Berkeley Art Museum

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January 27, 2016

7 things not to miss at Berkeley Art Museum Pacific Film Archive

San Francisco has its own array of world-class museums. But here are seven reasons the new Berkeley Art Museum is like no other.

Art and snacks into the night

Many museums stay open late one night a week. But the Berkeley Art Museum is the first in the San Francisco Bay Area to stay open until 9 p.m. every day it’s open, Wednesday through Sunday. Now visitors to San Francisco can hop on a BART train on the Richmond line after a day in the city with plenty of time to see the museum’s exhibits in the evening. Grab a bite to eat in the cafe. And see a film that’s showing nowhere else. The museum café, Babette, is open until 9 p.m., offering dinner, wine and beer. The portion of the café that projects over Center Street, called “Swig’s Lounge,” will serve beer, wine and small-plate items from 3 to 9 p.m. (You can visit the café without paying admission to the museum.) 

Staying awake for the art? Babette will serve house-made pastries, coffee and espresso drinks that made the café such a hit in the museum’s former building. Now it will offer coffees from what are called “third-wave” local roasters such as Ritual, Verve, Heart and Catahoula.

A treasure trove of film and video

The joint operation of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is unique—the film and video collection is as vast and varied as the art collection. It’s one of the best in the nation, and now there are two state-of-the art theaters offering more than 400 films a year. The largest has 232 seats and can show a variety of formats, from 35mm archival prints to 4K digital projection. 

The schedule begins Feb. 3 with Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal.” Coming up are classics from the archive’s Japanese film collection—the largest outside Japan.  Also on the calendar are tributes to Italian actor Alberto Sordi and Hollywood figures ranging from director Nicholas Ray (“Rebel Without a Cause”) to production designer William Cameron Menzies (“Gone With the Wind.”). The calendar and tickets are available on the BAMPFA website and at the museum ticket office. 

Outdoor screenings, too

All the films won’t be indoors. On the Addison Street façade a 30-foot wide, high-definition outdoor LED screen will display digitized films and videos from the collection, commissioned works of art, and feature length films. There’s a park-like seating area already in place. Films and videos will be visible to anyone walking or driving by as well. Special showings will be noted on the museum’s website.

Step into a Zen forum

Just inside the museum entrance, a forum offers wide, deep seating that steps down to the lower level galleries. The seating, as well as the ticketing counter and the shelves in the museum store, are made of wood contrasting with the building’s white plaster and stainless steel. But it’s not ordinary wood. It was milled from Canary Island pine trees salvaged from the site as it was cleared for museum construction. And the woodworker was a local craftsman, Paul Discoe, who is an ordained Zen Buddhist priest and designer of Buddhist temples.

Everybody’s an artist

You can be a kid again, as well as keep your own creatively busy in the museum’s Art Lab. It’s a dedicated space on the lower level chock-full of supplies. Anybody who visits the museum—not just youngsters—can walk right in start making art. Guest artists will lead workshops, too. There’s a focus on drawing, collage, prints and handmade books. But since it’s Berkeley, anything goes. 

Create your own collection 

Want to assemble your own art and film collection? There’s a 10-foot wide touch-screen on the museum’s lower level to get you started, the “Collection Portal.” When it’s ready, museum visitors of all ages can pull up works from the collection, rearrange them in new combinations and blow up images to view details. The screen fills a wall just outside the film library and study center. It should be fully functional by the summer of 2016.

Music and moonlight

Local musician Sarah Cahill has been producing concerts on the Summer Solstice for years. Now she’ll bring her innovative spirit to the museum every evening when there’s a full moon—even if it’s a Monday or Tuesday when the museum would usually be closed. You’ll be able to see and hear various performances that will take place simultaneously in different corners of the museum. Or you can experience them as a live soundtrack for exhibits in the galleries or food and drink in the café.


Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
2155 Center St., Berkeley 510-642-0808. #bampfa
Wed.–Sun., 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Films nightly, Wed.–Sun. Cafe, Wed.–Sun., 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Open house Jan. 31; regular hours begin Feb. 3.

One block east of BART Downtown Berkeley station. From San Francisco, board Richmond-bound train, or take Pittsburg/Baypoint train and transfer at MacArthur station.

Robert Taylor is a long-time San Francisco resident who has written about Bay Area arts for newspapers, magazines and Fodor’s travel guides.

Photo by BAMPFA

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