This summer, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH) will celebrate its 25th anniversary.
While the museum has been shuttered for most of the pandemic, staff has stayed connected to the community through outdoor exhibits, social media engagement and other projects. No one is sure what will be allowed this summer, but MAH hopes to celebrate the milestone any way it can.
One way is by bringing a famous global art installation, known as the RedBall Project, into Santa Cruz County the week of MAH’s anniversary.
Artist Kurt Perschke started the RedBall Project in 2001, considered the world’s longest-running street artwork. A 15-foot red ball, weighing about 250 pounds, is installed in a city or county, adopting those places as its canvas.
RedBall has visited three continents and over 26 cities, from Abu Dhabi to Fargo, North Dakota. It is installed in various locations in each city, squeezed between buildings, perched on a riverfront and hoisted above bridges.
“We always want to get the ball where it’s never gone before,” Perschke said. “We want people to see it installed in places that are familiar, like a corner of their own street. It’s about seeing your city differently.”
Perschke says that RedBall is less about the ball itself as a sculpture, and more about audiences’ experiences. He and his team use their website and social media to connect with audiences before, during and after the piece visits their city.
“It’s more about the social experience,” he said. “People just notice it and come over to see what’s going on. Conversations start up. Strangers start to engage with each other.”
MAH Executive Director Robb Woulfe reached out to Perschke about bringing RedBall to Santa Cruz County. Woulfe had followed the project for decades and thought the MAH’s 25th anniversary was the perfect opportunity.
“I had kept my eyes on this project, following Kurt on social media as he traveled the world,” Woulfe said. “I loved it. I thought it was really fun and a special thing to bring to different communities.”
The fact that MAH’s logo is also a red ball was also not lost on Woulfe.
“Of course, we couldn’t ignore that fact,” he laughed. “It’s just such a natural connection to our brand identity.”
Woulfe and Pershcke began communicating last summer. Last week, Pershcke began scoping out places across Santa Cruz County—from the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf to Watsonville Plaza—for possible installation sites.
The ball is always inflated on-site, and needs specific areas where it can easily be installed safely in a community.
“It’s a ball, not a balloon,” Pershcke said. “It’s anchored by air pressure, and made to go against concrete and steel. We’re looking for specific opportunities.”
Added Woulfe: “There’s a lot that goes into this. It looks simple, but there’s a whole production requirement, and you have to factor in things like weather, especially wind.”
The pandemic put a stop to many installations last year, as travel was restricted and community gathering discouraged. But slowly, Pershcke and his team have gotten back into it.
“We were supposed to be in Asia this year,” he said. “We had a lot of cancelations. We’re looking forward to things getting back to somewhat normal. Thankfully our installations are always outdoors, so it’s very safe.”
The MAH’s 25th anniversary celebration with RedBall will be held June 8-13. Santa Cruz County residents are invited to stay connected and in the months leading up to the project. Once locations are finalized, they’ll be announced on social media, so people will know when and where to show up.
Woulfe says he hopes the project will give audiences a sense of joy, wonder and curiosity.
“I hope it will give people pause—they’ll stop for a few minutes and go, ‘Wait, what is that crazy thing?’ And they’ll come have a look,” he said. “We at MAH love the idea of being out in the community, meeting people through art and conversation. This has the opportunity to be really memorable.”