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C3 2017: How a community thinktank is building an exhibition to highlight foster youth

Posted by on March 15, 2017


This week the MAH blog sat down with Director of Community Engagement Stacey Marie Garcia to discuss the upcoming Lost Childhoods exhibition highlighting foster youth successes and struggles in Santa Cruz County and beyond. The exhibition is being designed by C3 (Creative Community Committee) 2017, a diverse group of community members who are connected issues facing transition-age foster youth, including transition-age foster youth, foster youth advocates, and artists. Find out more about C3 and the Lost Childhoods exhibition.

What is “C3”?

C3 stands for the Creative Community Committee. Each year we get a new group of folks together from across Santa Cruz County to creatively tackle issues in our community together. It’s a community think tank of action-oriented people who want to build a stronger, more connected Santa Cruz.

This group originated five years ago as a way for the MAH to get to know our community better. C3 helped us in designing MAH programming to address community needs, assets and interests. We realized C3 was a rich resource for what a lot of local people and organizations seek: diverse perspectives, creative ideas, networking, and new partnerships. So, we shifted C3 to be less of a MAH advisory committee and more of a community resource, an engine of empowerment and connection for everyone participating. Each year we focus on a different issue in our community and create a platform for dialogue and action around it.

Past cohorts have focused on obstacles and opportunities such as income inequality, grassroots arts spaces, transportation, and public spaces. Last year’s cohort discussed cultural bridging: where is that happening now, with whom, why and how can we deepen, expand and invite more people to participate in these opportunities. We produced an event at the end of the year to share what we learned, dreamed up and discussed.

This year, C3 members will work together on Lost Childhoods, a public art exhibition showcasing the stories, struggles and triumphs of transition-age foster youth in our county.

Can you tell us about the Lost Childhoods exhibit and why highlighting foster youth is such an important issue? 

60,000 youth are in foster care in California. Their experience, particularly foster youth transitioning out of the system, is often a hidden experience. Foster youth have overcome profound, complex and difficult challenges. They also face huge public misconceptions about who they are, what foster care is like, and what it’s like to transition out of the system. There are few opportunities for foster youth in our community to share their own individual story, challenge those public misconceptions, share what they believe is needed, and celebrate their resilience. We hope C3 will be a vessel for foster youth to share their story, in their own way.

There are also many ways for the public to individually engage in this issue and take action. We’re working with transition age foster youth, foster youth advocates, and artists in C3 to identify these opportunities and make it as easy as possible for visitors to become more engaged citizens. There are so many small and big ways the public can take action– from baking a birthday cake to becoming a CASA. Raising awareness about the issues facing foster youth is important but inspiring people to take action in a meaningful way is what creates change.

The Lost Childhoods exhibit is the MAH’s first foray into an exhibition that connects so directly with a cause. What’s behind this new direction to connect MAH exhibitions to real world issues? 

The MAH has always used art and history as tools to catalyze community action around local issues in Santa Cruz. We’ve done this through exhibits, events, and programs working with partners including homeless adults, incarcerated artists, day workers, and social justice organizations. Each year we work alongside 2,000 collaborators to create programing focused on building a stronger, more connected community together.

We’re piloting a new structure for this in exhibitions to take this work deeper and further with our C3 collaborators. Lost Childhoods is our first venture into a new issue-driven exhibitions structure.

An issue-driven exhibition is a platform for learning and dialogue on a social issue of local significance. It is a compelling call to action inviting partners and visitors to actively contribute their skills, expertise and interests to help our community grow stronger. It is completely co-created with C3 members, local partners who are absolute experts in this issue and come from diverse perspectives. C3 partners include people directly affected by the issue, service providers, local artists and community leaders. We work with partners and local artists to create original commissioned artwork that creatively addresses the specific topics that matter most to C3. Issue-driven exhibitions are co-hosted with local partners, who help to create exhibition-related events, curriculum, and activities in and outside the museum space.

