On View: Collective Museum with Public Doors and Windows

Collective Museum Image Grid
Image Credit: Public Doors and Windows

Tour Collective Museum, the campus-wide art project by Portland-based artist group Public Doors and Windows (PDW) at iascollectivemuseum.com.

Harrell Fletcher, Molly Sherman, and Nolan Calisch were chosen for the Institute of the Arts and Sciences (IAS) first artist residency program, which launched in Spring 2014. They used that residency to creatively rethink the relationships between universities, museums and publics. The result, called Collective Museum, takes the form of a surprising and vast campus-wide installation complete with signage, a photo exhibition dispersed through five university buildings, a museum tour, a print-on-demand catalogue, and a mobile website. The innovative and immense project spans the university’s 2001 acres and, as the artists explain, “takes the campus from having no museum to having one of the largest museums in the world.” It opened with an inaugural exhibition in the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery at Porter College featuring student sculptures in conversation with the campus-wide project. 

To re-envision the university as a museum, PDW collected stories from faculty, staff, students, and alumni about 50 sites on  campus. They range from the site of the first international meeting to discuss sequencing the human genome; sites of  academic and personal experiences of students, staff, and faculty; and natural sites such as the mysterious mima mounds  on the southwest of the campus.​

Site Sign, Music Recital Hall

Collective Museum creatively highlights some of the multiple and diverse stories and voices that make up UC Santa Cruz. This is in keeping with PDW’s shared commitment to creating socially engaged artworks. Harrell Fletcher, the group’s founder, is a 1996 graduate of the UCSC Farm apprenticeship program and now an internationally renowned artist. The collaborative, ecology-conscious legacy of the Farm greatly influences his practice which emphasizes working collaboratively with other people, particularly non-artists, an understanding of art as a “social ecology,” and a belief that art, like healthy food, should reach everyone. Notably, he and his art partners often work outside of traditional museum spaces to create innovative projects rooted in the specific contexts and institutions that sponsor them.

This mode of practice made PDW perfect for the first IAS artist residency. According to Institute of the Arts and Sciences founding director, John Weber, “Collective Museum responds brilliantly to key aspects of our mission, offering a creative, playful, yet deeply meaningful look at UC Santa Cruz, our culture, and our campus. It offer visitors a unique window into the university. Yet I’m also sure that even long-time campus staff, faculty and students will learn something new and fascinating about this unusual place.” Sesnon Gallery Director Shelby Graham adds, “this multiple-site, exhibition project breaks new ground for the future of museums, by combining collective memory, storytelling, landscape, objects, and walking beyond the gallery walls.”

The artists’ “museum” demonstrates a broad, interdisciplinary reach, deliberately touching on locations and activities across campus, even extending down to the ​Long Marine Lab, and the Forest Ecology Research Plot, a hard-to-find site on the Upper Campus. Each of the 50 sites is marked with distinctive blue signage, with a short quote from the site contributor and a link to interviews and information. Additional gallery walls across campus further document the sites and deepen the project. “The artists are calling this project a museum,” says Weber. “But it is also a huge conceptual art work that needs to be experienced by walking, looking, thinking, and also talking with others.”

Alisa Klaus, Senior Environmental Planner, shows a campus map to PDW.

​Rachel Nelson, the IAS’s graduate assistant, served as co-curator of the project while pursuing her work towards a Ph.D. in Visual Studies. “My work is on contemporary art that engages issues of social justice,” Nelson said, “and working closely with Harrell, Molly and Nolan over two years has given me great insight into the processes that inform and shape this commitment in art practice. I’m also constantly surprised at how PDW was able to capture so much of UC Santa Cruz. My own time here has been a mixture of intense intellectual moments with amazing scholars like Angela Davis, David Marriott and Jennifer González, confrontations with social forces, upheavals in the form of strikes and protests...all of it punctuated by dreamy walks through the trees and ravines. You get a surprisingly rich glimpse of this experience in PDW’s Collective Museum.”

Walking tour of Collective Museum

A print-on-demand collection catalogue documents the Collective Museum. The 140-page book includes archival and new  photos about all the sites, a conversation between the artists and renowned museum scholar and historian James Clifford, emeritus professor in UC Santa Cruz’s History of Consciousness department, and an essay about the work of Public Doors  and Windows by Weber and Nelson. Clifford is also a participant in the project, contributing and discussing one site. Another catalogue contributor is the filmmaker, performance artist and author Miranda July, who offers an evocative autobiographical  reminiscence of her two years on campus as a student. 

For press about Collective Museum:

Art and Education 

Santa Cruz Sentinel

City of the Hill Press

KZSC's Artists on Art

For more information on previous projects by Public Doors and Windows:


For information on Harrell Fletcher’s art practice and innovative ideas on social practice:

National Endowments for the Arts Podcast


An interview with Harrell Fletcher, Bomb Magazine



Friday, January 1, 2016 to Tuesday, December 3, 2024