History of the Institute

UC Santa Cruz Photo Library
UC Santa Cruz Photo Library

A Brief History of Museum Planning Efforts at UC Santa Cruz

The Institute of the Arts and Sciences has an extended history at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The idea of building a new public arts and exhibition space on campus can be traced as early as 1990 and the work of Sesnon Gallery curator Rolando Castellon. The conceptual planning for a museum commenced between 1996 and 1997 when campus proponents of a museum initiated active discussions, support was elicited from Chancellor Greenwood, and a proposal and budget were drafted. In 1997 a donation from the estate of California artist Charles Griffin Farr gave the project further support. What had been a tentative concept, constructing a significant new building for art exhibitions on campus, gained significant momentum.

A New Kind of Museum

Between 2000 and 2002, a museum planning team was spearheaded by Dean Edward Houghton of the Arts Division, including Jennifer Gonzalez, Associate Professor in the History of Art and Visual Culture; Elisabeth Cameron, Associate Professor in the History of Art and Visual Culture; Shelby Graham, Director of the Sesnon Gallery; and Ann McCrow, Director of Development for the Arts. In 2004-2005 a major museum consulting firm was engaged to draft a Business Plan and Strategic Plan for a new Center for Art and Visual Studies. As the plans developed, it became evident that the envisioned space should operate as a multidisciplinary teaching museum, and that its gallery, events, and research spaces should not be limited to arts disciplines. 

How can an exhibition space and research facility meet the evolving challenges and potentials of a twenty-first century university?

With the 2009 arrival of David Yager, the new Dean of the Arts Division, new energy went into thinking about how an exhibition space and research facility could best contribute to the evolving challenges and potential of a twenty-first century research university. Under the leadership of Dean Yager, the University undertook a national search in the spring and summer of 2012 for a founding director to help spearhead program conceptualization, architectural planning, and fundraising. John Weber was appointed as founding director in September of 2012 and arrived on campus in December, bringing to UCSC’s planning effort two and a-half decades of relevant art and interdisciplinary curatorial work, museum and fundraising experience at Skidmore’s Tang Museum, SFMOMA, the Portland Art Museum, and more.

Now called the Institute of the Arts and Sciences, UC Santa Cruz’s gallery and museum initiative is poised to achieve the long-held goal of a dynamic, interdisciplinary exhibition, events, and research venue on the stunning Santa Cruz campus, radically re-imagining what a university exhibition space can be and do.