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Rent the MAH’s office space

Posted by on July 19, 2017

Looking for new office space? Want to work above Downtown Santa Cruz’s most vibrant community plaza?

The MAH is seeking a tenant to lease a stylish 1,865 sq. foot suite in the McPherson Center, directly above Abbott Square. This turnkey office space features a kitchenette, conference room, and open workspace with a prime view out over Abbott Square.

Contact the MAH’s Director of Operations, Lis DuBois ( to learn more and schedule a tour.


Property details:

– 1,865 sq. feet
– Kitchenette
– Conference room
– Airy, open workspace
– Separate 148 sq. foot storage area
– Operable windows
– Elevator served
– Extensive Tenant Improvements completed in 2015
– Exciting downtown location
– Close to parking garages
– Professionally managed building

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Abbott Square: Coming Soon to a Plaza Near You

Posted by on May 24, 2017

This post is by MAH Executive Director Nina Simon. Dive deeper into the decision to move the Abbott Square opening with a new post on Nina’s blog Museum 2.0. 

For years, we’ve been working with the community to develop a vision for a new creative community plaza in Abbott Square. For months, we’ve been under heavy construction to expand the plaza, plant a secret garden, and transform an office building into six restaurants and two bars. For weeks, we’ve been planning a big grand opening week of festivities to celebrate Abbott Square with you.

You can read more about Abbott Square in the Good Times cover story this week. It’s an epic community project to expand the MAH’s mission and impact.

We can’t wait to share Abbott Square with you… but we’re not quite ready yet.

From the beginning, our community has told us that food and drink are a huge part of what will make Abbott Square a fantastic community plaza. The food and drink are not ready. Abbott Square Market construction is taking longer than anticipated. We’ve decided to postpone the opening celebration until the whole project is complete and ready to open.

Here’s what you can expect:

  • June 2, join us for a special First Friday in the MAH and Cooper Street that includes a sneak preview of Abbott Square.
  • Throughout June, enjoy new, free community programs in Abbott Square, including Friday night concerts, Crafternoons, and family-friendly activities.
  • When the Abbott Square Market is ready to open, we’ll schedule a series of fun, diverse opening events to invite our whole community into this new community plaza.

Abbott Square is a huge community project, and we want to do right by our community. We look forward to sharing it with you, in its full glory, soon.

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Lime Kiln Legacies: Ten Years Later

Posted by on April 27, 2017

By Frank Perry

June 2, 2017, will mark the tenth anniversary of the publication by the Museum of  the book Lime Kiln Legacies: The History of the Lime Industry in Santa Cruz County.  As one of the co-authors, I thought this would be an appropriate occasion for a retrospective.  Did the book accomplish what the authors intended?  What new discoveries have been made?  And what new resources have become available for research?

Co-author Bob Piwarzyk and I used to joke that the main reason for writing this book was so we wouldn’t have to try to remember it all.  Several of the authors had been casually gathering information on the topic for decades.  As we set out to write the book, however, it soon became apparent that there were many gaps in our knowledge that needed to be filled.  Writing the book became a tool for developing a much deeper understanding of the subject than we had previously imagined.

Our main goal was to document the many facets of this important early-day industry—geologic history, lime companies, shipping, kiln technology, people, etc.  We also hoped that by demonstrating the industry’s importance, the book would encourage the preservation of the remaining historic sites.  Indeed, that has been the case.                               Research done for the book was used to help UCSC get the Cowell Lime Works Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.  A friends group was then formed for the district, with a mission of restoration, preservation, and education.  (I have served as president, and Bob Piwarzyk has served on the advisory board since its founding.) With the help of donations and volunteer labor by students and members of the community, restoration work was done on some of the structures; the historic Cooperage building was braced; interpretive signs were placed around the district; and a member newsletter was launched with articles that dig even deeper into the history of the site.  A series of archaeological digs were conducted by students, including some as part of a class in field archaeology (with Lime Kiln Legacies as a text).

The Friends raised money for HABS (Historic American Building Survey) documentation of the historic Hay Barn, which was eventually restored for use by the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.  By holding events such as tours of the district, a conference on the history of lime manufacturing in California, and two local History Fairs, the Friends have continued to boost public awareness of this historic industry.  All of these efforts would have been much more difficult if not impossible without Lime Kiln Legacies as the foundation.

