The Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH) is an interdisciplinary, creative hub that deftly serves as the intersection of art, history and civic life for Santa Cruz County. The MAH has actively adopted the concept of a museum without walls, venturing out into the community and not waiting for the community to walk through the museum doors.
“This approach neutralizes the questions: ‘Is it art? Is it history?’ It opens the experience to the community.”
— Robb Woulfe, Executive Director of the MAH
The museum without walls concept can be experienced in Abbott Square – a welcoming public space adjoining the MAH, featuring food and events – and also in outreach programs and cultural celebrations held around the county. Through collaborations with partner organizations, artists, and historians, the museum activates spaces and actively engages with the community.
Robb Woulfe joined the MAH as Executive Director in early 2020. One month into his tenure, the museum, like so many businesses across the state, closed its doors temporarily in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Museum programming shifted to online and outdoors to continue to serve as a resource for the community. The closure lasted over a year, and in 2021 the MAH commemorated its 25th anniversary by bringing the inflatable mobile sculpture The RedBall Project, by artist Kurt Perschke, to locations spanning the county.
The weeklong traveling artwork featured a giant red ball mimicking the iconic MAH sculpture and logo, in essence representing the spirit and vision of the museum, which for a quarter century has pushed beyond its four walls into the community. The project transformed and redefined familiar spaces, and like many MAH events and exhibitions, it quite literally met people where they were, offering a different kind of access point.
The community continues to come to the MAH as well, with a projected 85,000 visitors expected in 2022. Each year more than 2,000 K-12 students visit the downtown Santa Cruz location on field trips connecting them to art and history, and lesson plans are available to instructors on the MAH website. These educational materials, and the MAH’s extensive online history journal, archives, and publications, provide even more resources “without walls.”
The museum is poised to introduce an immersive 10-day festival in mid-September, which will feature an eclectic mix of works by local, national, and international artists and collaborators. Bolstering the MAH’s reputation as a participatory museum, and furthering the museum without walls initiative, the CommonGround festival features multidisciplinary work across the county at downtown plazas, waterways, forested hillsides, and local landmarks, showcasing Evergreen Cemetery, Wagner Grove, Davenport Jail, Soquel Creek, local farmers’ markets, and even the museum itself.
The programming of temporary and performative public art projects during this year’s inaugural event highlights our legacy as farmworkers, seafarers, thrill-seekers, and craftspeople. Robb writes in his museum blog that the CommonGround festival “will strengthen our sense of place while increasing access to meaningful and high quality visual and performing arts.”
The MAH has been a client of Santa Cruz County Bank since 2008. The Bank provided loan funding during the growth project into Abbott Square, and nearly a decade later provided two PPP loans that allowed the MAH to retain its staff during the COVID pandemic.
“The entire Bank team took such great care of us and our nonprofit colleagues. I knew how taxed the staff was at the time, and yet with every single call, they were so friendly and responsive.”
— Robb Woulfe, Executive Director of the MAH
The MAH shares the Bank’s focus on personal relationships, as well as its ongoing support for the arts in all of the communities it serves. “Like our museum, Santa Cruz County Bank takes a people-centric approach to collaboration by investing in the dreams and aspirations of local creatives, storytellers, entrepreneurs, and community builders. Their knowledgeable team is extremely responsive, and always there when we need them,” says Woulfe.
Santa Cruz County Bank has been a longtime supporter of the MAH and its educational, historical and artistic resources. The MAH presents CommonGround, September 16–25, as a mostly free event. Details on the program, schedule and admission are available on the MAH website.
Visit the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & HistoryThe Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH) is a thriving community gathering place that offers a full slate of art and history exhibitions, visual and performing artworks, public festivals, education and outreach programs, and cultural celebrations in collaboration with our many partners.