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Crossing the Continent to Cross Disciplines

blog slugreportSLUG REPORT > UC Santa Cruz's plans for an art and science museum move forward with new director

A space conceived to connect the arts with the sciences will also be connecting the West Coast with the East Coast.

“I’ve been aware of this project for a long time,” says John Weber, currently the Dayton Director of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College in New York. Weber was recently hired by UC Santa Cruz to direct the University Museum of Arts and Sciences, a planned museum meant to link the disciplines.

Weber’s experience within the field of museum stewardship spans the country. A graduate of UC San Diego’s Master’s in visual arts program, Weber began as a curator of contemporary art at the Portland Art Museum in Oregon in 1987. Later, he became the Leanne and George Roberts Curator of Education and Public Programs at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1993, and then the Dayton Director at Tang in 2004.

As one of the “top four initiatives” for the university’s fundraising campaign, the University Museum of the Arts and Sciences will be an “institute of creativity and curiosity,” according to the UCSC art department website. The completed project will reside in the arts complex on campus.

Currently in its conceptual phase, the museum is intended to function as the “cultural hub” for faculty and visiting scholars, and potentially serve as a complement to the classes students take each quarter.

“This is in the really early stages—but that’s what’s actually so exciting to me,” Weber says. “Usually when you come into projects, everything’s already decided … where you might have done it way differently. To come in before they’ve even selected an architect is really exciting.”
 
Dean of Arts David Yager says that Weber’s “broad experience” is not the only enticing aspect of the founding director’s resume.

“He comes from an academic institution that has been one of the most important exhibition spaces in America in the past five years in terms of what they do,” says Yager.

With a private collection of more than 5,000 contemporary and historical works, the Tang has been nationally recognized as a revolutionary space of “intersection”—between poetry, history, social justice, literature, and theater—on the Skidmore campus.

While the UCSC museum will share many similarities with Tang, Weber says that he is eager to incorporate science, technology, and a strong graduate student population into the new project.

“Tang … is in a strictly liberal arts, small, undergraduate university,” Weber says. “UCSC has much larger graduate student population … and a relationship with technology that I’m particularly interested in, [such as] their relationship with Silicon Valley.”

Weber says he is also fascinated by museum architecture, having spent a long time traveling to different museums around the world to study the impact museum design has on the museum goer’s experience.

Yager says that they are hoping to select an architect next spring.

“A large part of his role will be fundraising for a couple of years … we haven’t started yet,” Yager says of Weber, adding that a seed gift from Plantronics is the only funding for the project so far. “[His other current main roles are] building a physical program in terms of what the building will be like and building from collaborations, and getting to know who could be the [future] museum staff.”

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