Popular East Bay museum offers virtual tours, digitized exhibits amid COVID-19 pandemic

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- One of East Bay's most popular museums has been closed for nearly nine months due to the coronavirus pandemic. And, like many institutions, it is struggling to stay connected to the community and still pay the bills.

In a normal year, the Oakland Museum of California would be bustling with children on field trips. This year, time has stood still.

"We are often a kid's first museum experience," said Lori Fogarty, the museum's director and CEO. "A family's first museum experience because the kid might be introduced to the museum through field trip."

She says in a typical year, the museum welcomes roughly 30,000 school kids.

"That's a real difference for this museum, than for example museums in San Francisco, which are very tourist driven," said Fogarty.

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The museum closed when shelter-in-place restrictions went into place in March and planned to open before Thanksgiving with limited capacity.

When Alameda County slipped back into the more restrictive purple COVID-19 tier, the museum had to shelve those plans.

"We don't have a new reopening date at this point," said Fogarty.

So far, the museum has not had to layoff any staff, and even though it has lost an estimated $3 million in revenue, it is still moving with work on $20 million dollar renovation project that will better connect the museum with nearby Lake Merritt.

"We have just cut every other kind non-personnel expense, exhibition costs, program costs, marketing everything that we could control we have pulled way, way back," said Fogarty.

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The museum has had to pivot, to meet the needs of the community.

"Now, where we are, is really having to rethink what it means to be a museum is almost all virtual," said Fogarty.

Virtual tours have taken the place of field trips.

A series they call "OMCA At Home" now introduces young people to the museum's collection.

They also moved their popular Dia De Los Muertos celebration online and are also digitizing part of their collection - including thousands of objects and photos from photographer Dorothea Lange. That includes items that haven't been seen by the public in over 30 years.

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Even though the museum is not open physically, it does still cost money to run. It is urging people to sustain memberships, and donate money. If that's not possible, there may be something in that closet you're cleaning out that could help.

The COVID-19 closure also means the popular white elephant sale - a huge fundraiser for the museum - won't happen in its traditional form - it too will be going virtual.

"The only way we will be able to sustain ourselves through this period is through the generosity of our community," said Fogarty.

Here are some ways you can help the Oakland Museum of California:

Become a member by clicking here.

Donate to the museum by clicking here.

Donate to the annual White Elephant Sale by clicking here.

See more stories and videos about Building a Better Bay Area here.
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