After more than a year of closures due to Covid-19, museums, galleries and other cultural institutions across Santa Cruz County are once again opening their doors to visitors. To further encourage people to return, they have come together to create Santa Cruz Museum Month.
Throughout the month of May, visitors can enjoy free or reduced admission while exploring spaces large and small, from South County to the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Institutions have been hard at work behind the scenes making improvements and implementing safety measures. According to the California Association of Museums (CAM), a recent study at the Berlin Institute of Technology found that the risk of Covid-19 transmission is much lower in museums than in supermarkets, restaurants and on public transportation.
Along with vaccination rates and recent decreases in active infections in Santa Cruz County, it is great news for the local arts and culture community.
Museum Month first began years ago as a statewide campaign led by CAM. But during the pandemic it has not taken place. This prompted Felicia Van Stolk, executive director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, and other museum leaders to plan their own event.
Van Stolk says she began reaching out to other institutions at the beginning of the crisis. They discussed the virus, the recent natural disasters, and how they could support each other through everything.
“We were all looking for camaraderie, for ways to connect,” she says. “We realized that working together, we could amplify all of our efforts to get the word out.”
A special website for Museum Month, santacruzmuseummonth.org, has been created. The site lists each participating museum and gallery, with information about their selection of offerings, locations, hours and more.
Lisa Robinson, president of the board of directors and curator at the San Lorenzo Valley Museum, says the idea for the site also formed from a project of the Santa Cruz Museums Partnership, which produced a similar website a few years ago.
“Museum Month is revisiting that partnership,” Robinson says. “As we’re coming out of being closed … we are working on how to promote each other and get people back into museums safely.”
Some of the participating museums and galleries are always admission-free, but many residents might not know this, Robinson says. Museum Month aims to encourage people to return, but also remind them of what is available year-round.
In addition, it helps encourage support of the institutions, most of which are nonprofits.
“Many of these museums are already free, but most have membership options, ways to support the institutions, some that have been around for decades,” Van Stolk says. “Museum Month is both a thank you for helping us survive, and welcoming people back in.”
In South County, the Pajaro Valley Historical Association (PVHA) will be participating, along with Pajaro Valley Arts and the Agricultural History Project.
PVHA archiver Lou Arbanas says it feels “exhilarating” to once again welcome people back to their historic grounds and buildings in Watsonville.
“We are shaking off our dust,” he says. “We are going to be bright and shiny and ready to receive guests. It’s a breath of fresh air … being able to look people in the eye and share the history of the Pajaro Valley once again.”
Arbanas urges residents to support their local nonprofit arts and culture organizations.
“Museums rely one hundred percent on their communities’ participation,” he says. “We belong to this community. We look forward to having them back in, to continue to help preserve their own history.”
Participating organizations include: The Agricultural History Project, Capitola Historical Museum, Curated by the Sea, Museo Eduardo Carillo, Pajaro Valley Arts, Pajaro Valley Historical Association, Radius Gallery, R. Blitzer Gallery, San Benito Historical Society and Museum, San Lorenzo Valley Museum, Santa Cruz Art League, Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery, Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center, and the Seymour Marine Discovery Center.