Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, California, USA

Posted on July 2, 2012 by


Following an epic journey to Santa Cruz I was very glad to have some time out to visit the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH). I’d heard about the MAH through a very exciting blog, Museum 2.0 by Nina Simon which explores the museum as a place to engage communities using the philosophies of Web 2.0.

As you walk into the space the first thing you notice is this colourful installation which introduces  the current museum-wide exhibition All You Need Is Love, a subject everyone can relate to, it runs til July 29 2012.

You’re immediately seduced by the chalk wall and invited to state what you love. What would you write?

This leads into ‘The Love Lounge’, a small break out room with a sofa, but no time for relaxing, theres lots to keep you busy. A couple of chairs where you can sit and listen to some local people’s real life love stories,  some heart wrenching wall mounted tales from historic locals, a typewriter where you write a love letter, and this wall…

It’s a really exciting introduction to the museum, hearing and reading other peoples stories was both funny and moving, the atmosphere was relaxed and it put me at ease to get involved. One of the best things was that there was music being played, museums can sometimes be intimidating, but this space had the opposite effect.

As you take the stairs to the 1st floor there are voices telling you what they love followed by a wall of colourful amateur artwork produced by a local school. They are answering the question ‘How would you depict love?’, you can see the variety of responses pictured above. The display was great as a collection of images and further emphasised the community surrounding the museum had really contributed to the exhibition.

As you enter the main exhibition space there are some interesting works on display, all requiring you to question the complexities of love.

The exhibit above is a love styles personality test, you answer questions and track the answers on the abacus then place a sticker revealing your style on the table. Great fun. There is also a wall where you can place a post it note stating ‘After the Break up, I…’ – makes for an interesting read.

The DIY Wedding Chapel was created by Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle, they are a couple who made the chapel in protest when California supreme court ruled that same-sex couples could not get legally married. The idea was to generate love throughout the world and here you can write your own vows and photograph the chalkboard as your marriage licence. On the ground floor there were some huge books containing marriage licences, they demonstrated that same-sex marriages were legal until 2008. Personally, this is one of the things that makes me crazy, it really is beyond my comprehension why anyone would want to stop same-sex couples getting married, truly backwards.

Irreconcilable Differences by Leonardo Giles Fleur

The opposing tandem pictured above made me smile. I’m sure we’ve all been in a relationship, romantic or plutonic, where it feels like you’re working against each other. It could make for an entertaining comedy sketch.

The presence of a dining table was quite powerful for me, having my beloved friends or family for dinner holds some of my happiest memories. On the table there was a game ‘Heart to Heart’, a conversational matching game similar to the game Apples to Apples, which I’ve only ever played in the US, its hilarious and helps you get to know the people you’re with. Next to the table is a display board stating that adolescents that sit at the table for dinner several times a week are far more likely to succeed, less likely to take drugs etc. The ritual of eating together creates unity and   provides a time to relax and have conversation in a world that can be dominated by various electronic appliances.

The Love Couples Quiz was in the hallway up to the 2nd floor and required you to read the clues and pair the pictures.

The 2nd floor presented a space to create collages about love, the far wall you can see some of the pieces previous visitors have produced. There’s some lovely images here and it provides a time to sit, get creative and engage with some of the ideas you’re confronted with throughout the exhibition.

There is also an outside sculpture space which would be great for an event, the sun was fierce while I was out there. The permanent exhibition at the gallery ‘Where the Redwoods Meet the Sea’ presents the history of the region.

This is a more traditional history exhibition space, presenting information, artefacts and personal stories from the local area. There is a fancy dress box in Grandma’s Attic which I am not ashamed to say caused a giggling fit between my sister and I, sorry for any children we may have frightened.

As you leave the gallery there is the opportunity  to leave your feedback. Here you can draw, write or comment about your experience and suggest any improvements that could be made. I had a wonderful time, a museum that engages the visitor instead of just throwing information at you is the way forwards. If you ever get chance to visit let me know, I’d love to watch the place evolve, thanks to the museum blog that shouldn’t be too difficult.

Entry Fee: $5

Location: 705 Front Street, Santa Cruz, California, USA