Powerful Connections

Rehana Abbas, Director of Philanthropy

Rehana Abbas, Director of Philanthropy

“I believe in the power of museums to help us understand the world through different perspectives,” says Rehana Abbas, OMCA’s new director of philanthropy. “This is an exciting time to join OMCA, where the commitment to social impact through our programs and exhibitions is stronger than ever,” says Abbas, who previously worked in fundraising for major cultural and healthcare organizations such as SFMOMA, UCSF, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Abbas chose portraits by Dorothea Lange as her favorite works in the Museum, which proudly houses the photographer’s vast personal archive. Perhaps best known for her work in the 1930s documenting migrant workers, Lange is the subject of an upcoming exhibition titled Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing (May 13–Aug. 13).

“I love Dorothea Lange’s portraits,” Abbas says. “From photographs like Displaced Tenant Farmers to Ex-Slave with a Long Memory, she was able to tell the story of the time and place through her art. But beyond that, she captured the individuality of the people in her photographs. I feel connected to those people when I look at her images, even though we live in a very different time.”

Conversation Starters

Penny Jennings, Associate Director of Experience Development

Penny Jennings, Associate Director of Experience Development 

When Penny Jennings was working toward her master’s degree in museum studies at John F. Kennedy University, she frequently visited OMCA in her spare time. Jennings recalls being “wowed” by the way the Museum integrated art, history, and natural sciences in innovative ways. But it would be a number of years—during which she worked at the Exploratorium and as a consultant for a broad range of museums—before she would join the Museum’s staff. 

Now the Museum’s associate director of experience development, Jennings says she particularly enjoys the legacy dioramas in the Gallery of California Natural Sciences, which she recalls vividly from her student days. Perhaps her favorite is the Sandhill Crane diorama, not only for its educational and visual appeal but also for how it engages visitors. The diorama features a tall bird in the grass atop a cross section of the ground, revealing an unseen world of underground creatures. “I always notice families standing around it, talking about what they see,” she says. “It’s special because it prompts people to slow down and start a conversation.” 

That kind of visitor engagement is exactly what Jennings hopes to achieve in her new role. “I want to help visitors find fresh entry points as they experience the Museum,” she says. “If I can help people respond to the Museum in the same way that I respond to the Sandhill Crane, then I’ll have succeeded.” 

Representation Matters

Jessica Bailey, Individual Giving Manager

Jessica Bailey, Individual Giving Manager 

Jessica Bailey, recently named OMCA’s individual giving manager, brims with enthusiasm for the challenges ahead. “I am excited to find new ways to cultivate the next generation of philanthropists,” she says. “The Museum has the most amazing, generous donors, and I want to inspire young people to engage in the same spirit of philanthropy.”

Bailey comes to OMCA with impressive experience. After earning degrees in museum studies and business administration from John F. Kennedy University, she pursued a career in development at such prestigious institutions as SFJAZZ, MoAD, and the Exploratorium. It has been a longtime dream of hers to join the OMCA team, she says. “I’ve always had a hard time connecting with the art on view in most museums,” says Bailey, who grew up in Washington, D.C. “Often, the art is very Eurocentric, with depictions of kings, queens, and cherubs. I never saw myself in the work. OMCA’s galleries are the first art spaces that made me feel comfortable.” She cites the Portrait Wall in the Gallery of California Art—where an interactive exhibit invites viewers to draw their own self-portraits and see them on the wall—as an example of the Museum’s inclusiveness.

Her current favorite in the Museum’s art gallery? Archetypes, a 1948 abstract painting by James Budd Dixon. “It speaks to me on so many levels—the colors, the brushstrokes, the composition,” she says. “And the fact that it’s on view in the place that showed me I could finally love American art makes it extra special.”

Photography: Terry Lorant.

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