invisible, and the invisibility of the Native Americans continues today. California is a unique intersection where cultures and languages have faded, brightened, and merged into each other.

Finally, before I left the museum, I came full circle and returned to the cube. I walked around it and watched myself fade in and out of existence, the angle at which I saw things constantly shifting.

By revolving around the world of the cube, I became the cube, and the cube and the world became me. Everything is seen, unseen, and all that is in-between.

Orientation Immersion by Joseph Ramelo

As a new student in the Master of Divinity program at the Pacific School of Religion (PSR), the Bay Area is not entirely new territory for me – I did my undergrad at Golden Gate University, and I lived in San Francisco for a number of years before pursuing my B.A. in Business Management. Here’s the thing about those of us who have lived in San Francisco: we usually never leave San Francisco. It’s a very self-contained city, especially if you are like me and rely entirely on public transit to get around.

Even for someone who has previously lived in San Francisco, PSR’s Orientation Immersion at the Oakland Museum was a valuable experience. Although I ended up getting a ride to the immersion, I had to take BART back to campus. That was a new experience for me as well, since I’ve only used the Lake Merritt station once before. To actually get downstairs to the train platform was interesting because the escalators didn’t seem immediately obvious from the large plaza. I went back to campus with a fellow cohort who was completely brand-new to the San Francisco Bay Area, so the commute was a new experience for the both of us.

Back at the Oakland Museum, the immersion was a lot of fun. For about an hour, we were allowed to wander the museum and take in the different exhibits. I wandered around with my cohorts, alternately taking in the enlightenment of certain pieces of art, while staring in bafflement at others. In particular, I enjoyed “Oakland, I want you to know…” I loved seeing all the ways that local residents expressed their devotion to their community. No matter how much new money comes into the Bay Area, no matter how much of our spaces that outside developers consume, they will never fully grasp the roots that we have literally and figuratively planted into this soil.

The most immersive part of the Orientation Immersion was definitely Friday Nights @ OMCA. The diverse cuisines sold by the food trucks and the lively turnout from the larger Oakland community really helped to immerse our cohort in the local atmosphere. It was also a great opportunity to bond with members of my cohort in a less formal setting than the other scheduled events of orientation week, or even the formal setting of being inside the museum. The experience of attending Friday Nights allowed us to collectively “let our hair down,” producing a lot of spirited banter, laughter, and memories. I will always remember how a quiet member of our cohort joined us in conversation with a basket of French fries and explained, with a giggle, that the food truck she bought them from called them, “Sexy fries.” In response, the eyes of a more outgoing member of our cohort widened with disbelief as he exclaimed, “Well, well!” And all of us, even our quiet colleague, burst into laughter right there amidst the Oakland community.