The Museum of Art & History at the McPherson Center

State of the MAH from Executive Director Nina Simon

Posted by on November 10, 2015


The walls of my office are papered with comment cards from MAH visitors. One of my favorites says:

“Your vision, energy, creativity, and community-building have really added a lot to Santa Cruz!!”

This is the core of what we do at the MAH. Our mission is to ignite shared experiences and unexpected connections. Using art and history to build a stronger and more connected community.

Folkloric dancers and activists from Project Pollinate engaging at 3rd Friday: Beyond Borders

Folkloric dancers and activists from Project Pollinate engaging at 3rd Friday: Beyond Borders

We invite everyone to be part of making art and history. Over 50,000 people visit the museum annually. More importantly, over 2,000 locals collaborate with us on programs, exhibitions, and projects. We matchmake these 2,000 unlikely partners from across the County year-round: folkloric dancers and engineers presenting at monthly 3rd Friday Festivals. Artists and activists exhibiting their work. Homeless adults and history buffs cleaning up Evergreen Cemetery. Business leaders and street performers designing a new community plaza in Abbott Square.

These projects help people build bridges–and community. Museum visitors tell us that “meeting new people” and “being part of a bigger community” are two of the things they love most about the MAH.

In 2016, we’re ready to take this vision of community-building further in three key ways:

  • By deepening partnerships across the museum. Most collaborators work with us on community festivals and educational events. In 2016, we want to involve more local partners in all areas of the museum. We’re seeking community builders who want to help inspire students in our school field trips. Artists who want to work with teens in the Subjects to Change program to promote social justice through art. Amateur sleuths who want to help us transcribe historic diaries in the MAH archives. Partners who want to help create powerful exhibitions on local issues. Find your niche and get involved today.
  • By taking our mission to the streets. We can’t build community behind our walls alone. Over the past few years, we’ve started to spread across the County, with fun events like Race Through Time and the incredible Princes of Surf history project this summer. In 2016, we want to invest more energy into countywide outreach partnerships, especially with Latin@ community groups. This includes participating in regional festivals, expanding historic restoration at Evergreen Cemetery, and exploring new opportunities to design mini-exhibits for bus shelters and community centers. Our ability to ignite community is only as strong as our ability to connect with diverse people, wherever they are in Santa Cruz County.
  • Samba Stilt Circus performs at GLOW 2015

    Samba Stilt Circus performs at GLOW 2015

    By expanding into Abbott Square. In 2016, we will start construction on Abbott Square, transforming the plaza next to the MAH into a creative heart for downtown. This incredible new venue will be a home for community events, art performances, local food and drink, and a secret garden especially for families. It will extend the MAH into a free, 24-7 free museum without walls. It will allow us not only to build community inside the museum, but also throughout our downtown. We have raised $4.7 of the needed $5 million to make this project a reality. Learn more and join us in this effort at

Thank you for your support and participation as collaborators and donors, volunteers and members in 2015. I hope you will get more involved in the year to come.

Let us know what you are most excited about, what you hope for, and how you would like to be involved. We are only as strong as the community we build, together.



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Moments of Transcendence: an interview with Danielle Peters

Posted by on July 29, 2015

Peters Moment of Transcendence image by GarciaYou might think you just climb stairs to the 3rd floor of the MAH.
But what if you thought about it like transcending?

You’re going up. You’re in between two phases. (Those phases might be the 2nd and 3rd floor, but c’mon, they’re still phases.)

Those are the kinds of moments Danielle Peters drew from when creating Moments of Transcendence. It’s a paper sculpture that welcomes you upward to the 3rd floor of the MAH. The sweeping forms of paper are made up of many collected moments of transcendence from her Boys and Girls Club students and MAH visitors at 3rd Friday: Beyond Borders.

Find out more about the sculpture here, and read an interview Danielle Peters did with former Exhibitions intern Emily Corbo below.

EC: You work in several different mediums.  How would you define your work as an artist? Do you have an overall intention for the work you create? Is there a relation between the different mediums you work in?

DP: Whether drawing or creating sculptures, costumes, and installations, I am typically manipulating paper in some way. Paper is practical for someone working within a modest budget, but it is also a very affective and transformative material. You can literally take a material people throw away everyday and give it new life.

EC: What inspired this piece? What was your intention in creating it?

DP: I have gone through many transitions since moving to Santa Cruz five months ago and have met the most inspirational people during this time. I have never felt like I belonged so much to a community. I wanted “Moments of Transcendence” to be an open conversation between the broad spectrum of people that make up the Santa Cruz community, but to also feel like an intimate conversation between friends. My intention was to learn more about each participant’s unique experience, but also to highlight our shared human experience. We all go through moments of extreme suffering and bliss, and we are changed by these moments.

EC: Can you elaborate on the title and the materials? Why Moments of Transcendence?
This piece is composed of the personal stories of others. Where did you source your content from? Can you provide some examples of the content created when making this piece? Do you have any particular “moments of transcendence” that stood out for you?

