Every other Friday now through March 8, the third floor of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History will become a meeting place for people to tell their own history of Santa Cruz.
The “building stories” installation, which started on Dec. 21, invites residents of Santa Cruz to congregate and share their personal accounts of the town. The highlights from these conversations will then be traced across the walls of the Museum of Art and History (MAH), ultimately creating a map of intermixing histories.
UC Santa Cruz Digital Arts and New Media (DANM) graduates Kyle McKinley and Nick Lally came up with the idea as a part of their larger artistic project called “the building collective.” This collective centers on fostering conversation and active interactions between people.
“[The building collective creates] pieces that build on the idea of participation,” Lally said.
One of their previous projects was to help alleviate anxieties during the student strike last March. The collective offered coffee, conversation and a bench for the picketers to rest and relax on at the strike. The collective passed out postcards with the words “a public university could be: ___” at the top, asking participants to engage in a larger dialogue about the UC system.
For “building stories,” the collective wanted to create a space for people to share their experiences about Santa Cruz.
“We worked to transform this space,” Lally said. “We wanted to make it more active, to invite people to come and hang out and talk. It’s a very different experience than just hanging something up and having people stare at the wall.”
The collective holds meetings that each correspond to a different region in Santa Cruz. For example, the meeting on Jan. 11 was held to specifically discuss memories of the Westside zone of the city.
After hosting these active dialogues, the collective scrawls highlights of the different histories on the walls of the third floor lobby. These collected memories are drawn around maps of each of the city’s major zones.
“We want to gather complicated histories,” Lally said. “There’s not just one history of Santa Cruz. People are already contesting each other’s recollections.”
After working with the cyber-heavy world of new media in the DANM program, McKinley and Lally were eager to explore a more traditional style of artistic expression.
“This project feels totally natural,” McKinley said. “With digital media, you save things along the way and you can always go back to a previous iteration. But with this project, it’s more like a big painting. You have to be more careful not to make mistakes.”
The ongoing interactions that define “building stories” are integral to the larger exhibit currently taking place at the MAH, called “Work in Progress.” This museum-wide exhibit features installations and art pieces that are constantly changing over the course of several months.
“The idea behind [Work in Progress] is that everything in this building is evolving over the time of the exhibition,” said Nina Simon, executive director of the MAH.
For “building stories,” this means that every meeting will help contribute to the wider scope of Santa Cruz’s shared history. Once completed, the installation will demonstrate the rich and varied histories that have compounded over the course of its time in the museum.
“It’s pretty easy for us to bring people together around art experiences,” Simon said. “But it’s much harder to get people together around history experiences … It’s been great working on the ‘building stories’ installation because it’s explicitly focused on creating a diverse set of social interactions around history.”
To the members of the building collective, these social collaborations are the cornerstone of their installation. In gathering these various tidbits of Santa Cruz’s history, the two artists are discovering what it means to create a communal version of history.
“We’re learning what a collective voice might be, through listening to lots of peoples’ stories and abstracting dense little nuggets of history,” McKinley said. “Because everything is so condensed, a lot of the official history of Santa Cruz is excluded. But these small unofficial stories can still cohere as a kind of collective voice.”
Remaining workshop dates include Jan. 25, Feb. 8, Feb. 22 and March 8. Each workshop corresponds to a particular region of Santa Cruz. For more information, visit santacruzmah.org.