What sets the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History apart from others of a similar nature is the opportunity visitors have to interact with every dimension the museum has to offer. The MAH’s installations, tours, educational programs, and community events are specifically designed to invite guests to explore, engage, and interpret creative expression and times gone by in a uniquely participatory way.
With executive director Nina Simon at the helm, it’s no wonder why an interactive approach works as magically as it does at the MAH. In addition to many other accolades, Simon is the author of the renowned blog “Museum 2.0” and book “The Participatory Museum” (2010), both internationally recognized and respected for guiding cultural institutions on the art of visitor participation. She is an expert at curating work, sharing information, and generating collaborations that foster an adventurous experience within the traditional museum space.
The museum features a blend of art and history installations and projects that emphasize local elements, support multi-faceted partnerships, and display past, present, and future endeavors. A modest admission fee allows visitors to enjoy three floors. Every exhibit space is meant to compliment the MAH “philosophy”; one that is based on co-creatively developing shows and featuring work that will welcome a wide range of visitors to interdisciplinary and interactive experiences. Contemporary and old-timey installations are exhibited on each floor, as well as immersed throughout the entire building in unexpected ways (it has probably the only staircase in town with a sensory-triggered musical accompaniment.)
On one side of the 2nd floor, the History Gallery currently holds a long-term exhibit celebrating the diverse stories, profiles, objects, and activities that have shaped Santa Cruz County into the lively, melting-pot region that it is. On the other side is a rotating display of guest artists and contributor collections in the Solari Gallery. The 3rd floor outdoor Rooftop Gallery offers a permanent exhibit with the Mary and Harry Blanchard Sculpture Garden, where visitors can relax with sculptures, a fountain, and a decorative mix of plant-filled industrial containers.
The participatory experience extends beyond the museum walls, with ongoing efforts to research, restore, and preserve local historic sites like the Evergreen Cemetery and Davenport Jail. The MAH actively supports education, innovation, and collaboration within civic, social, political, environmental, and economic fields. The museum is equipped to facilitate hands-on programs for schools, youth, and families with its multiple education rooms. With the newly designed Abbott Square almost complete, the museum is also the setting for monthly festivals featuring public artwork, workshops, demonstrations, performances, and landscapes for people to attend and enjoy.
The MAH also hosts an annual Summer MuseumCamp for adults to experience professional development within a creative context. While themes vary year to year, the 2016 focus exemplifies the museum and the empowering, inspirational, interactive direction its staff is steering it in. Entitled “Changemakers”, the event will bring a large and diverse group of people together to promote positive transformation in the community, institutions, and the world.
You can find additional Galleries, Museums and Venues to experience art here on Local Santa Cruz: Galleries