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Sun, Aug 28, 2022

Robb Woulfe

Robb Woulfe - Executive Director

Stretching Beyond, Within, and Across Our Walls

For those wanting to explore some adventurous terrain, we invite you to join us for CommonGround, our new biennial festival of place-based, outdoor work, which debuts September 16–25, 2022. From handcrafted sailing vessels and music among the redwoods to aerial artistry performed high above Abbott Square, the festival offers activations across the county at downtown plazas, waterways, forested hillsides, and local landmarks.

CommonGround is the latest signature offering from the MAH, presented as part of our museum without walls initiative. Focused on temporary and performative public art projects in rural, urban, and architectural space, this 10-day event features multidisciplinary, site-responsive installations and interventions across our natural and built environments, connecting people, stories, and landscapes. It uses the scenic vistas of Santa Cruz County as its canvas, showcasing Evergreen Cemetery, Wagner Grove, Davenport Jail, Soquel Creek, local farmers’ markets, and even the museum itself, making the walls of the MAH permeable and awakening a sense of place with living art.

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The Writing on the Wall (installation view) by Hank Willis Thomas and Dr. Baz Dreisinger, photo by Sy Adubu, NYCLU

At the MAH we believe in community, and the power of art and history to cultivate a world that is inclusive and welcoming. Not only does the festival embody these institutional beliefs, but it aligns with narratives that reflect the heritage and character of the greater Santa Cruz region.

Our inaugural event explores themes of conservation, activism, representation, and the writing and re-writing of history—topics that resonate with our diverse coastal culture.
It does so through the kinds of innovative, boundary-pushing creations the MAH is known for, while also providing family-friendly, accessible creative experiences that encourage learning within our community.

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Swimming Cities of Serenissima by Swoon (collaboration with Monica Canilao), photo by Tod Seelie

CommonGround builds on the MAH’s reputation as a “participatory museum” by meeting community, not only at the museum but wherever people are—with thoughtfully curated artwork that engages, elevates, and connects. Programming selections reinforce and comment on our collective joys, values, and aspirations, from our love of nature and outdoor adventure to our trailblazing spirit and commitment to a sustainable future. They highlight our rich local history, this year focusing on our legacy as farmworkers, seafarers, thrillseekers, and craftspeople.

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The Language of Birds composer Carolyn Chen and sculptor Natalie Jenkins, photo by Crystal Birns, courtesy of Indexical

Through gatherings like CommonGround, the MAH creates experiences filled with wonder, spectacle, and awe, generating excitement that draws locals and visitors alike to our public arenas to interact in the shared space of creative inspiration. Supported by partner programming and local artists’ work, the new festival will strengthen our sense of place while increasing access to meaningful and high quality visual and performing arts.

CommonGround features an eclectic mix of works by local, national, and international artists and collaborators. This year’s festival includes a floatable, handmade watercraft by Monica Canilao and Xara Thustra (aka MCXT) as an homage to local river carnivals at the turn of the century; the premiere of an immersive piece by chamber composer Carolyn Chen inspired by birdsong folklore with sculpture, sound, and music; the gravity-defying choreography and vertical dance of BANDALOOP; a traveling installation by Hank Willis Thomas and Dr. Baz Dreisinger that explores principles of freedom, justice, and humanity; a mobile pop-up gallery by Tijuana-based artist Daniel Ruanova and Stanford archivist Ignacio Ornelas about the Braceros; an exhibition in partnership with the MexiCali Biennial focused on the concept of agriculture; and works from two Santa Cruz-based artists: a large-scale fiber piece by Nigerian weaver and designer I.B. Bayo, and a multimedia installation on ecology and climate action by Martabel Wasserman.

CommonGround uses the scenic vistas of Santa Cruz County as its canvas, making the walls of the MAH permeable and awakening a sense of place with living art.

