Abbott Square

Wed, Feb 24, 2021

Robb Woulfe

Robb Woulfe - Executive Director

Enhancing Cultural Vibrancy for Our Community

The MAH brings people together around art and local history as a way to cultivate community. At the end of the day, however, we are also a business, with a bottom line and operating strategy. We are part of the creative economy, one of the largest industry clusters in our state. The term creative economy includes not only the arts, media, and design, but creativity itself as a strategy for innovation and entrepreneurship. In California alone, the creative industries support 2.68 million jobs, $209.6 billion in labor income, and $650.3 billion in annual output.

As a cultural worker myself, I have spent the past two decades as a producer and community animator, working with great organizations and cities to offer diverse programming, events, and public art experiences. Now having the privilege to serve as director of the MAH, I understand first-hand the value of using innovation and creative practice to promote place identity, enhance livability, spark engagement, drive tourism, invigorate the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and ultimately serve as an engine of economic development.

Abbott Square Market 02 copy

The MAH bolsters creative economy and community development in the following ways:

  • Driving economic development – Joining forces with County and community partners, the MAH transformed Abbott Square and Abbott Square Market into a hub of creative happenings. By bringing people together around meaningful objects, stories, and experiences we build cultural vibrancy, and there is a return on that investment. The market is now a venue for local businesses, and our revitalized downtown center attracts investment in the form of residential and business developments. It has also become fertile ground for creative innovation.
  • Investing in creative entrepreneurs – The MAH supports many local entrepreneurs—from food vendors in the market, to artists and historians pushing the boundaries of their fields, to innovators finding new ways to disrupt an industry. Our commissions, residencies, awards, and publications support new works, and our programming is a wellspring of inspiration. We continue to look for new ways to wed our community’s strong entrepreneurial spirit with our rich creative culture.
first friday craft night
  • Operating a fiscally sound organization – The MAH must remain attractive and relevant to ensure visitation, earn revenue and support, and optimize our resources. We do this by offering programming that keeps our patrons coming back. One of our defining tenets is to learn from experience. Thus, our current strategic planning process is based on assessing the economic and social impacts of our initiatives, so that we can make any changes necessary to better serve our community.
  • Synergistically building vibrancy – The MAH is one of many cultural organizations that make Santa Cruz what it is—a quirky, caring, creative, vibrant place to live, work, and visit. Partnering with one another results in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. It is crucial we work together to enrich and grow the creative economy, infusing it into all aspects of our County and City. Not only does this benefit our minds and spirits, but our cultural and economic vibrancy as well.
Tom Killion – MAH Museum Gallery

Our plans for the future involve the following emphases:

  • Placekeeping Placekeeping elevates local culture, heritage, and landscapes through artistic and historical interpretation, growing pride in place. Not only do the MAH’s exhibitions, festivals, and programs encourage localism as well as the tourism that financially benefits businesses, workforce, and City and County tax revenue, they also invest in our cultural profile to enrich our local community, invite participation, and ensure we remain attractive and relevant.
  • Community belonging – Cultivating a sense of belonging helps to transform communities. By encouraging culture and identity to flourish, we increase civic participation. Recognizing and nurturing belonging should be a cornerstone of urban planning and social policy. We seek to enhance it by animating our museum, historic sites, and public spaces in a way that honors our diverse cultures and histories, while encouraging interaction and community building.
  • Social connectedness By crafting experiences around social connectedness, we encourage people to come together and interact, sparking investment in the MAH and one another. In our view, the museum is a civic commons, or public space. This is true of the MAH itself, as well as beyond the museum walls in physical, intellectual, and emotional space, where we embrace shared heritage, lifelong learning, cultural literacies, physical and mental health, and more.

Our approaches include:

  • Articulating narratives that represent the beliefs, values, and ideals of Santa Cruz County to guide our programming
  • Launching a biennial festival series to connect and inspire patrons and guests in and around the MAH and County
  • Unveiling temporary public artworks that invite engagement and interaction while creating a draw to our civic spaces
  • Creating new artistic work and cultural content in addition to preserving and presenting our collections
  • Designing virtual activities that invite online interaction to serve our community during and after the pandemic
  • Investing in local artists, historians, and creative practitioners via commissions, residencies, space, and resources
  • Encouraging a shift toward regenerative economy within our community to capitalize on opportunities
  • Building support for citizen artists and storytellers to increase involvement in creativity and cultural exchange
  • Committing to accelerating diversity and equity in our cultural workforce and leadership pipeline
  • Collaborating with other cultural organizations to strengthen our mutual impact
  • Engaging in the global conversation by connecting local and regional initiatives to broader contexts
"At a time of such uncertainty, it is crucial to recognize the enduring value of creative enterprise to drive community development. We need to celebrate our local cultural organizations and do what we can to support the sector."

Cultural Vibrancy

Santa Cruz County has long specialized in creativity, and the MAH is proud to be part of that time-honored tradition. Our achievements to date are the result of an exemplary group effort made possible by the collaboration of many partners. Together we have built a livable downtown (where livability refers to its tangible, physical attributes), and together we can ensure vibrancy (the positive emotional qualities of a community) for years to come.

In 2021 and beyond, the MAH forges boldly ahead with our inventive offerings, working with collaborators to breathe new life into our cultural scene and public spaces. This has become more important than ever as we emerge from the pandemic, reconnect, and rebuild.

Arts communities around the world have experienced colossal blows in the past year, and our own cultural landscape in Santa Cruz County has been altered in unprecedented ways. At a time of such uncertainty, it is crucial to recognize the enduring value of creative enterprise to drive community development. We need to celebrate our local cultural organizations and do what we can to support the sector. We need to develop vision, strategies, and priorities, and ensure long-term funding to sustain such high-quality programs and facilities.

The MAH looks forward to joining municipal planners and policymakers in conversations around recovery efforts, because we know that artists, cultural organizations, and events add great value to our community. Recognizing this cultural vibrancy is not only key to attracting and retaining people and businesses, but to making and keeping place, nurturing belonging, and fostering connectedness.

A renaissance of art, culture, creativity, and community is upon us. By recognizing and strengthening the institutions, businesses, and individuals who make our creative economy flourish, we can harness it to the benefit of all.

For more information, please see our full report: Cultural Vibrancy Report: The MAH’s Role in the Creative Economy.

– Robb Woulfe, Executive Director

Cover Photo by Noah Berger/SF Chronicle