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Tools & Resources

Fri, May 03, 2019

The MAH's Secret Recipe for Community Exhibitions

When you walk into the exhibition We’re Still Here, you’ll notice the gorgeous portrait photography, heart-wrenching stories, and immersive art pieces mimicking a day in the life of local seniors.

You won’t see the 186 people who made this show possible. So we’re going to tell you about them.

This supergroup– brought together by the MAH and called the Creative Community Committee (C3)– were made up of seniors, advocates, and organizations from Santa Cruz County. They had an important story to tell about what loneliness looks like in their lives. We gave them the tools and space to tell that story. Together, we developed We’re Still Here.

Co-creating events and exhibitions with the public is our secret sauce here at the MAH. 99% of what you experience here has been created in part with someone from Santa Cruz County. That’s because we believe that a true creative community space is forged from the visions, ideas, and issues that matter most to the people that live in Santa Cruz County.

How do we do this? Every other year, we literally build an exhibition with a specific part of our community. In the case of We’re Still Here, we built this show with dozens of seniors experiencing loneliness and finding ways to overcome it in their everyday lives.

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Over the course of seven months, the group brainstormed big ideas, worked with local artists to creatively articulate the issues, and talked about ways the public can help. Every meeting kicked off with a room full of passionate people opening up about their day-to-day reality.

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““I could feel collective excitement and pride filling the room.””

Ellen Timberlake, Director of Santa Cruz County Human Services

In 2017, we used this same model to develop Lost Childhoods, an exhibition about the local foster youth crisis. Instead of seniors, C3 was comprised of over 100 local youth. This model has been condensed by the MAH into the ‘Community Issue Exhibition Toolkit’, used by other museums around the world.

Download the Toolkit
Do a deep dive into the process behind We're Still Here in this free toolkit.
Community Issue Exhibition Toolkit

Just one year later, we reinvigorated C3 with seniors, advocates, and organizations to create We’re Still Here.

Most importantly, C3 also told us the best ways they think the public can help. Whether it’s something unexpected like donating an iPod or volunteering by mending a senior’s clothes, there’s a wall of over forty actions developed by the committee itself.

Stop by today, and you may even see a senior guide you through the show itself. “Young people say it was ‘So wonderful to see the raw truth of what happens,’” says Tim Znamirowski, a member of C3, senior intern, and trainer for Rock Steady Boxing. “Our message is there so fully that it’s just my job to hand out tissues when they get it.”

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