As our society is embroiled in confronting systemic racism, museums worldwide are reflecting on our roles as institutions of learning, community centers, and curators of culture. The Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History is dedicated to connecting people through nature and science, and we stand against racism that is keeping communities apart.
Our staff have taken time to reflect on recent national events. We believe it is important to state and elevate the message that Black Lives Matter. Furthermore, we have identified a path forward for our museum that promotes and celebrates our values of racial diversity, equity, inclusion, and access to nature and science:
As educators, stewards of cultural and natural artifacts, and facilitators of community dialogue, we commit to ongoing staff and board training to ensure that our practices reflect our stated values.
We will continue to engage with local and national groups whose work aligns with our values. Through partnerships, we will learn more about cultivating an inclusive and diverse museum community. Our learning will be reflected in all our programs and exhibitions.
We remain grateful to all of our supporters, patrons and friends.
In this traditional time for reflection and gratitude, we continue to be grateful for the many people who connect with nature at the Museum, and those who find ways to carry our mission beyond our walls. I am especially grateful for the opportunity to honor Native American History Month through our school programs focused on native culture, and through exciting public programs including a lecture “American Indians 101” and seminar about American Indian Art, both lead by our esteemed board member, Dr. Rebecca Hernandez of the UCSC American Indian Resource Center.
As I write our Annual Report (keep an eye out in next month’s newsletter), and think about this year’s accomplishments, I am also considering the many triumphs and changes that the Museum has undergone in its 114 year history. In this season of reflection, I am excited to also keep my eyes set on future growth and renewal–natural processes that connect all of life. From innovations in programming, growth in our garden, and renewal in our spaces, I can’t wait to share what’s to come with you all!
As summer turns to fall, the Museum enters a season of transition as well. Gone are the summer crowds, replaced now by the energetic buzz of school groups going on their first field trips of the year. We look forward to welcoming new volunteers and docents to share their love of nature with these groups (New Docent Orientations are October 10 and 15), and to seeing the familiar faces of our dedicated docents returning after the summer break.
There has also been a transition in our staff this season. Some have moved on to new adventures, and we have welcomed new educators onto the team. After nearly four years leading the education team at the Museum, I am honored to transition into my new role as Executive Director. Just as new seasons welcome new life (migrators headed to wintering grounds, fungus soaking up first rain, etc.), this shift will signal new opportunities, approaches, and energy. As everyone settles into their new roles, and as we look to the horizon of possibilities, the Museum staff remains committed to ensuring that our services, events, and programs continue to connect people with nature in meaningful ways. We look forward to sharing this journey with our Museum community.
We are looking to continue growing our team! Click HERE to learn more about the Fund Development and Community Engagement Manager position that is currently open.
As many of you know, I will leave my position as Executive Director in late August to join my husband in the Pacific Northwest, where he has started an incredible new job opportunity. It is a bittersweet time for me as I prepare to leave this special museum and our wonderful community. As I reach the end of my tenure here, I have reflected on the many accomplishments our great team of staff, Board and volunteers has achieved since I took the lead in February 2015.
We have expanded and strengthened our public and school programs, created more dynamic gallery experiences, and renewed efforts for better management of the Museum’s collections. Behind the scenes, we have established a strong operational infrastructure to support our expanded efforts. We have experienced increases in attendance, membership and giving – all while building a more financially resilient organization. I am so proud of the work we have accomplished together and of the Museum we are becoming.
During the past eight months, our staff and Board have worked together to craft a strategic plan to lead the Museum for the next three years. This plan will guide the organization in its priorities, activities and initiatives through the year 2021. It includes key strategic goals, the measurable objectives and tasks to accomplish them, and a comprehensive financial model with which to realize them.
Our Museum has made tremendous strides in the last three years and this new strategic plan outlines an equally ambitious set of goals for the next three years. These goals center on: science education and stewardship, visitor experiences and audience diversification, collections care and accessibility, community partnerships, organizational sustainability, and facility revitalizations. These strategic themes attest to our commitment to engage diverse audiences in meaningful interactions with nature and science that educate and inspire.
The Museum’s new plan reflects the creativity and mission-driven dedication of many individuals. I am so thankful to the community members, staff and Board who contributed their perspectives and ideas during the process. Together, our hopes for the Museum and our community have brought the plan to life. I am confident that, through the collaboration of our talented staff, Board and community partners, the goals we now aspire to achieve will in time become milestones of which we will be deeply proud.
In the coming weeks, we will formally announce the plan and make it available to all. I hope you will embrace it with us and support the Museum as it continues to strengthen and thrive in the future.