Our first issue-driven exhibition is Lost Childhoods, it will focus on how our community can come together to make a difference in the lives of youth transitioning out of the foster care system. Right now we’re working alongside the Foster Youth Museum, 80 C3 members, and 3 lead artists to create the exhibition that will run July 7th through December 31st 2017. This creative collaboration empowers youth to share the often hidden experiences transitioning out of the foster care system and uses art as a tool to tell stories that inspire community awareness, social action and individual engagement.

Another unusual thing about this exhibition is that it’s being driven not by the MAH but by the the Foster Youth Museum in Oakland and the C3 members themselves. What’s the thought process here? 

Simply put, this project absolutely could not happen without the Foster Youth Museum and C3. They have the experience, passion and expertise needed to tell their own story. They are the experts in identifying their own strengths and needs, specifying the ways they feel our community can create the social action and individual engagement needed.

C3 and the Foster Youth Museum are driving the big ideas, content and art in this exhibition. They are bringing their ideas, objects, stories, creativity, and calls to action. The MAH is the platform facilitating this co-created process. We bring our storytelling, collaboration and exhibition skills to the table but all the content is derived from C3.

We spent our first C3 meeting building consensus around what were the big ideas C3 wanted visitors to walk away with after experiencing this exhibition. Five hours of story sharing, brainstorming, idea building and dialogue led us to identify 3 core ideas for this exhibition.

The first big idea will be created by the Foster Youth Museum, our key partner in creating this exhibition. They have the largest collection of art, artifacts and video portraits about the youth experience in foster care. Their work will take over half of the exhibition space inviting visitors to understand the authentic experience of foster care from a youth’s perspective.

The next big idea is for visitors to feel empowered to take action and know how to do so. Melody Overstreet is the lead artist working with C3 to create this art project.

The other idea is centered around visitors having a visceral, emotional experience that sparks empathy. Elliott Talyor and Bridget Henry are both working on two separate projects with C3 to create this experience.

This exhibition process relies on intensive and thoughtful collaboration. We started with the big ideas, we’re now building on the content and stories, then we’ll work on making the physical project. We always work with collaborators in creating exhibitions here but this process with C3 is much more thorough in tackling every part of the exhibition together from the ground up. We’re so excited to see the relationships that form, the actions that take place and how creative collaboration can become a catalyst for change in our community.




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Introducing Abbott Square: A Multi-Part Series on the MAH’s Expansion into Creative Public Space

Posted by on March 10, 2017

This post is the first part of an ongoing series by MAH Executive Director Nina Simon for her blog Museum 2.0 on the MAH’s project to build a creative town square for Downtown Santa Cruz at Abbott Square. Follow along at

I love the sound of jackhammers in the morning.

My organization, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH), is in the home stretch of a major expansion project. Over the next two months, as we head towards opening, I want to share some of the stories of this project and the process behind it.

This is not your typical museum expansion. When the construction is complete, we will have added zero square feet of gallery space. No new classrooms. Not an ounce of storage space, office space, nor exhibit prep space.

Instead, we’re spending five million dollars to take our museum outside. We’re transforming an underutilized downtown plaza next to the MAH, Abbott Square, into a creative town square. We’re gutting an adjacent office building to host a new public market with five mini-restaurants and two bars. We’re planting gardens, painting murals, chalking out performance stages, and hanging market lights. The goal is for Abbott Square to become a new creative heart of our county, a town square that brings together art, history, food, play, and community.

I’ve spent about half my work-time on Abbott Square over the past four years. It has been an incredible learning experience. I’ve immersed myself in the politics of public space, the idiosyncrasies of public-private partnerships, the opportunistic mindset of real estate development, the thrills of capital campaigns, the complications of merging current and future operations, and the creative possibilities of community co-design. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. There were lots of sleepless nights. I look forward to sharing some of these stories with you.

I’m a project junkie. Every time a big project approaches completion, I feel pride, excitement–and a tinge of loss. I love the uncertain energy that pulses through unfinished work. The tough decisions. The creative debates. I love the sound of jackhammers in the morning.

