The new BAM/PFA

The new BAM/PFA


The new building will represent a major upgrade for presenters, artists, and patrons.

Reuniting art and film in downtown Berkeley.


Whether you’re running a museum or a pizzeria, location is paramount. Currently nestled adjacent to the UC Berkeley campus, the Berkeley Art Museum is perfectly accessible and yet a tad out of the way, unless you’re student or faculty member. Same goes for the affiliated Pacific Film Archive, displaced from the BAM building some years ago due to seismic concerns and ensconced in a theater a few blocks west. Hence the excitement, from audiences and curators alike, about BAM/PFA’s new $100-plus-million home reuniting the two that is under construction in downtown Berkeley at the site of a former UC printing plant.

Scheduled to open in the fall of 2015 on Addison Street between Oxford Street and Shattuck Avenue, mere steps from a plethora of pedestrians (and pizzerias) and BART, not to mention the Berkeley Repertory Theater, Aurora Theater, Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, the Bancroft Library’s Collection of Jewish Art and Life, and the David Brower Center, the building will mark a sea change in BAM/PFA’s visibility and profile.

The move will position the institution to vastly expand its impact on the East Bay cultural scene, with BAM/PFA becoming the de facto anchor of Berkeley’s Arts District.

“Our current university audience comprises about 30 percent of our visitorship on both the art and film sides,” BAM/PFA director Lawrence Rinder says. “We do serve thousands of student and faculty, but they are a minority. What I predict is going to happen is we are going to see an increase in both campus and community attendance, but a proportionately larger increase in community.”

The new, futuristic building, designed by New York’s Diller Scofidio + Renfro, not only boasts double the space, but it also affords all kinds of flexibility for presenting and lighting exhibitions (including natural light in some of the galleries). None of the rooms in the current facility have four walls, which gives you an idea of the limitations the curators must work around. “We will be able to show a more diverse range of art and in better conditions,” Rinder declares.

While the building won’t be ready to present art exhibits to the public for an additional few months after construction is completed next fall, the curtain will go up almost immediately on the PFA’s splendiferous digs. Fans of the archive’s unrivaled film offerings, which encompass retrospectives as well as cutting-edge contemporary work from around the globe, and present countless visiting filmmakers and historians every year, will luxuriate in two theaters (seating 232 and 33 people, respectively) and one of the best motion-picture experiences in the world. An outside LED screen will provide an additional mode of moving-image presentation.

The design also includes three study centers for film, works on paper, and Asian art that researchers, scholars, and students will revel in. “For me to imagine that resource in downtown Berkeley is very exciting,” Rinder effuses.

Clearly, the building marks a major upgrade for presenters, artists, and patrons and a glittering opportunity to entice new audiences. But as the museum threw a public “topping out” party in July to celebrate the positioning of the final beam, a big-picture question hovered on the horizon: Will the museum’s programming change?

“Probably no,” Rinder replies. “Our goal is to effectively move the program we currently have in art, film, and education to this wonderful new location and therefore make it vastly more accessible to broader and diverse audiences. The more nuanced answer is there probably will be subtle changes that I can’t even predict, because the character of an institution is determined in part by its context and its audience. But I do look forward to the changes, and growing into this new community.”

Current Berkeley Art Museum exhibits will conclude in mid-December of this year, with some off-site shows planned for 2015. The Pacific Film Archive will continue to screen in the present theater at 2575 Bancroft Way between College and Telegraph until the fall of 2015. The first art exhibitions in the new building will likely go on view in January 2016.

This article appears in the September 2014 issue of Alameda Magazine
Did you like what you read here? Subscribe to Alameda Magazine »