It’s big and white and blanketed in stainless steel—BAMPFA has opened its new doors in downtown Berkeley and reveals a box of delights. It’s been nearly ten years since the old home of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive was deemed seismically unsafe, and after four years of construction the new space promises creative programs bursting with fun for the whole family.
Art and Film
The museum is equal parts film and art—that’s clear from the giant LED screen broadcasting new and archived material to passersby on Addison Street. Staff envision this outside gallery as a perfect spot for family movie nights. Once inside the building the space opens into a giant amphitheater. Canary Island Pines, felled during the construction, have been repurposed as auditorium benches designed for both casual seating as well as theater. The kids will love the black and white mural by Chinese artist, Qui Zhijie, flanking one wall. It is a map bursting with imaginary details complete with a “logic of zigzag bridge” and a “peak of impermanence.” Painted directly onto sheetrock, every six months the wall will be whitewashed for a new artist to make their mark.
Box of Delights
The building is a former printing plant with a brand new steel-clad extension. There’s ample space for a labyrinth of galleries, two film theaters, a performance area, four study centers, a reading room, an art-making lab and a giant exterior monitor for outdoor film screenings. Digging deep for the building’s foundations, architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro wanted to explore the art of surprise and created gallery space that folds back on itself, giving glimpses of rooms from above and below. To offset this, giant windows fill the space with light, making the gallery feel spacious and welcoming. Putting the building center stage, BAMPFA’s first exhibition is called Architecture of Life and fills the entire museum. A good bet if you want to see the kids wide-eyed with wonder is the work of Tomas Saraceno who has collaborated with spiders for his exhibited art. Equally unexpected is the Untitled piece by Felix Schramm, bursting through a wall on the ground floor.
Kids will likely make a bee line for the Art Lab on the lower floor, a drop-in art space open weekends promising on-going art exploration as well as special hands-on projects with guest artists. The debut theme is mail art, using the whimsical and delicately detailed stamps of local artist, Leavenworth Jackson, and encouraging little artists to be the first ones to send out transmissions from the new space. On the same floor is a Reading Room with books from local printing presses, kid-sized stools and tables, a children’s book collection, Jenga and a decent stash of Legos.
While general admission is $12, there’s good news for caregivers and parents; the museum is free for anyone under eighteen plus their accompanying adult. BAMPFA also does free first Thursdays. For a unique introduction to the big-screen, family-friendly movie matinees at the indoor theaters are scheduled for Saturday afternoons with the first flick a Charlie Chaplin classic. On the second Saturday of the month, the museum is offering Family Fare, an event that unpacks art viewing and art making and is aimed at parents and kids alike. Upcoming sessions include themes on maps and mandalas, brushwork inspired by Qui Zhijie’s mural and the making of a mini museum.
Head upstairs via the floor-to-ceiling bright red stairwells and imagine yourself as the life blood of the museum, which you are. On the top floor you’ll find Cafe Babette, with its pillowy scarlet ceiling, run by the culinary duo who have been delighting BAMPFA patrons in its previous location. The food is fast casual and promises to cater to kids with mac and cheese, pasta salad and plenty of their signature pastries.
Photo credit: BAMPFA
BAMPFA is just one block from the Downtown Berkeley BART station and is served by several AC Transit buses. Two and four-hour metered street parking is available nearby and there’s plenty of bike parking right outside the main entrance at 2155 Center Street. The building is just across the street from the UC Berkeley campus so once you’ve exhausted the museum, the little ones can happily let off steam on in the nearby Eucalyptus Grove.
What appealed to your kids at the new BAMPFA space? Let us know in the comments below.
All photos are the author’s unless otherwise credited.