UC Santa Cruz is known for a thriving environment that fosters a stimulating curriculum and multicultural community. This energy and focus is reflected in the broad range of thought-provoking exhibits held annually at UCSC’s Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery. Located on campus at Porter College, the Sesnon Art Gallery works to integrate museum-oriented programs and groundbreaking exhibitions into the lives of University students as well as the broader Santa Cruz public. The gallery features the artwork of faculty, students and guests for educational purposes, emphasizes contemporary practices, and encourages interdisciplinary discourse through the lively and diverse context of art.
The gallery was established in 1971, as a gift from Barbara Sesnon Carton in memory of her mother, Mary Porter Sesnon (1870-1930). Mary was born in Santa Cruz, was a patron of the arts, and had a painting studio at what is now the Sesnon House in Aptos. Along with two other family members, Barbara gave UCSC 67-acres of land on which the Sesnon House now stands across from Cabrillo College. The endowment made it possible for UCSC to invest in Porter College (named after the benefactors’ grandfather), along with the gallery.
It was first used as a space to feature faculty and student curated projects. The venue now organizes a schedule of exhibits balancing a range of methods, media, collaborations, and cultures. Local, regional, and national influences are represented in exhibitions, traveling shows, faculty projects, and the prestigious Irwin Scholar Awards. Exhibits are planned at least 1-2 years in advance by the Sesnon Gallery Academic Advisory Committee. This advisory board meets annually in May to determine the schedules of future exhibits, and to review proposals submitted by established professional artists.
The gallery is currently directed by Shelby Graham and managed by Mark Shunney, both specializing in creating, curating, educating, and promoting art in Santa Cruz and beyond. There are multiple facilities used to extend cultural experiences from the main gallery throughout the complex. Around the corridor from the Sesnon Art Gallery is the Fellows Lounge; an adjoining space used to host art displays and dialogues. Porter College also has Arts Instructional Computing Laboratories, consisting of two high-end labs devoted to the arts.
UCSC students also have the opportunity to participate in all aspects of exhibitions, and prepare for their future roles and responsibilities as professional artists. Downstairs from the Sesnon Art Gallery, and congruently open to the public, is its student-run affiliate gallery, the Sesnon Underground. This venue provides a space for students to learn techniques, exhibit, curate, and share their work with the rest of the community. Students from all divisions of UCSC are welcomed to submit applications for visual, conceptual, performance, or science-based solo or group shows. Exhibits are determined by a Sesnon Underground Committee, and typically run for two weeks.
Admission to the Sesnon Art Gallery and Sesnon Underground is free. Parking is also free on Saturdays, or parking permits are available weekdays.
You can find out more about the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery and adjoining spaces here.