In 2013-2014 the book provided the basis for a traveling exhibition, “Crystals, Caves, and Kilns,” held at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History and the San Lorenzo Valley Museum, with support of the San Lorenzo Water District. An inventory and tour of lime-related historic sites on District lands was also conducted.

Since the publication of the book, several people have come forward who had parents or grandparents involved with the lime industry.  These people have generously shared family stories and marvelous historic photographs unknown to us when we did the book.  These have further enriched our understanding of the local lime industry and especially the contributions of immigrant lime workers.

Advances in technology have revolutionized historical research over the past ten years.  Resources such as census records and old newspapers, which had to be examined on spools of microfilm at the library, are now available online.  Perhaps even more importantly, these are now searchable.  No longer is it necessary to scroll through page after page of census records struggling to find a particular person or family.

Co-author Mike Luther read through every issue of the Santa Cruz Sentinel for the first decade or so of its publication, but it was impractical to read every issue after that.  We relied heavily on the work of the Santa Cruz Newspaper Indexing Project and searching for articles around key dates.  With the digitizing of the Sentinel, however, it is now possible to locate hundreds of articles previously unknown to us by searching for key words.  These have filled in more of the picture, providing additional facts and interesting details about the people and the process.

It took five years to research and write Lime Kiln Legacies.  We were glad when the book was published and the project was “over.”  In many ways, however, publication of the book was just a beginning.  It launched us into new projects and new discoveries. It has been especially rewarding to see others become interested in the subject, especially college students.  The industry that lasted for a century may ultimately take a century’s worth of research to fully understand it. There can be no doubt that the future will bring more exciting finds and new insights.

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Why We’re Building Abbott Square

Posted by on April 19, 2017


This post is the second in an ongoing series of posts by Executive Director Nina Simon for her blog Museum 2.0. Abbott Square opens in June—find out more at

The MAH fundamentally has two jobs: we bring art and history out into our community, and we invite our community in.

Over the past six years, we’ve done a great job bringing the community into the MAH. Our audience has quadrupled in size, and the people walking through our doors increasingly reflect the age, income, and ethnic diversity of our County. We’re proud that the MAH is a thriving museum AND community center for Santa Cruz County, a place for people of all walks of life to connect around our shared creativity and culture.

Visitors tell us how much they love the MAH, saying things like, “I love that the MAH holds very welcoming, accessible, open-minded and open-hearted space where people from every walk of life can gather and (re)create community.” Or “I love the MAH because it is a truly participatory space where diverse groups can enjoy, express themselves, and learn from/about/with others.” Or “The MAH is a living invitation of out-of-the box, beyond-perceived-walls thinking.”

There’s a lot of love inside the MAH these days. But in the spirit of that last visitor comment, we feel it is our responsibility and our glorious opportunity to spread that love beyond our walls. If we only build community inside the building, we’re trapping ourselves and our visitors in a bubble. We want to break out. We want the MAH’s inclusive creative energy to ripple across our county. Our vision is to build a stronger, more connected community through art and history. If we really want to achieve that vision, we’ve got to get to work in all the places where people live, work, and play.

We’ve experimented with beyond-the-building engagement through projects like the Pop Up Museum, Evergreen Cemetery restoration work, and partner-led festivals. I’ve seen again and again how outdoor programming has impact beyond what can happen inside the museum. Some casual passers-by jump in to participate, and even when they don’t, they get a bit of a contact high from the fact that art is happening as part of their urban experience. The engagement may be less intimate and focused, but the opportunity for ripple effects is greatly increased. The impact outdoors is wider and wilder than anything that happens inside the walls of an institution.

So we’re going big by expanding into Abbott Square, the under-utilized plaza on the MAH’s front doorstep. The “why” behind Abbott Square evolved over time, with four main reasons at the core:

  1. marketing and audience development
  2. meeting community needs
  3. achieving our mission / strategic alignment
  4. strengthening our business model

When we started the project four years ago, the primary reason to expand into the plaza was about marketing and audience development. Abbott Square physically connects the MAH to the main drag of downtown Santa Cruz. Four years ago, we were in the early stages of expanding and diversifying MAH programming, and we saw Abbott Square as a key physical connection between the growing museum and the vibrant creative life of downtown. Furthermore, we learned from a Latinx-focused ethnographic study that outdoor programming was particularly appealing to local Latinx families. We wanted to reach more people, and more diverse people, and we saw Abbott Square as a great place to do it.