CommonGround rotates annually with the MAH’s other biennial festival, Frequency, and supports the museum’s commitment to producing programs that extend beyond its walls to enhance the cultural vibrancy of Santa Cruz County. Many of the works are immersive or serve as natural draws to public spaces, sparking interpersonal connection through community storytelling and history-sharing. In addition, the festival features a number of free workshops, artist talks, and other supporting programs hosted at the museum and around town.

While the majority of works can be visited at no cost, some festival performances are ticketed and there is a small admission fee to the MAH to view supporting exhibitions and installations. Suggested admission to the museum is $10 for adults, $5 for children (12 and under), and free for MAH members.

CommonGround is supported by Kaiser Permanente Northern California Community Benefit Programs, the National Endowment for the Arts, and California Humanities—a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional funding is provided by City of Santa Cruz, Creative Work Fund, Indexical, New England Foundation for the Arts, The Humanities Institute at UC Santa Cruz, and the Institute of the Arts and Sciences at UC Santa Cruz as part of its Visualizing Abolition Initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

See below for additional information about the festival's artworks. To learn more, please visit the CommonGround event page.

— Robb Woulfe, Executive Director

Header image: BANDALOOP, courtesy of the artist.

Featured Artists

MAH & Abbott Square
Sep 16–17 / FREE
A vertical dance piece set to original live music, that weaves choreography and climbing technology with the art of textiles and ecological stewardship. Experience the museum facade transformed into a giant loom where stories, aerial movement, and athleticism interlace.

Sep 16; 1pm, 3pm, 5pm
Sep 17; 1pm, 3pm, 5pm

The Writing on the Wall
By Hank Willis Thomas & Dr. Baz Dreisinger
Davenport Jail
Sep 16–25 / FREE
A collaborative installation made from letters, poems, notes, and stories written by incarcerated people and displayed across a historic jail-turned-museum as a form of verbal and visual intrusion. Co-presented with the Institute of the Arts and Sciences at UCSC.

Sep 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25, 12–3pm
Additional viewings on Saturdays through spring 2023

By Daniel Ruanova & Ignacio Ornelas
Farmers’ Markets
Sep 21–25 / FREE
A mobile installation featuring large-scale reproductions of 1950s-era photographs of Braceros, Mexican farm and railroad workers imported to the U.S. during World War II. The project gives new light to the images of citizens on their journey to the land of opportunity.

Farmers’ Market Tour:
Sep 21; 1–6pm / Downtown Santa Cruz
Sep 23; 2–7pm / Watsonville
Sep 25; 9am–1pm / Live Oak

The Language of Birds
By Carolyn Chen, Natalie Jenkins, & Indexical
Evergreen Cemetery & Wagner Grove
Sep 22–24 / FREE & Admission
An immersive piece that takes visitors on a guided tour through Evergreen Cemetery, transformed by the mythology of birdsong and heightened by site-specific sculptures. Performances include a world premiere composition inspired by early music.

Viewings: 12–5pm (free)
Performances: 5–6pm (ticketed); limited seating


By MCXT (Monica Canilao & Xara Thustra)
Soquel Creek, Capitola Village
Sep 24; 7:30pm / FREE
A handcrafted sculptural raft—part art boat, part performance stage—that pays tribute to the Santa Cruz Venetian Water Carnivals, a Victorian-era spectacle that took place on the San Lorenzo River from 1895 to 1927. Part of the Capitola Beach Festival’s Lighted Nautical Parade.

The Land of Milk and Honey
Solari Gallery, MAH
Sep 1–Dec 31 / $10 Suggested Admission
A traveling multidisciplinary and multilingual arts and culture program focused on the ideological concept of agriculture in the regions of California and Mexico. Co-presented with the MexiCali Biennial.

Weaving Aso Ofi
By I.B. Bayo
Atrium, MAH
Sep 16–25 / FREE
A textile installation exploring the art of weaving and ecological implications of fashion.

Refocusing Ecology
By Martabel Wasserman
Little Giant Collective, 115 River St.
Sep 17–22 / FREE
A multimedia project investigating the complex history of photography and conservation.