DP: I worked on the elements for this piece alongside members of the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Cruz and participants at MAH’s Third Friday event, Beyond Borders. I was surprised by what people were willing to disclose, and grateful for each participant’s willingness to share their stories with me.

The initial stages involved spreading out drawing materials and large rolls of paper for groups of people to work on side by side. Through offering space, material, and springboard questions, I wanted to create a platform for sharing these stories. I wanted people to feel comfortable and like they were part of a team when creating this piece. I also wanted there to be a balance of self-expression and anonymity present as participants wrote or illustrated their experiences on paper. I am always amazed by the events that people consider transformative. The kids at BGC wrote and drew pictures of happy times in their lives, like baby brothers and sisters being born, rollercoaster rides, learning a new skill, or moving to a new home. More often than not older participants recalled moments of struggle rather than joy. Life events that seem capable of destroying lives often end up being the most meaningful. Cancer came up a lot. I think it is empowering to find that even in the worst situations we get to be the ones to choose whether we are built up or broken down by these events. I am always shocked by the limits people surpass when faced with something that seems as insurmountable as heartbreak, cancer, the loss of a job, home, or a loved one. It is very empowering to hear these stories.

EC: You have several sculptures made from cut pieces of paper. Can you elaborate on your method of constructing sculptures through paper? Where did this concept develop from? Why paper?

DP: I enjoy the malleability of paper, it changes shape and meaning so easily. Working with paper allows me to turn nothing into something; garbage into something beautiful. I like finding value in things with little to no monetary value. I enjoy being the one who dictates an object’s worth. I think that is what I enjoy about art, dance, and music, it is really hard to stick a price tag on that kind of value.

I started making these sculptures in graduate school at the University of Georgia. My professor, Eileen Wallace, had taught me how to make my own abaca. I loved the way this fibrous paper looked, like skin or fingernails. It made me want to create sculptures that similarly combined plant and animal characteristics.  

EC: What is the process of creating a collaborative piece and installing it? Can you elaborate on how the content for the piece was collected? When installing the piece, is there a mapped out design or does the design of the sculpture shift as the project is installed?

DP: I am very much influenced by the space. When talking to Stacey [Garcia MAH Director of Community Engagement) in the initial stages about how I wanted to contribute to the Beyond Borders event I knew that I wanted to focus on the psychological aspect of borders. I wanted to create a piece that communicated some kind of ascension, so we were thinking of places in the museum like the elevator or areas around the stairs. I drew out 3 or 4 ideas and let the curators decide which design and location would work best with the other events happening in the space. They ended up choosing the most ambitious plan, both in scale and location. Fortunately I had the help of friend and artist, Leigh Erickson, in the installation stage, as well as Stacey and my mom, Terri Peters. I don’t know what I would do without my friends and family, they play a large role in everything I do in art and in life. I owe so much to them!

EC: Where do you turn for your inspiration?

DP: Everything inspires me: dance, surfing, hiking, conversations with strangers, and other artists. Everything I read, everyone I meet, everything I see in society and nature; it all works its way into my work in way or another.

EC: Do you have any advice for aspiring artists who are interested in collaborative work?

DP: Don’t be intimidated by the people you admire and don’t underestimate your talents. Approach people who inspire you, even if they do something completely different than yourself. Your talents could be equally as inspiring to them and useful in a collaborative setting.

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Artifact of the Month: Bringing the Town Together, Catalyst Poster from 1966

Posted by on June 10, 2015

In MAH collection-land, the 1960s are big—huge, in fact. Recently I’ve accepted a few wonderful donations from this decade. It was a pivotal time in Santa Cruz County’s history. And locals are ready to open their closets, storage sheds, and trunks to share part of this history with us.

Santa Cruz became a cauldron of cultural experimentation, neighborhood activism, intellectual exploration and environmental protection in the 1960s and 1970s. This progressive shift was one part university students, one part community activists, one part hippies with alternative lifestyles.

Located in the old St. George Hotel, the original Catalyst Coffee House and Delicatessen was the downtown gathering place for artists, politicians, students, and professors. The hotspot opened in 1966. Patti DiLudovico, a folk singer, chose the name “the Catalyst” to foster a welcoming atmosphere where ideas flowed with the beer and wine. Patti and her husband, Al, ran the Catalyst. “[UCSC administrator] Byron Stockey came to us one day, saying ‘We need a place where we can bring the University and the town together, ‘” Patti said.

Catalyst Poster, 1966. Artist: Doni Tunheim

Catalyst Poster, 1966. Artist: Doni Tunheim

A few months ago, I met Holly Harman, author of Inside a Hippie Commune. Packed with photos and stories, this book describes the counterculture in Santa Cruz County. Holly told me that Patti reminisces about the Catalyst days. She wanted the MAH to have 3 original posters advertising the opening of the deli. These posters are amazing works of art, in a flowing art nouveau style. Local artist Doni Tunheim painted these beauties in 1966. My favorite is the one featuring a seated woman. Her red hair winds around the deli’s moniker and “coffee,” “pastries,” “art shows.” That sounds pretty great to me.

