My experience in California after the Museum Management postgrad

After completing the Postgraduate course in Museum Management: how to make a museum work, run by the Museu Picasso and IDEC-UPF, I did my postgraduate practice in the Museu Picasso. During the four months I was there my work focused on studying the museum in its environment, in relation to the surrounding neighbourhoods, in the context of Ciutat Vella as a district with a lot of history, which conditions its cultural present. This search for information reflected the museum’s commitment to developing a strategy that embraces policies of proximity and the importance of working with the local community around it.

Yerba Buena Family Day:  Children’s Creativity Museum, MOAD

Of particular interest in this field is the work being carried out by the MAH: Museum of Art&History in Santa Cruz, California. The recently appointed Director, Nina Simon, is putting into practice the theories of participation set out in her book The Participatory Museum.Those of us who took part in the last Postgraduate course in Museum Managementhad the opportunity to get to know her ideas at first handin the workshop on participatory activities she ran at IDEC, and at the lecture she gave at the Museu Picasso in Barcelona in November 2010.

When I learned from the Postgraduate course that the MAH was offering internships I applied at once, and when I was accepted for a two-month placement in November and December I decided to go to Californiaa few weeks early in order to visit the museums of San Francisco. A brief note on this: check out the action out on 15 October in the Yerba Buena Arts District, with such great museums as the Children’s Creativity Museum, MOAD and SFMOMA.

Yerba Buena Family Day:  MOAD, SFMOMA

A little further out from this nucleus is The Exploratorium museum of science, art and human perception, a giant warehouse, full of interactive apparatus, and an absolute must-see, especially in 2013 when it will open a new space.

The Exploratorium

I eventually got to MAH in late October and set to work, finding out all about the museum’s programme of activities and what I could do there.

The museum has a small number of staff, plus interns — seven counting me — and around 130 volunteers (a lot, taking into account the size of the city and the museum) who help out in all kinds of ways and really do a remarkable job. (The subject of volunteer work in the U.S. deserves a post all to itself!).

Santa Cruz MAH

As this is a small museum with not many staff, everyone lends a hand at everything. There are two Curators, one for Art and one for History, and together with the Director, Nina Simon, and another staffer they plan all of the museum’s activities. The meetings are really interesting: everything that is talked about is centred on the visitors’ interests, how they can be involved, what they want to see and what they can do in the museum. Here the concept of the participatory museum is taken very much to heart, and absolutely nothing is planned anything without considering its participation potential.

I started out working on the design of activities related to forthcoming exhibitions (planning participatory activities, doing renders of proposals, looking for materials, and so on) and on other projects ranging from the redesign of areas that were ‘not participatory enough’ to graphic design for displays and running craft workshops for the visitors.

The experience is very rewarding and undoubtedly very valuable on a professional level. The underlying discourse is enthusiastically embraced by everyone who works here, and this is reflected in a very coherent way of doing things that is shared by all of the museum’s departments.

Nina Simon has only been in charge at MAH for seven months, but in this short time she has made great changes, starting out by fixing the financial situation and continuing by significantly increasing the number of visitors.

3rd Friday at MAH: Radical Craft Night on 18 November

There can be no doubt that MAH Santa Cruz is a museum of and for the community and not just a place where old and/or beautiful things are put on show. An excellent example of this is its programme, especially with the Free First Friday and 3rd Friday of each month. One of the most interesting initiatives I’ve seen in any museum is the Radical Craft Nighton November 18. A real experience, without a doubt.

If you’d like more information, visit the MAH website, the MAH facebook or the facebook of The MAH Collective. You can also find more photos on my Flickr.

Greetings from California, land of great wines and great museums.

Esther Giberga
Former student of the Postgraduate course in Museum Management
Currently on practical placement at MAH Santa Cruz, California

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