With the concrete flying and opening day fast approaching, I’m taking a step back to capture this project in writing. I don’t want Abbott Square to be under construction forever. But I do want to keep the conversation open by sharing and discussing its story with you.

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Mayor Cynthia Chase on ‘What’s Next’ for Santa Cruz

Posted by on February 15, 2017

This week the MAH blog sat down with Santa Cruz Mayor Cynthia Chase to get a sneak preview of her upcoming talk at Lightning Talks: What’s Next Santa Cruz

Hi Cynthia, thanks for taking the time to chat with the MAH blog. The theme of the upcoming night of Lightning Talks is ‘What’s Next Santa Cruz?’ so let’s start with that. What’s next for Santa Cruz?

What is clear that is next for Santa Cruz is housing. We are fully aligned in this community—I don’t think there’s any disagreement from any sector, any population, any group of people that we have a housing crisis. Frankly, it’s not just in Santa Cruz, it’s everywhere, but we are impacted in a way that’s very different than other communities because of the cost of living here, because of the impact from Silicon Valley with the amount of money that exists there versus what exists here in terms of jobs and things like that. We have cash buyers coming in, and we’re also very impacted by being a vacation destination and having short term rentals. And, frankly, also by our geography, by how we’ve decided to plan ourselves as a community—we can’t grow out anymore.

I’m bringing forward an initiative for this coming year that’s expanding off of City Hall To You, which is a series of specifically housing related forums, outreach fairs, study sessions, every kind of way that we can engage with the public to get ideas, hear about concerns, get solutions, and also provide some information and education, because a lot of times we get tons and tons of emails of ‘Oh, Salt Lake City solved their homeless problem,’ which is awesome, and there are some very key things about Salt Lake City that are very different than here. It’s not to say it’s a bad idea, it’s just that there are some things that literally won’t work. They have geography, they have land—we don’t have that—also the cost of building is significantly different than it is here. So it’s about saying to people, we love those ideas, and figuring out what’s realistic in terms of what we can actually do in this community. It’s not just a conversation about the housing crisis and homelessness and the impacts of that, which certainly involves workforce housing and student housing, but it’s also what are the ideas and what are the solutions we like and funneling it down to what will work here.

Any solutions that you’re excited about that could be a good fit for Santa Cruz?

I think generally there are things that I’m excited about and the thing that actually excites me a lot about this process is engaging with the community around solutions that they have. There is sort of a double-edged sword. We tend to be quite creative here, but that creativity might have some sincere fiscal constraints. But I want to encourage that process, for people to feel like they’re bringing those ideas to the table then we truly vet what will and won’t work. And one of the things that I don’t think we can do on this issue because it isn’t just a city issue, it’s a regional issue, it’s a national issue, but for us to address this locally it has to be collaborative. So anything that we’re doing is going to be in partnership with the surrounding municipalities in the county, but also like I said with that broad spectrum of folks that are bringing different ideas and different needs to the table. If it’s workforce housing, if it’s vulnerable populations, if this is mixed used spaces—obviously things that are transit oriented, developments that are talking about how do you bike, walk and how do you use transit better in this development, that’s a key component. That has to be how we’re thinking about things from the sustainability standpoint, from an environmental standpoint, from the fact that that’s kind of the quality of life people have. They want to be able to engage with their community in those ways that don’t require sitting in your car for two hours. That’s not where we are anymore.

A lot of people locally are feeling disenfranchised with national politics and want to get involved more at the local level. What can they do to make their voices heard?

If there is any benefit at all from what’s happening at the national level it’s getting people activated here locally. You really can contact us and engage around a particular issue and then watch it happen. So two examples that stand out to me immediately, and there are many others, are the Broadway neighbors. It was like a highway—people used it instead of going on Soquel, people used it instead of the highway, people were moving pretty quickly through there and there weren’t a lot of crosswalks. There were pets getting hit and killed, there were collisions with bicycles, there were really dangerous situations with pedestrians, there were parents with strollers crossing the street who had to jump out of the way, so they did, just this neighborhood, this real grassroots effort to get the city’s attention around making that safer. And they were successful. That meant that we had to make some decisions to relocate dollars, but we really did shift our priorities to this neighborhood for what was a sincere and legitimate issues, and that was them just coming to us and saying ‘Hey, help us out here.’