Our museum was built on the curiosity of a young girl. Our founder Laura Hecox’s love of nature started when she was a child living at Lighthouse Point and continued throughout her life. Her fascination with the natural world led her to develop her collections which form the basis of our museum. These collections are a diverse assemblage of shells, fossils, minerals, cultural artifacts, and curiosities. Although we are conservers of Laura’s collections, we know relatively little about the collector herself. While she left meticulously cataloged collections notes, she kept no known diary or personal correspondence. We do, however, have her scrapbooks. These treasured books provide a glimpse into Laura’s interests and the world around her.
The Museum is currently undertaking a special project to learn more about the personal side of our founder: an online exploration called The Naturalist’s Scrapbook. Our Collections Specialist Kathleen Aston, in partnership with the Santa Cruz Public Libraries, has designed this new online participatory project featuring one of Laura’s original scrapbooks. By viewing digital versions of the scrapbook pages and identifying the topics, titles, authors and dates of its clippings, participants can help us to build a richer understanding of our museum’s history, as well as the natural and cultural history of late 19th century Santa Cruz. The scrapbook pages provide a window into Laura’s world and what was intriguing to her. Her interests on the page were just as diverse as her collections!
Over a century later, at the heart of our museum remains the same spirit of discovery and love of the natural world that Laura exemplified. All that we do through our programs and exhibits focuses on sharing the joy of discovery and growing that understanding and appreciation of the natural world that Laura valued throughout her life.
This month, we have a range of opportunities to engage your curiosity and inspire you to see nature in a new light. Tomorrow we are premiering our July exhibit in the Summer Art Series – “Brink: The Art of Conservation” by Diana Walsworth. Diana’s show explores her love of the wild outdoors, using her unusual painting process of acrylics by sewing needle. Please join us for our First Friday opening reception tomorrow, July 5, at 5pm.
Summer, like no other time, is the season we most associate with being outside.
For the Central Coast, summer may not always be the warmest part of the year. But with its long days, school breaks and family vacations, summer typically affords us more time than any other to recreate, travel to new places or our favorite spots, and discover new things about the natural world.
The Museum will once again be a destination for all ages this summer as we ramp up new exhibits, public programming and, of course, summer camps. It all starts June 1, when we premiere the first of three Summer Art Series exhibitions and free First Friday receptions. We kick it off with Margaret Niven, an accomplished Tannery Arts Center artist whose show, Trees of Coastal California, will deepen our appreciation for the beauty and diversity of the trees around us. Shows in July and August will feature Diana Walsworth and Linda Cover, respectively, whose shows are titled Brink-The Art of Conservation and Nature in the Round and Square. Each of our First Friday receptions is open to the public from 5-7 p.m.
On June 23, we will officially welcome summer with the free, family-friendly Summer Kick-Off Festival, both inside the Museum and outside in Tyrrell Park. The full-day festival will feature kids’ music, food trucks, science-based games and live animals. New this year, we also welcome several partnering organizations, such as the Museum of Art & History, Museum of Discovery, and Watsonville Wetlands Watch, to name just a few.
Lastly, in July and August, the hustle and bustle of school-year classroom visits will be replaced with the exciting energy of our summer camps for kids in grades K-5. Participants in the “Art and Science of Nature” camps will experience outdoor investigations and hands-on art projects, while the “Biomimicry Camp” will draw inspiration from nature to solve design challenges and generate ideas for a more sustainable life on earth. Both camps offer exciting field trips. Our third camp, “Can You Dig It?” will offer campers the opportunity to become junior paleontologists, geologists, and biologists as they dig into the world of fossils, bones, rocks, and dirt. “Can You Dig It?” is sold out but there is still time to apply to the other camps. And scholarships are available for qualifying families.
We hope you will join us this summer for these and other engaging opportunities to explore the wonders of nature.
When we talk about engaging in stewardship of the natural world, we might be tempted to think of nature as it exists today. But the one sure thing about nature is that it is always changing—adapting to its own forces as well as those contributed by human factors. For many, the defining motivation behind stewardship is the desire to act in the present to positively impact the future—thinking about how actions we take now can improve conditions in nature.
As our natural resources respond—positively and negatively—to our actions, we must wonder what “nature” will look like to future generations who have never had the chance to see the Great Barrier Reef, an old-growth redwood forest, or a flock of snowy plovers. Will we be able to preserve critical species and habitats, and with what tools and resources? What role can we play individually to preserve something that is meaningful to us?
