.Two Organizations Keeping Santa Cruz’s Arts Alive

These organizations are helping keep arts and culture alive in Santa Cruz

Two organizations keeping Santa Cruz’s cultural community thriving that we are highlighting this week as part of Santa Cruz Gives fundraising campaign are the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History and Arts Council Santa Cruz County. The Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History has connected people to the wonders of nature for over 100 years at their Seabright Beach Location, and plans to use donations from the fundraising campaign to 

Meanwhile, the Arts Council Santa Cruz County hopes to fund arts education and opportunities for more than 18,000 youth with its donations. 

Hear from the organizations themselves below. 

The Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History Brings Nature to Life

The Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, situated just off the sands of Seabright State Beach, has been a vital bridge between people and nature for over 100 years. The Museum highlights the region’s colorful spectrum of plant, animal, and human communities from the edge of the Pacific to the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Its mission is to connect people with nature and science to inspire stewardship of the land. 

“Visitors to the museum will learn about the rich and varied landscape of Santa Cruz County, from shoreline to summit, from the deep past to its Indigenous caretakers and modern stewards,” said Development and Community Engagement Kiersten Elzy-Loving. “The museum hosts special exhibits two to three times a year, featuring local science illustrators, current topics in natural history, and highlights from our collection. Every trip to the museum provides visitors of all ages an opportunity to engage with hands-on exhibits and meet live animals.”

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The museum’s founder, Laura Hecox, grew up in the Santa Cruz Lighthouse. She was driven to explore and learn about the nature around her and share it with others. At the inception of the museum, she had a hope that each person who visits the museum or participates in one of its numerous programs for the community would walk away better informed about the county’s natural world and feel inspired to care for it. 

“Museum visitors of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds making a personal nature connection benefits our entire community and is one reason museum entrance for children is always free,” Elzy-Loving said.

The Museum provides free natural history and science field trips for public schools, grades K-12 throughout the school year that are curriculum complementary. 

“We offer many online learning options, educational kits, and other support tools for educators,” Elzy-Loving said. “We also provide our Earth Stewards Project, where we work with teens from regional high schools and other nonprofits by engaging the students in service learning environmental projects outdoors throughout the county.”

The museum pays deep tribute to a lengthy list of volunteers. 

“Our public programs and community events are only possible with their support. Our goal is to provide volunteer opportunities for a variety of schedules through several different options, including indoors and outside,” Elzy-Loving said. “We invite anyone interested to contact us to learn more.”

The museum stays on course with 14 full-time employees, six part-time and a handful of seasonal staff members. 

“It’s important to include that our volunteers provide hundreds of hours during the year, supporting events, public programs, and working in the museum’s Garden Learning Center, and other projects,” Elzy-Loving said.

The Santa Cruz Natural History Museum has been an independent nonprofit since 2009 but depends on various fundraisers to support their lengthy list of programs and exhibits. 

“It also depends on donors’ generosity to help our programs for schools and the community thrive,” Elzy-Loving said.

Fueling Santa Cruz’s Arts

Arts Council Santa Cruz County’s (ACSCC) mission is to nurture and invest in artists, culture, and the arts. 

“Together, we’re building a stronger Santa Cruz County, where all artists have access to the resources they need to thrive; where a full range of creative expression is accessible to everyone; and the arts are recognized for their essential contributions to a healthy, vibrant, and representative community. Our community of supporters is critical to these efforts,” Crystal Birns Communications Director said. 

ACSCC just completed a study on the economic impact of the arts in Santa Cruz County which illuminated how the nonprofit arts and culture are an important economic engine for the entire county. 

It also highlighted how the pandemic had an outsized impact on local arts institutions that continues to be felt. The study showed that in Santa Cruz, artists have difficulty affording to live and work in the county. 

With 21 programs advancing the arts in the community, the ACSCC is involved in arts events and creative projects year-round and across the county. Other programs include grants to artists and arts organizations, community initiatives such as Open Studios, support for the artists who live and work at the Tannery Arts Center, and our new Watsonville Center for the Arts that provides space for performing arts classes and rehearsals.

The staff at ACSCC includes the equivalent of 12 full-time positions plus about 50 part-time teaching artists. About 10 high-school teaching artists are hired through their Mariposa Arts program in Watsonville, where high school students “find their voices and discover their creative gifts through arts training that also supports the development of powerful life skills,” according to the organization’s website.    

“Like most nonprofits, there is always more work to do than we have the resources to support,” Birns said. “We are funded through local governments and schools, state and federal grants, private foundations, and individual donors. In order to sustain and expand our work, we need our local community of donors to recognize the value that the arts bring to our region, and support the art and culture that makes Santa Cruz County such a creatively dynamic place.”  

Birns added that ACSCC has played a vital role in ensuring that the arts have a strong presence in school district plans in Pajaro Valley, Live Oak, and San Lorenzo Valley, which translates into more arts and music teachers funded in the schools. 

“We rallied local artists in support of Watsonville’s new percent for the arts ordinance,” she says. “And we are working with Santa Cruz City leaders to ensure that the arts are an important part of its development downtown.”

Birns further stressed the importance of the Watsonville Center for the Arts, a collective of artistic and cultural groups sharing classes with the Watsonville community.

Santa Cruz Gives is funded by the generosity of Good Times, Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County, Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, Applewood Foundation, Joe Collins, Driscoll’s, Inc., Monterey Peninsula Foundation, Comcast, Santa Cruz County Bank, Wynn Capital Management, The Pajaronian, and Press Banner.


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Tarmo Hannula
Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.
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