Another one is when Shakespeare Santa Cruz was moving to Delaveaga, the neighbors were like ‘Wait a second, that’s a lot of traffic. We love Shakespeare and we really need to talk about the fact that we live here and you’re bringing hundreds of people through our neighborhoods.’ And that process almost brings tears to my eyes, because it started out as potentially quite contentious, and both sides really worked together through this process, engaged with the city around what would work, and came up with a plan, a mutually agreed upon plan with gives and takes on both sides, and came up with a product that is safer transportation through that neighborhood, signage, lighting, all the things that truly support what is a community asset.

So those are two examples of of how you actually can engage and you can actually see results, and that to me is government at work.

How can people get started down that path to making their voice heard over the issues they care about?

My job this year is how do I, as the chair of the council, communicate to people and invite them in in whatever way works for them. And more and more, it’s becoming electronic, and community events that aren’t on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month. You shouldn’t have to come to city council meetings. You should be able to call us, email us, meet with us, check out our website—which is being redone and should be done in July. I don’t want people to think ‘I can’t access government if I can’t go to a meeting.’ Yes you can. Don’t wait until you’re outraged—ask us, and we’ll get you to the right person. What is the way that I can help you feel like you’re invited in, that you can connect with us, that isn’t perhaps what your idea of government is.

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The Story of POWER HOUR: Q&A with Creator Elise Granata

Posted by on January 11, 2017

This week the MAH blog sat down with POWER HOUR creator–and MAH Community Catalyst–Elise Granata. 3rd Friday: POWER HOUR OF FUN is 6-9pm January 20th. Attendance limited to 150, so be sure to get your tickets in advance

Hi Elise! So tell us, what is POWER HOUR?

POWER HOUR is an hourlong experience of minute-long, back-to-back, socially connective activities. It is a time-based, immersive experience for a group of 50 people or more. Part of what inspired power hour is there are these things in the world called “Power Hours” that are related to drinking, and so there are these YouTube Playlists that exist, and it’ll be like “Hip Hop Power Hour” or “Top 40 Power Hour” and it’s just minute long clips of songs that you’re supposed to take a shot of beer to every minute. And so I was inspired by that by my roommate in college, and adapted it for the purposes of my birthday party and made it a sober if you wanted it to be experience, where it is minute long prompts, basically, for different kinds of experiences for an hour.

What’s the POWER HOUR origin story?

So I moved to Santa Cruz about four years ago to work at the MAH. I grew up in a very tight-knit grassroots arts community on the East Coast, and when I moved to Santa Cruz I felt like there wasn’t really a scene I could readily plug into, and so my friends kind of reflected that where I had a lot of acquaintances but not a lot of really close friends. I wanted to have a birthday party experience where I could be around everyone I liked but it wouldn’t be awkward. For my 22nd birthday party I held my party here at the MAH—because as a staff person here I was able to do it for free—and the party theme was called “Stranger Danger” where everyone who was invited got to bring a stranger they didn’t know. So when we were here there were a few activities like speed mixing and a few other communal activities. There were about 60 people there about 30 of which I didn’t know. Then the next year I was thinking about how to one up that party in a certain way. And this was 100 percent influence by the MAH. Everything we do has this aspect of bridging, connecting people from different backgrounds, and bonding people who are similar to each other. It was almost this mix of my mentality from growing up about how can we hack something together that’s unexpected and fun with this social theory of change.

So then POWER HOUR was born, and my best friend Pia and I sat down and brainstormed all these minutes. I put together this video, invited all of my friends, and people were stoked and came to it and it was this unforgettable, awesome evening here in the Atrium. And I think the MAH has been essential in the philosophy of it but also in providing a place to incubate it. Because everyone here on staff and in the community has been so helpful in providing feedback about it and being like “Oh my god, wouldn’t it be amazing if there were an air guitar minute?” It wouldn’t have happened without this space.

