Through the New California Arts Fund (NCAF), the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH) will focus on diversifying community participation and expanding their impact beyond the museum walls.
The MAH is a different kind of museum, one that focuses on igniting shared experiences and unexpected connections in order to build a stronger, more connected community in Santa Cruz. While the MAH’s art and history collection has many thousands of items with significance to the Santa Cruz area, they believe the role of the museum is to use their full complement of creative resources and talent to drive impact at the community level.
In the early years of their NCAF funding, the MAH developed a “theory of change” to underpin, clarify, and bind their work together under this mission of community building. Where previously they used different criteria to evaluate each of their different kinds of activities, they went in search of a common framework and new language to evaluate all of their efforts against.
Alongside the theory of change, the MAH also established new data collection and evaluation routines to better measure their impact in the community and adapt within their own organization. The MAH staff have found these new surveys to be a surprisingly meaningful opportunity to engage visitors and volunteers - everyone appreciates being asked to share their feedback and feels empowered contributing to an important project at the museum. The team worked hard to develop thoughtful language when asking visitors and partners to self-identify their demographics and the resulting data trends have proved immensely valuable.
January 1, 2014 - December 31, 2019
In the past few years, with an explicit and coordinated focus on increasing the diversity of their staff, trustees, partners, and visitors to better reflect Santa Cruz County, the MAH has seen significant gains across the board, in particular, with Latinx engagement.
The MAH created an “all-in” strategy to engage the Latinx community in the many ways people can become involved with the museum. They found that success in one area really energized staff working in another area, and through collaboration and holding everyone accountable, real and lasting change is happening. As Dr. Johnetta Cole, Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art has said, “The most important book any museum director should read is the US Census.” The closer the MAH has come to reflecting the age, income, and ethnic diversity of their community, the more conversations among the staff have turned to the limitations of that target for serving as an effective proxy for being an inclusive and empowering space. There will always be more work to do on this front and the MAH is striving to iterate on their approach in the second phase of their NCAF work.
In 2015, the MAH began development on a series of projects to enliven underutilized civic space as creative places for social bridging and community connection. The first major expansion opened in 2017 on the MAH’s doorstep as Abbott Square, a new creative heart of Santa Cruz County with 6 mini-restaurants, 2 bars, 2 performances stages, a family-friendly secret garden, lots of public seating, and ongoing art activities and community events. The MAH worked with urban planners and designers to transform the community vision into an inspiring public space, and raised $5 million from community sponsors to make the dream a reality. Ultimately, the MAH looks to succeed at taking the energy and community-building efforts inside the museum out into the community. The Abbott Square project and others like it also look to transform the MAH’s business model, creating new revenue streams and opening doors to new audiences.
The MAH’s innovative approach to arts organization as community builder is spreading around the country and around the world. Their Pop Up Museum toolkit has been used in 160 countries and translated into 3 languages to help anyone, anywhere launch a temporary exhibit created by the people who show up to participate. Their annual MuseumCamp event brings together international creative changemakers to focus on how creative projects and people can act as catalysts for community action and change. Through writing, training, speaking, and sharing, community-based models piloted in Santa Cruz are spreading around the world.