While thumbing through Inside a Hippie Commune, I noticed Stanley Stevens’ name. Stan is Librarian Emeritus at UC Santa Cruz and amazing local historian. He comes in every week to the MAH archives and works on indexing some of our collections. Stan was part of the co-op Catalyst. In fact, he was the treasurer. And you think you know a guy…

Stan says that he was also in charge of filling up the huge pickle container for the Catalyst. He got the pickles from somewhere in San Francisco. He used to drive there once a month to attend ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) meetings. I showed Stan another recent donation to the MAH. It’s an original menu from the Catalyst. Stan said, “Oh yes, Carly [his wife] made the chocolate crazy cake. She’d bake some in the morning, and by the afternoon, the Catalyst had sold out of it. Now I have to get that recipe.


Artifact of the Month: Of Cheese and Dairymen: Scaroni Ranch Photograph

Posted by on February 4, 2015

My family has a soft spot for dairies. My husband was born and raised on a dairy ranch in the San Joaquin Valley. He loves telling boyhood stories about growing up among the bovine, milk, and the regular occurrence of calf birthing. We almost got married at the old barn.


A Barn at Scaroni Ranch

A Barn at Scaroni Ranch

Here’s a photo of another old barn closer to us. This barn was part of the Scaroni Ranch, a huge dairy operation situated along the North Coast of Santa Cruz. Pio Scaroni came to Santa Cruz from Gordola, Switzerland in 1868. He was a successful dairyman. The ranch prospered for many years. It’s now part of Wilder Ranch State Historic Park.


The North Coast of Santa Cruz County has a rich dairy history. “There was a time when the lowing of thousands of cows mingled with the lofty screams of the seagulls, starting in the early 1800s,” wrote Santa Cruz columnist Wally Trabing in 1966. Dairies dotted the coast—from Santa Cruz to Half Moon Bay.


When you think dairy ranch, you think milk. But this is a cheese story. The Scaroni Ranch took their turn at cheese in the early 20th Century, making the Fancy Flat cheese. These delectable cheddar rounds weighed 24 pounds. Cured for up to three weeks in warm cheese houses, the rounds shipped to Santa Cruz or San Francisco. At the height of production, the Scaroni Ranch produced 300 pounds of cheese a day.


Many dairies along the coast took up the cheese making business. But by 1933, it was all over. Changing laws forced the ranchers to quit the cheese and take up solely milk production. But that dried up too, due to the take-over of larger California dairies. For more information about our dairy history, check out We might not be able to snack on slices of Fancy Flat, but we can do our part to protect the land of milk and cheese.


Don’t Forget to submit to History Journal #8

Posted by on January 8, 2015

History Journal No. 8 – Article Solicitation The Forgotten People of Santa Cruz County
The History Publications Committee of the Museum of Art & History is pleased to announce that History Journal No. 8 will be devoted to the history of the people of Santa Cruz County. But not just any people, not the famous, or wealthy but forgotten or under-represented people.

The journal will be dedicated to local historian Phil Reader (1940 – 2014). Phil was a champion of the under-represented and disenfranchised. He researched, documented, and shared their history.

In the words of the historian and UCSC librarian emeritus, Stanley D. Stevens:

Phil was one of the most generous historians, focusing on Santa Cruz County and the underrepresented people that other historians chose not to write about, or deferred to Phil, knowing that he was developing “the” definitive history on that subject. His writing and research included African Americans, Outlaws, and Prostitutes. His “To Know My Name — A Chronological History of African Americans in Santa Cruz County” is a classic that reflects Phil’s attention to detail and accuracy. . . His wit and gracious presence will be missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him, or those who he has touched by his spirit. Many of his essays (327 items) may be read on the Research Forum website, hosted by the Museum of Art & History.

In the spirit of Phil Reader this journal will capture the previously untold stories of the people who have not yet been written into Santa Cruz County history.

Below is a partial and preliminary list of those whose stories might be included in the journal. Some of these may take the form of major articles, while others may be short sidebars or presented in an appendix.

Unsung Heroes
Minority Communities
Quiet Philanthropists
The Defenseless
Servants of the Community
Those who Served
The Enslaved
The Frail and Vulnerable
Those Taken Advantage of
People who made a Difference
Unrecognized Craftspeople
Planning for History Journal No. 8 has already begun, and the Committee is soliciting proposals for contributions. Authors of articles will be asked to submit their finished contributions in September 2015, with publication expected the following year.

Guidelines for authors are available on the MAH website under Learn— History Publications— Guidelines for authors.

Please submit your suggestion in the form of an article abstract, by March 1, 2015, to the Chair of the Publications Committee, Lisa Robinson at, (831) 338-4152, or to Marla, Santa Cruz MAH, 705 Front St., Santa Cruz, CA 95062.

The History Publications Committee

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