Can you share some examples of the types of activities people can expect?

High-five minute. Tell somebody about the last time you cried. Stare out the window contemplatively. Human tunnel minute. Arm wrestle minute. There’s kind of an intentional mix in there of both really fun and light hearted minutes as well as the more vulnerable ones like sharing about the last time you cried, or even the maintain eye-contact minute is kind of a tear jerker if people really commit to it. The hope for that is that it blends these high energy, low energy, vulnerable and playful experiences to ignite a connected community feel so that at the end of the night it’s like, maybe I walked in with my single friend or came alone but I feel like now I’m friends with everybody in this room.

There’s also kind of this vibe of an office party you went to and it’s like “Oh my God I had no idea John could do the splits!” It’s like, oh man, we’re in this group together, and suddenly there’s the dance off minute and there are ballerinas in the room and it’s incredible. So I think it also highlights people’s skills, either literal skills like dancers or improv skills and just ability to really throw themselves into a moment. And generally this has 50 or more people in a room together too and that’s kind of the point of it. By the end you’ve had moments where you’ve interacted with 150 people, moments where you’ve interacted with one person, maybe six in the pep-talk minute, so by the end of it you’ve had a range of experiences with everyone in the room that leads to the depth feeling.

Is there an impact you hope POWER HOUR has with each group?

It is, in its simplest form, an epic icebreaker. And that’s one of the goals with this. If you, for this hour, just feel like you get to lose yourself, then it’s a success. I think there are so few spaces where we can really feel immersed and without boundaries. Even if you walk away with no new friends, no new phone numbers specifically, it’s almost like why Yoga or working out or meditation is successful, because you get to step away from and shed your normal habits and vices just to kind of be almost primally in this moment and playful, and have permission to do that because everybody else around you is doing that too. So I think that is one of the impacts, where afterward you feel refreshed and invigorated and ready to go back and bring even more energy to your regular life.

Especially because it’s on inauguration day, we’re really going to highlight different connections that you’re making within your community, with different resources available in Santa Cruz, and I think especially with new friends. One of the benefits of this event is that it’s public. It’s pretty diverse in terms of age, ethnicity, background, and gender. It’s one of the only opportunities at an event where it’s like, Ok, I’m going to run in a circle with an older man and booty-bump with a derby girl, which is present in so many of our MAH events but this one is just really broken down, and it helps us build a broader sense of our community here too. I think ideally where I’m hoping to grow this is being able to parlay into other activities, so if it’s used as a team building activity then maybe it leads into  a brainstorm or a tough conversation. For the purposes of the MAH event it’s going to be primarily social, afterwards it’s going to break into open conversation, being able to check out the museum, and exchanging information with people if you want to.

Any favorite memories from previous POWER HOURS? 

One of my favorite stories from the first time I did this at my birthday party, I went out to the bar afterwards with a bunch of people who had been there and I introduced two people who were kind of on opposite sides of my friend world, and one of them said “Why would I have to be introduced to you? I’ve already cried with you, laughed with you, and told you I love you.”

Another favorite quote is from last year was somebody who participated in POWER HOUR and was like “I just went to Bookshop Santa Cruz afterward so I could continue being around people.” It just opens you up and disrupts your own narratives and gives you permission to participate fully. I think for so many people who aren’t children anymore that element of play is just so great, and it’s so open to interpretation.

Who should come to POWER HOUR? Is it only for outgoing people? Single people, old people, young people?

So much at the MAH we say that to celebrate nature in Santa Cruz you go to the beach or the parks, to celebrate food you get to go to any of our delicious restaurants or the Farmers Market or—soon—Abbott Square—but for our creativity, in Santa Cruz, and culture here it feels like there’s no one place where you get to go to just connect. And I feel like we try to do that at the MAH in a lot of ways, but I feel like POWER HOUR is really that experience where you get to buy your ticket, put your name on the list, and know you’re going to meet and have unforgettable experiences with 149 other people from your community.

