History of the MAH
The Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH) started as a merger between two organizations–the Santa Cruz Historical Society (founded in 1954) and the Art Museum of Santa Cruz County (founded in 1981). In the 1980s, these organizations came together with a vision of a new museum of art and history in the former County jail building located next to the Octagon in Downtown Santa Cruz. They envisioned turning the old jail from “a place of incarceration to a place of inspiration.” Support from the County and a million dollar gift from the McPherson family helped push that dream forward.
In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake hit Downtown Santa Cruz. In the reconstruction of Downtown, the group that had been working on the museum project had the opportunity to use the funds they had raised to build a new museum next to the old jail, while using a bond with the County to redevelop the jail building as offices. In 1992, the museums opened in what is now the MAH, with the old jail being rented out as retail and office space called the McPherson Center. In 1996, the history and art museums officially merged, and The Museum of Art & History was formed. In 2012, the Museum got another name update, adding “Santa Cruz” to become the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History.
The Museum contains over 8,000 square feet of exhibition/gallery space and 2,750 square feet for collections/archives. The Museum maintains a research library, archive, and a curatorial collection. The art collection (300 objects) mainly contains contemporary sculpture, paintings and prints of California/greater Monterey Bay area artists. The history collection has over 7,000 items. Most are from the early 1900’s with significance to the history of Santa Cruz County. The museum accepts donations of objects following collections guidelines that limit the collections scope to local history and contemporary art relevant to Santa Cruz County.
The Museum also operates three historic structures/sites: Evergreen Cemetery, Davenport Jail, and the Octagon. These sites were all part of the Santa Cruz Historical Society before the merger that formed the MAH. Evergreen Cemetery is open daily, and the Octagon building is operated as a coffeeshop by Lulu Carpenter’s. The Davenport Jail is open for monthly tours on the first weekend of each month.