August 2018: Reflecting and Looking Forward

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.

Thank you,

Heather Moffat McCoy

July 2018: Examining Our Legacy

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.

On July 18, our monthly Naturalist Night will discuss Sustainable Groundwater Management in Santa Cruz County . On July 21, we are hosting “Cyanotypes of the Sea”, a photographic printing workshop focused on local algae. And on July 28, we are proud to partner with the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band on a guided walk exploring “Indigenous Land Stewardship at Quiroste Valley, Then and Now.”

We hope you will join us for these great programs – whether at the Museum, out in nature, or online.

Heather Moffat McCoy
Executive Director

June 2018: Celebrating the Magic of Summer

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.

Summer Kick-Off Festival, 2017

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.

Summer Camps, 2017

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.

See you soon at the Museum,

Heather Moffat McCoy
Executive Director

May 2018: Protecting Endangered Species

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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.

Thank you,

Heather Moffat McCoy
Executive Director

April 2018: Appreciating Scientific Illustration

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.

The exhibit highlights the diversity of nature, depicting insects, plants, birds, mammals, landscapes, and amphibians. Participating artists include members of the California Guild of Natural Science Illustrators as well as students of UC Santa Cruz’s Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History.

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.

See you at the Museum!

Heather Moffat McCoy
Executive Director



March 2018: Investing in Our Collections

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.

See you soon at the Museum.

Heather Moffat McCoy
Executive Director

February 2018: Exploring Relationships in Science

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!

See you soon at the Museum,

Heather Moffat McCoy
Executive Director

January 2018: Supporting Your Community Museum

2017 was a banner year for the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. We experienced nearly 20 percent growth in attendance and membership due to community support for our school and public programs, exhibits and special events.

As a fully independent nonprofit organization, we recently launched our Year-End Annual Appeal for general contributions, which make up about 15 percent of the Museum’s budget. Donating to the Museum is an investment in science literacy and future environmental stewardship that builds on the legacy of our founder Laura Hecox, whose birthday we will celebrate on January 27 with a full day of activities. More to come on that in coming weeks.

Meanwhile, we are working on several other exciting initiatives in the months ahead, including a new after-school program for our local Gault Elementary to provide outdoor STEM learning experiences, and plans to translate our exhibit and education materials into Spanish. We are also planning bilingual Investigation Station exhibits that promote critical thinking and encourage multi-generational audiences to interact with artifacts and real specimens.

The year ahead will feature exciting Rio Theatre speakers, a Summer Kick-Off Festival, children’s camps, and a host of fascinating Naturalist Night lectures. As you may have seen in front of the Museum, we also are expanding our native plant garden in partnership with the City of Santa Cruz and Groundswell Ecology to create additional educational and interpretive opportunities.

If you supported the Museum in 2017 by attending a program, making a contribution or joining or renewing your membership, we thank you. We hope you’ll support your community museum once again with a New Year’s Gift. If giving to local nonprofits is one of your new year’s resolutions, we make it easy by offering monthly giving online.

Lastly, I’d like to illustrate exactly what your contribution can help us achieve:

  • $100 supports a class exploring Ohlone culture through our galleries and garden.
  • $250 supports a three-month hands-on Investigation Station tabletop exhibit.
  • $500 supports 5 local classes examining the wetland habitat of Neary Lagoon.
  • $1,000 supports 10 classes discovering the wilds of Pogonip Open Space.

We look forward to serving you in 2018. See you soon at the Museum!

Heather Moffat McCoy
Executive Director




December 2017: Giving the Gift of Membership

As you set out to find the perfect gift for friends, colleagues and loved ones this holiday season, consider giving the gift of membership to the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. While there are many benefits associated with membership, the real value is the sense of community and pride in the Museum that comes with being part of our family.

We are proud to have more than 625 Members, a number that has grown nearly 20 percent since 2016. Memberships help the Museum provide education programs for more than 10,500 K-12 students, as well as family events, camps, dynamic exhibits and preservation of our natural history collections.

All Museum Members enjoy free year-round admission, discounts on Museum programs and merchandise, and invitations to Members-only previews and special events. These include opening night celebrations for The Art of Nature annual scientific illustration exhibit and special temporary exhibits like the current Rocks and Waves featuring historic photographs of natural arches as curated by Frank Perry. We also offer great free programs for Members, such as the recent tidepooling excursion Education Manager Felicia Van Stolk led along the North Coast for Family level and above Members.

We have structured our membership menu to fit a variety of lifestyles and income levels—from $15 annual for Students and Seniors, to $35 for Individuals, $50 for Families, and $100 for Friends. The Friends level and above includes enrollment in the ASTC Passport Program that grants free admission to other participating science centers and museums nationwide.

The Museum also offers Club level memberships, from $250 to $1,000 annually, which include invitations to exclusive events, such as a personal curator walk-through with Frank Perry for Rocks and Waves, and a special From the Vaults: Laura’s Legacy event exploring our foundational collection coming this January.

If someone you know is inspired by the natural world, I hope you’ll consider visiting our membership page to gift them a Museum membership for 2018. We look forward to seeing them—and you—at the Museum very soon. Everyone here at the Museum wishes you the happiest of holidays!

Thank you,
Heather Moffat McCoy
Executive Director

Creating Connections Through Place-Based Learning







In advancing our mission, we strive to anchor all of our educational programs to nature. One great way is to lead the activities themselves in the natural world. Through place-based learning, our audiences are immersed in the content itself. Our school programs at Neary Lagoon and Pogonip are great examples. These terrific partnership programs with the City of Santa Cruz engage students in the natural world through real experiences in our own community’s open spaces. On these trips, important classroom concepts come alive for students, through direct and meaningful engagement in nature.

We also offer a variety of public programs anchored in nature, including our guided walks in local open spaces, our nature sketching classes and our DIY outdoor workshops. This month, we have several nature-based opportunities designed to build better understanding and appreciation of our local wonders.

On Nov. 11, Elise Knittle, Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UC Santa Cruz, will lead a walk called “History in the Rocks: A Guided Hike of UCSC.” Professor Knittle will help us explore the geology of the campus and greater Santa Cruz area — geology that tells a fascinating story about the landscape and its relationship to the ocean hundreds of millions of years ago.

Just a week later, on Nov. 18, Kate Jaffe, a natural history and wilderness self-reliance youth educator in Santa Cruz, will join fellow artist Kris Nardello in leading a Natural Dye Workshop in the Museum’s garden. The workshop will demonstrate how to use plants, minerals and other materials from nature to dye fabric and make beautiful garments.

And for Family-level and above Members, Education Director Felicia Van Stolk will lead a special tide pool walk at Bean Hollow in Pescadero this Saturday, Nov. 4. It will be a fun opportunity to learn about intertidal life in its natural habitat, right at the edge of the Bay.

I hope that you will join us for one — or all! — of these upcoming learning adventures. Each will provide an interesting new way to examine the world around us.

Thank you,

Heather Moffat McCoy
Executive Director