Perhaps you’ve heard of a museum without walls. They do exist! BUT, what would you say about a museum without walls, roof, or even a floor? We’ve had just such a situation here in Santa Cruz, California, for several years now.
Back in 1981, The Art Museum of Santa Cruz County began with the idea of providing our community with its very first contemporary art museum. The space was donated by the county library; the location was perfect and we were off to a great start. Things went very well in this location for about six years, when alas, much to our disappointment, the library felt they needed more space to expand. By this time we were busily engaged in art museum functions and activities, including docent tours and children’s workshops. We had a full board of dedicated trustees, 100 volunteers, and over 900 members!
Reluctantly we pulled up stakes, moving our administrative offices to another location. Even before we were settled in, we were notified the building was to be demolished to make room for a parking lot! Another move was in order.
Finally, luck smiled on us and we were offered a fine space for both offices and gallery in an ideal location. Staff, volunteers, and museum members pitched in and the community rallied around us. That was June 1989. In October, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck. You guessed it, the building was red tagged and condemned– “unsafe.”
As the dust settled and people began to pull out of the rubble, we were again able to find space for administrative offices. New plans began to emerge. Our museum joined forces with a historical museum. The community and businesses joined us in an effort to raise 7.5 million dollars with which to build what is to be known as “The McPherson Center for Art and History.”
During this difficult period in our history, our Board of Trustees, volunteers, and staff members worked unceasingly on fundraising events and membership drives. The institution relied heavily on art education to see us through this period of “zero exhibition” space. We conducted art tours of the community, held lecture series, film series, and children’s workshops. We were determined to keep our image alive within our county of 232,500 citizens.
Our most successful endeavor came about in the form of a 38′ tractor-trailer rig (an old moving van) which was donated by one of our business members. The rig was converted into what is now a traveling art education program, better known as the “Art Box,” a mobile museum on wheels.
As this “Art Box” moved through the county, the community maintained its interest in our programs. Over 4,000 school children visited our mobile museum and participated in this program. In these times of school cutbacks and diminished curriculum, the Art Box offered much needed art opportunities for elementary students.
The unrelenting effort to keep and maintain an art museum image and program (with no walls) through difficult times, compounded by a major California earthquake, has exceeded our expectations. Just last July, we stood and watched while the concrete foundation was poured and the steel beams were raised on the new McPherson Center for Art and History.
The Art Museum of Santa Cruz County is living proof that by holding fast to dreams and goals, and keeping an educational theme alive, all things are possible. It worked for us . . . soon we, too, will have a roof, walls, floors, and windows. Soon we, too, will have it all!
Jeanne Bates, docent
Dorothy Rose, Volunteer Coordinator, The Art Museum of Santa Cruz
Bates, Jeanne and Rose, Dorothy. “It Works for Me…Docents share techniques they find successful,” The Docent Educator 2.3 (Spring 1993): 15.