The Museum of Art & History at the McPherson Center

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Our Exhibition Philosophy

At the MAH, great exhibitions make our community grow stronger and more connected.

We are committed to creating exhibitions that inspire diverse audiences to engage deeply with contemporary art and Santa Cruz County history. We see our visitors as partners in actively interpreting and exploring exhibition content.

This philosophy steers our work. And it means we do things a little differently than some other museums and galleries. If you are partnering with us on an exhibition, you can expect that museum staff will design multi-modal, participatory, and immersive experiences around your work.

Research shows that museum visitors walk in the door with a broad range of preconceptions, abilities, and preferences when it comes to engaging with exhibitions. Some people like to read labels. Others prefer hands-on experiences. Most people visit in groups, and those groups include children and adults, professionals and amateurs. The experience that visitors have in museums–what they learn, what they do, what they like–is highly determined by how comfortable they feel and how well the museum supports many different ways of engaging with exhibitions.

Based on this research and our own institutional mission, we seek to produce exhibitions that:

  • Are welcoming and accessible to diverse visitors.
  • Find, spark, and share stories and ideas related to universal human themes.
  • Be relevant to or representative of the people in Santa Cruz County.
  • Incorporate local diverse community members and groups as partners and contributors.
  • Activate different layers of learning through programming.
  • Invite visitors to be active contributors in the gallery.
  • Feature local history or contemporary art.


These values enable the MAH to be a relevant, dynamic, inclusive, educational institution that engages visitors successfully. Please feel free to contact Stacey Marie Garcia at if you would like to talk about this further.

  • Brilliant. It’s so important to set expectations for visitor-centeredness when engaging with artists. Artists often think they’re speaking directly to viewers, yet they’re unwilling to share room in the gallery space with other viewpoints—including the ones they inspire and/or provoke. 

    • Thanks for commenting, Peter. Does SFMOMA have something like this? We found it kind of necessary as we move forward and articulate our goals as a community-driven institution. I’m curious to learn what other institutions do to share their intentions.

  • This is a fantastic philosophy, even more so that it is expressed upfront to guide those who wish to partner with you. I’ll be watching with interest to see how this philosophy is able to applied to the history collections and preservation aspects, and whether there are also opportunities for community participation in acquisition choices.

  • Dorothy Santos

    I’m curious, what about multi-cultural engagement? I definitely understand the need to produce exhibitions based on ‘institutional vision and goals’ but wondering if the ‘participatory’ aspect is all encompassing. Overall, I definitely agree with your exhibition philosophy. Very strong and it definitely makes me want to pay Santa Cruz a visit sooner versus later. Thanks again for posting this.

    • Great point, Dorothy. This is really focused just on how we develop exhibitions, and less on our overall vision for engagement. If you check out our institutional vision statement and core values you will see a focus on relevance to our diverse community. 

      There’s actually another piece that is not present here–we are moving our exhibitions in a direction that focuses on a “story-based” approach in which we have a broad human theme that governs the entire exhibition (i.e. “Love” or “Collecting” both coming this year). We tried to address that in the interdisciplinary point, but it’s not completely clear.

      This is a working document and I imagine it will keep morphing over time. Please come visit and see how we are changing.

      • Dorothy Santos

        Thanks so much for your response, Nina. I checked out the institutional vision statement and definitely saw that. I’m looking forward to my trip to Santa Cruz. I will definitely have to check out “Love” and “Collecting”. Again, thanks for the great response. Much appreciated. 

    • Jessica Goreham-Penney

       Dorothy, I love your comments here and on museum 2.0 about this topic.  Do you blog or are you on twitter?

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  • Hunter

    How about an exhibition of “art” motorcycles. Call it Deus Ex Machina. I have ideas – contact me at