Museum and film archive re-opens in Berkeley

Ian-James Vitaga,

Twelve thousand five hundred Bay Area residents flooded the grand opening of the new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film archive on Jan. 31 in downtown Berkeley, owned and operated by UC Berkeley.

Opening day was filled with people of all ages, pets and live music from DJ Luciano Chessa and the group Musical Youth. The new museum is designed with different rooms — some for viewing and some for interaction. The activity rooms were filled with art supplies and children accompanied by parents. Community rooms were dedicated to live performances, and during opening day Salta, a dance collective from Oakland, performed.

The new museum is home to over 19,000 pieces of art, some of which date back to around 3000 BCE — before the Common Era. The museum plans to host more than 400 film screenings and 20 art exhibitions yearly and children of all ages will be given the opportunity to work with artists 12 weekends out of the year. Elementary schools in the area will also have access to free guided tours.

There are three floors and the cafe is on the third, which is open to the public without having to buy an art gallery ticket. The building has two film theaters: one seats 232 and is the size of an average movie theater, while the other has 33 seats and two film viewing booths accessible only by appointment. On the backside of the building there is a grass area with an outdoor screen.

The art galleries fill up 25,000 square feet of exhibition space. Five rooms spread over 6,225 square feet will be dedicated to education, including the Steven Leiber Conceptual Art Study Center, Film Library Study Center, Asian Art Study Center, Works on Paper Study Center and Art Lab. A spacious community room with wooden seating built in a semicircle like a small amphitheatre sits near the entrance to the museum.

The project cost $112 million and was funded by a philanthropic capital campaign along with donations from alumni of UC Berkeley and individual donations. The new building covers 83,000 square feet and was built by architects of High Line in New York City, the Broad in Los Angeles, Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art and Dillar Scofidio + Renfro, a New York City-based firm.

The museum was previously housed in the old building on Bancroft Way in downtown Berkeley, which closed Dec. 21, 2014 and was shuttered for more than a year due to “very poor” seismic standards. The old building was however, approximately 20,000 square feet larger. Its new location is just under a mile away on Center Street.

“The difference is that the new museum uses the gallery spaces more flexible,” Peter Cavagnaro, the museum’s media relations manager said. “Even though the current space is smaller, we still have the capability to pull it off because there is actually more linear space with four walls in each gallery.” The old building had only three walls for each gallery.

“There is no other museum in the country that is half art and half film,” Cavagnaro said. “The closest is the Museum of Modern Art in New York but it pales in comparison.”

The film archive is home to the biggest collection of Japanese films in the world other than Japan. It is also home to 17,500 pieces of cinema from the Soviet Union, West Coast avant-garde film and films from major studios. Film reviews, posters, articles and miscellaneous artifacts are collected in the Film Library and Study Center for an experience in the history of film.

“I appreciate the design of the building,” Sherry Anderson, a local artist that visited the museum, said on opening day. “I love that there are more ways to experience different forms of art here.”