Once we started community conversations about the potential for Abbott Square, the “why” shifted to community desire for a town square. While locals were interested in the MAH, they were MUCH more interested in having a downtown gathering place. We don’t have a town square in Santa Cruz, and people feel the acute lack of creative public space. What started as being about the MAH became more about the community. Community members’ expressed needs and desires drove the planning of Abbott Square and led to major decisions we would not have made if this project was “just” a MAH extension (more on community involvement in next week’s post). While this was exciting, it was also a bit disconcerting. At times, it felt like we were taking on a new sister project to the MAH in Abbott Square, as opposed to an expansion of our existing work.

To my grateful surprise, that sense of separation resolved itself as the MAH’s strategy evolved in alignment with the project. While we were designing Abbott Square with community members, we were also strengthening the MAH’s overall commitment to community-driven programs. Three years ago, we wrote a new MAH theory of change with an impact statement to build a stronger, more connected community. We knew this impact could only happen if we expanded our work further beyond our walls.

Through the lens of our new theory of change, suddenly Abbott Square was core to our overall institutional strategy. Just as we have opened the MAH up to more diverse people, perspectives, art forms, and historical narratives over the past few years, now we are physically opening our facility with new offerings that are accessible and appealing to a much wider audience—including thousands of people who might not ever set foot in a museum. The people who enjoy Abbott Square’s whimsical Secret Garden, locally-rooted public market, and free outdoor performances will all experience the MAH—whether they also visit exhibition galleries or not. This intersection is not entirely a coincidence—the MAH and the Abbott Square project grew up together—but it was reassuring to realize that the community’s interest in Abbott Square was in our strategic best interest, too.

And finally, a fourth “why” was key throughout planning: Abbott Square was designed to generate revenue and maximize use of our real estate assets. The MAH has an unusual business model in that part of our revenue comes from managing Abbott Square plaza and an adjacent commercial office building. By incorporating a food market in the ground floor of that building (something community members urged us to do as part of the project), we are hopefully building a sustainable revenue source into Abbott Square. At the same time, we’re transforming a “high income, low mission impact” asset into a “higher income, high mission impact” asset. Hopefully.

I firmly believe that more creative institutions should be in the public space business. If we care about building community, we can’t just do it within our walls. We live in a time—especially in the United States—when people are more divided than ever. Space is contested, privatized, and segregated. Working on this project has opened me up to the incredible opportunities we have to claim public space for our communities and for the values that underlie our work.

Many people call this work “creative placemaking.” The idea is that creativity—not just sculptures or murals but events, art-making, art-sharing, commerce—can help turn an intersection or a riverfront or a concrete wedge into a place with a story and an identity. Creativity and culture connect us to place and to each other.

Yes, art is place making. But art is also future making. Art rejects the limitations of what we are and what we have been. It inspires us to imagine what we will be.

I want to imagine a future of downtown Santa Cruz in which creativity, commerce, and community are all welcome. I want to imagine a future in which the spirit of welcome and inclusivity that permeates the MAH spreads throughout our whole town.

We’re trying to build a slice of that future in Abbott Square. What future do you want to build in your community?

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Spoken / Unspoken; Stories on Living and Dying: Dec 1st 2017 – March 25 2018

Posted by on March 24, 2017

Explore what goes unspoken in our lives through audio recordings by those facing the end of life and loss.

What do you wish you had said? What do you wish you could say? From regrets to hopes, this exhibition will dive into the meaningful unspoken stories in our lives. You will be swept into a melodic sound installation of stories recorded by individuals facing the end of life by sound artist Lanier Sammons. And you will be able to record what you wish to say and perhaps never did until now.

This exhibition is made in partnership with Hospice Santa Cruz CountyHospice of Santa Cruz County is an organization that serves those facing the end of life and loss through compassionate and expert grief support. Bilingual and bicultural staff and Hospice volunteers ensure that all members of our community have access to the highest quality transitional care and grief support services.


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