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UCSC opens new off-campus art gallery on west side

Santa Cruz Sentinel, February 3, 2023


SANTA CRUZ — UC Santa Cruz’s Institute of the Arts and Sciences will celebrate the opening of its new off-campus gallery space on the west side of Santa Cruz Sunday.

“Museums and galleries are historically a place where communities and campuses can come together,” said Rachel Nelson, director and chief curator of the Institute of the Arts and Sciences. “This gallery gives us a way to be even more accessible to the community and to serve our community and students simultaneously.”

The 15,000-square-foot building on Panetta Way, once a corporate office space filled with cubicles, and designed by Santa Cruz based architect, Mark Primack, now holds three climate-controlled galleries, a film screening room and an event space all devoted to artists working at the intersection of creativity and social transformation.

Institute of the Arts nd Sciences Director and Chief Curator Rachel Nelson stands in the new gallery space on the west side. Credit: Carolyn Lagattuta
Institute of the Arts nd Sciences Director and Chief Curator Rachel Nelson stands in the new gallery space on the west side. Credit: Carolyn Lagattuta

“Art helps us see the world in all of its working, but also helps us reimagine and dream about other ways that we can be together, and begin to create those ways,” said Nelson. “It’s important to find the spaces where we can have conversations about the things that matter to us as a community, as a university, as a nation and a world, and that’s what we’re hoping to do in this space.”Continue watchingWhy a Timo Meier trade seems increasingly likely for Sharksafter the ad

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Since Nelson became the institute’s director in 2019, she has been working to make the new gallery a reality and with the support of her colleagues and momentum from the community, she said the new gallery came about through a “perfect storm” of circumstances.

“This has been an effort of more than 20 years by people like Jennifer Gonzalez, Elisabeth Cameron and Shelby Graham,” said Nelson. “They really planted the seeds that grew into this, working for decades to get more art facilities, so when I started to understand how to accomplish this, everyone was already ready.”

Momentum began to build in 2021 when the institute received a $2 million grant from the Mellon Foundation for its “Visualizing Abolition” initiative, spearheaded by Nelson and UCSC Feminist Studies Professor Gina Dent, which examines the ways people perceive issues surrounding mass incarceration, detention, and policing in the United States and abroad.

“The prison abolition movement is about shutting down prisons, but it’s also about building a world where prisons aren’t necessary,” said Nelson. “The “Visualizing Abolition” project has been amazing because we’ve collaborated with so many local organizations like Barrios Unidos and national organizations like Critical Resistance.”

The two inaugural exhibitions at the institute — from artists Ashley Hunt and Sky Hopinka — are both connected to the themes of the “Visualizing Abolition” program.

Hopinka is a member of the IndigenousHo-Chunk Nation and descendent of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians. The 2022 MacArthur Fellow creates visually striking films, photography and poetry that explore the nature of the modern Indigenous experience, colonial oppression and Native resistance, past and present.

Hopinka’s exhibition, which will be on display at the gallery Sunday, is called “Seeing and Seen,” and is presented in collaboration with the San José Museum of Art.

Installation image from Ashley Hunt's exhibition "Degree of Visibility/ Ashes Ashes." Credit: Nick Gonzales
Installation image from Ashley Hunt’s exhibition “Degree of Visibility/ Ashes Ashes.” Credit: Nick Gonzales

“When I first talked to Sky to see if he was interested in doing an exhibition around this concept he said that Native Americans are born into carcerality, whether it’s the reservation system or the school system or the nation itself, so they live in a state of incarceration already, but in another way, there’s freedom even within those systems,” said Nelson. “His work is beautiful and poetic and we are really lucky that he has agreed to show it.”

Los Angeles based artist and activist Ashley Hunt’s work was featured in the 2020 “Barring Freedom” exhibition put on by the institute and examines the proliferation and impact of incarceration. Hunt’s exhibition, which will be on display at the institute’s grand opening is called “Degrees of Visibility,” which examines the landscapes that surround prisons, jails, and detention centers throughout the United States and its territories.

“‘Degrees of Visibility’ is a series that he’s undertaken in which he’s photographed jails, prisons and detention centers,” said Nelson. “As he tells it, he wanted to show the scope of mass incarceration. The images are beautiful and almost look like pastoral landscapes. He’s taken them all from public accessible views and what you find is that you often can’t see the prisons or jails. They’ve been disguised by the landscape.”

Hunt will be on site at the gallery for the grand opening Sunday, which will feature food trucks and music from SambaDa. Beyond the grand opening, Nelson is excited to invite the community in for upcoming events and also young artists, who can see first hand that there are careers in their chosen field.

“We want to bring in students in the region so that they can get a glimpse of what they could do in the arts, and show them that it’s something that they can actually do,” said Nelson. “I am excited for that and just to bring more art to Santa Cruz.”

For gallery information, visit

If you go

What: Institute of the Arts and Sciences Grand Opening.

When: Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Where: 100 Panetta Way, off Delaware Avenue in Santa Cruz.

Cost: Admission and parking are free.

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Your support is critical. At the Institute of the Arts and Sciences (IAS), we believe the arts are essential in society and education, vital in the cultivation of engaged communities and critical thinkers. Your gift, no matter the amount, helps keep arts programming flourishing at UC Santa Cruz.