History of the Institute

A Brief History of Museum Planning Efforts at UC Santa Cruz

The Institute of the Arts and Sciences reflects the long-held need for a state-of-the-art exhibition facility 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. 

In 2012 Arts Dean David Yager brought new energy to the project and initiated a national search for a founding director to help spearhead program conceptualization, architectural planning, and fundraising for a 21st-century exhibition, research, and public events facility. 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.

Programming Begins

The IAS launched initial public programs in 2014 and opened its first major exhibition, Collective Museum, in 2016, while fundraising and planning for a future capital project. In the 2016-17, with the support of the Nion McEvoy Family Trust's five-year donation of $1,000,000, the IAS hired its first curator, Rachel Nelson, and launched a dramatically expanded exhibition program, coinciding with the arrival of new Arts Dean Susan Solt.

In 2017, Dean Solt realigned the IAS's mission within the Division of the Arts and began work across campus to refocus the university's approach to the creation of an arts exhibition space. As concepts for a new gallery space evolve under her leadership, the IAS presents a dynamic, a wide-ranging program of site-specific and traveling exhibitions and public academic events, actively collaborating with faculty to engage UC Santa Cruz teaching and students, and reach out to a broad public.