On May 17, the Museum will host the next installment of our bi-annual Rio Theatre Speaker Series with a panel discussing “Tales from the Brink: Recovering Endangered Species in California.” Moderated by California’s Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird, the presentation will feature status updates by three scientific experts on the California Condor, Southern Sea Otter and Salmonids—all currently listed under the Endangered Species Act.
The panel will explore how everyone from policymakers, researchers and individual community scientists on the Central Coast has a part in pulling these populations back from the brink of extinction. Secretary Laird, a former Assemblymember and Santa Cruz mayor, will provide a larger context about the status of species protection in California. I hope you will join us for what promises to be an engaging, informative program.
In addition to the Rio Theatre talk, I also hope you will visit us at the Museum for one or more of our other upcoming events, including our May 4 First Friday free science illustration demonstrations featuring exhibitors from The Art of Nature and our May 12 workshop “Seeds of Knowledge” highlighting strategies for habitat plant restoration and field sketching.
As always, we look forward to seeing you at the Museum, and appreciate your support.
For thousands of years, illustrators have helped us understand the natural world. They communicate details, concepts and scales that cannot easily be conveyed in words, and they enable us to learn more about a subject through their craft. From molecules to galaxies, extinct critters to the inner layers of mountain ranges, scientific illustration helps us envision the often unobservable. It also often enables us to focus on important details, through the scientific lens, all while captivating us with its beauty.
The first weekend in April, we are proud to open the 30th year of our scientific illustration exhibit, The Art of Nature. It is a wonderful collection embodying the special marriage of art and science. This year, we will feature 65 pieces in a variety of artistic styles, such as watercolor, pen and ink, colored pencil, acrylic, and mixed media.One of them is “Flora Californica” (above), which is a watercolor and gouache piece by Santa Cruz artist Yvonne Byers.
Thirty years ago, our scientific illustration exhibit began as a partnership with UCSC’s scientific illustration program. We are thrilled to include UCSC student artists again this year, with the talented students from the Norris Center’s science illustration class. Their pieces focus on California bees and are part of a new illustrated handbook to bees of the Central Coast. This month, we will continue the bee theme with a multimedia science illustration workshop on “Bees of California” on April 14 and our monthly Naturalist Night on “The Buzz About Local Santa Cruz Bees” on April 25, both in collaboration with our Norris Center partners.
I hope you will join us in exploring this year’s The Art of Nature to experience the natural world through an array of artistic perspectives.
During the past three years, we have been working hard to enrich, expand and diversify our education programs and exhibits, as well as improve our overall visitor experience and deepen our connections with Members.
We are also re-investing in the management of our collections, which form the foundation of our 113-year-old institution. The Museum hired Collections Specialist Kathleen Aston exactly one year ago to build on the organization’s goal of making our wonderful collections more accessible to the public, including digitizing our catalog and conducting the first full inventory in nearly two decades.
Our museum was established on the collection of lightkeeper Laura Hecox in the early 1900s and substantially grew with the addition of the Humphrey Pilkington’s collection in the late 1920s. Since then, thousands of other acquisitions and donations have helped grow our collections to more than 16,000 items, most of which are rarely seen by the public.
Starting in March, the Museum will expand its monthly newsletter spotlight on collections to include a monthly blog by Kathleen called “Collections Close-Up” and a new pop-up exhibit in the Museum galleries that will feature a collections item not often displayed. You’ll also be seeing more about our collections on social media and our website.
Our collections are priceless to us, and we are excited to share them with you, piece by piece. Each object has its own story and we look forward to telling each of them to you. We also are grateful for your support of the Museum, which contributes to management of this critical community resource.
Flipping the calendar over to February can usher in a lot of excitement: The newness of the new year has worn off, we are close to transitioning into spring and, for many, romance is in the air. This month, our Museum programs will celebrate the latter, science-style — through exploration of the science of relationships and the natural history of the senses.
For February’s Naturalist Night, we will take a close look at the different kinds of relationships involved in animal reproduction — everything from intense competition among rivals to impressive familial cooperation. In her talk on Thursday, February 8, UC Santa Cruz’s Dr. Suzanne Alonzo will describe her research on a Mediterranean fish species that experiences cooperation and conflict simultaneously between the sexes and among males.
Two nights later, on Saturday, February 10, the Museum will host a date-night themed event called “Sensation,” which will explore the science of sensory experiences and responses. Participants will create their own signature scents and join us for a tantalizing stroll through taste, hearing, sight, sound and smell — all while sipping wine or beer and noshing on fun bites. “Sensation” is the first of several nightlife events this year designed to attract more adults for fun and informative programming at the Museum after hours.
I hope we will deepen our relationship with you this month through our many fun events in February!