Do you know what your neighbors collect? People in Santa Cruz are about to find out, and the answer might surprise you. Mayor Don  Lane owns thousands of decorated eggs. Good Earth Tea founders Ben and Louise Zaricor own flags from the Civil War and the moon. Veterinarian David Shuman is an amateur taxidermist who collects animal skulls.

Santa Cruz Collects at the Museum of Art and History runs from August 11–November 25, and promises to do more than just display the extraordinary collections of local residents and institutions, but also examine how the items we collect inform notions of who we are, both as individuals and a community.

Executive Director Nina Simon, who the Smithsonian once called a “museum visionary,”  never fails to engage the public in innovative ways. Simon, who authored the book The Participatory Museum, started a conversation about a “truly community-generated show”  when she was first hired in 2011. The entire first floor gallery will now be known as the “Collecting Lounge,”  a space where visitors are invited to linger and create. Fabric, toys, sand, and a variety of other objects can be used to bottle up a personal memory. The jars will form an installation the museum hopes will extend from the floor to the ceiling, reflecting the ways in which people experienced the exhibition.

Of course, Simon  doesn’t  stop there. “We also have other interactive components to the exhibition,”  she explained, noting this is “an opportunity for people to weigh in on which objects our museum should deaccess, a psychological quiz about collecting types, and a talkback area about digital hoarding.”  Deaccessioning is the process of refining a collection by sale, trade, or donation, and one that is rarely so transparent because it is frequently misidentified as scandalous and detrimental to an institution. In actuality, it is necessary to enhance the quality, use, and character of an institution’s holdings, but these decisions are often made in hushed tones behind closed doors.  Including visitors in this conversation is downright revolutionary.

But why should residents of San Francisco drive an hour and a half down iconic Highway 1 to see and engage with the exhibition? Simon offers a compelling argument: “For some people, it’s the one-of-the-kind objects-the first flag captured in the Civil War, Steve Jobs’ original copy of the Apple business plan. But more importantly, this is an exhibition that really lets people dive into questions of why they keep stuff and what it means to them.” 

The Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History
705 Front Street,Santa Cruz, CA 95060 [Map]

Closed Monday. Admission is free-$5.

Get in touch with the author @alexis_coe.