And to answer you other question, POWER HOUR is for all ages, it’s for the extroverted, it’s for the introverted—you can definitely sit out minutes if you want to, but this thing only really works when you give it your all and go all in. It’s kind of this contagious thing where even if you’re shy, just the fact that other people around you are letting go and being goofy and vulnerable, you almost can’t help but also do that.

What can people do to find out more about 3rd Friday: Power Hour of Fun or bring POWER HOUR to their own space?

They can go to for more info on next week’s event and to to book their own — there’s a form to fill out about what your thing is, whether corporate team building stuff, birthday parties, for your organization, anything. Great for groups of 50 or more. 

Get your ticket in advance today.

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A Decade of Toy Trains: Q&A with Over the Hill Gang’s Eric Childs

Posted by on December 14, 2016


This week the MAH blog sat down with Eric Childs of the Over the Hill Gang, the Santa Cruz-based group of Toy Train aficionados who have partnered with the MAH to put on the Toy Trains exhibit for 11 straight years. The Toy Trains exhibit opens Friday during at 3rd Friday: Winterpalooza and runs through December 31st. 

Hi Eric, thanks for sitting down with the MAH Blog today! Can you tell us a little bit about the Toy Trains exhibit and how visitors can interact with it? 

Toy trains have been part of America since the late 1800s. We have representative trains from the ‘30s on up into current production, and in fact there are probably more toy trains available now than there ever have been.

The Toy Trains exhibit has four loops of trains in a 12-by-24-foot layout—5 if we include our little Thomas loop. The kids come up, and as slots become available we set them up and let them run the trains themselves. We’ll point out which train they’re controlling and explain what they can do, and work with them if they’re having trouble. In addition, we have a whole collection of carnival type rides that work, in miniature of course, so we have our whole miniature boardwalk area and on the other end we have Thomas and we have some winter scenes—so there’s always something going on on each part of the layout.

Any bells and whistles? 

There are also certain accessories that people can operate—they can push a button and blow the whistle, they can push a button and swings will go back and forth, all kinds of little things like that. Then for the littlest kids we have the Rio Wooden trains in a 3-by-5-foot layout of those. So it’s a fully decorated layout.

Can people bring their own trains to run on the tracks? 

For the kids who already have trains we encourage them to bring them in, and we can run all O-gauge and standard trains on the tracks. We have kids who have been with us for several years who now we put them behind the scenes and they control everything, and we sit in front and relax and enjoy ourselves.

Can you tell us a little bit about the Over the Hill Gang and how the exhibit came together.

The Over the Hill Gang is about 15 years old, and it was simply a group of people in Santa Cruz who like toy trains and typically would go over to a room, it was open to the public, and we had several layouts in place where we could run our trains and have fun. About 11 years ago I had the idea of, gee, why don’t we do something in Santa Cruz? Let’s talk to the Museum. I bet we could put a toy trains show there around Christmas time” — which is exactly what we did. So it was my idea originally [laughing] I’m still glad I had it. The first year we were in the MAH Classroom—needless to say it was a little crowded. It was a full room but a lot of fun.

You’ve been overseeing this exhibit for a decade now. What’s one memory that has stayed with you? 

There was this one kid, he must have been 5 or six at the time, and within half a day he had everything down pat. He could bring the train around, he could stop it at the station, he could start the announcements—he just knew everything to do with that train. To see a kid of that age learn everything so quickly was amazing.

What do you think it is about trains that so effectively captures our imaginations?

I think many children are fascinated by anything that moves. I was at my aunt and uncles house and they had just an oval of track and a few freight cars and an engine—but I could sit there and make it go. Anything where kids get to sit there and controls it is amazing. And we notice, the older kids for the most part as interested in trains, but for the younger kids, it’s a feeling of ‘Oh, wow, we can control this.’ It’s like controlling your own little world.

Eric, thank you so much for your time and your longstanding commitment to bringing Toy Trains to life. Any last words?

Come one, come all, and we hope you enjoy yourselves.

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