Pictures from a Pandemic Santa Cruz exhibit gets in-depth treatment in gallery talk series

“In These Uncertain Times” is a new exhibition at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History | Provided photo


By Kathryn McKenzie

Photos provided by Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH)

A new exhibit featuring Santa Cruz County artists’ responses to the age of COVID proved so popular in a virtual showing that a series of online gallery talks has been added to more deeply examine messages of the artworks.

The Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History’s exhibition, “In These Uncertain Times: Creativity, Community and Compassion During a Global Pandemic,” captures the hectic and complex emotions that have arisen during the pandemic, not just about the virus and shutdown itself, but also about racial injustice, systemic inequality and the desire to create a better world.

The plan for this exhibition was to have it fully installed and ready to go by the new year, according to MAH public relations and marketing manager Ashley Holmes, but rising infection numbers caused new stay-at-home orders in December, and only recently have counties returned to the tiered system where Santa Cruz County and many others are still in the Purple Tier.


'The Shrine of the Holy Hand Sanitizer,' an altar installation by Anastasia Torres-Gil and Gretchen Regenhardt | Provided photo

“Since museums cannot open until Santa Cruz County is in the Red Tier (25 percent capacity) we instead held a private, virtual exhibition opening for members and artists as an experiment into virtual exhibition showings,” said Holmes. “It was incredibly well-received, so we have now launched a new weekly series beginning next Friday. The exhibition is broken down into six sections and we’re diving into each in more depth and inviting exhibiting artists to share more about their work.”

Everett Ó Cillín, exhibitions and program manager for MAH, said the virtual approach to viewing the exhibit was born from necessity. Ó Cillín recalls that last March when everything shut down, MAH staff began discussing how to move forward as a museum while closed to the public. It was a discussion of “the ways we can stay connected and engaged with the community when we can’t physically be together,” said Ó Cillín.

An outpouring of ideas and support came from the local arts community, and when the call for artwork went out in fall, more than 150 artists responded. Ultimately works by 60 artists were chosen, in a wide-ranging selection that includes paintings, collage, sculptural works and video pieces. Many are poignant, some are humorous, but all examine the complex post-coronavirus world that we all must navigate now.


Detail from the 'Surviving COVID' project by Tawnya Gilbert | Provided photo

Plans call for MAH to reopen as soon as Santa Cruz County enters the Red Tier, for two days a week to MAH members, then increasing the hours and opening to the public when possible. A phased reopening plan for the museum can be seen at

The “In These Uncertain Times” exhibition closes in May, regardless of when the museum reopens, due to scheduling constraints from other exhibitions.

The virtual gallery talk series begins next Friday, Feb. 12, with a look at artworks created to reflect the impact on daily life and on front line workers. “What is Essential?” will be from 6 to 7 p.m. and will feature several anchor artists talking about their work and what inspired their approach.


Detail from the 'Surviving COVID' project by Tawnya Gilbert | Provided photo

Among the artists who will be featured in this event are Anastasia Torres-Gil and Gretchen Regenhardt, who will talk about their piece, “The Shrine of the Holy Hand Sanitizer,” an altar installation that pokes fun at the items that were in scarce supply at the start of the pandemic, like hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

“In the beginning of COVID-19, finding a bottle of Purell was like searching for the Holy Grail. We celebrate the rare Purell along with the other items which overnight became hard to find and necessities,” the artists wrote in their statement.

Other gallery talks will take place on subsequent Fridays.


Tawnya Gilbert collected this assemblage for her 'Surviving COVID' project | Provided photo

Other gallery talks include “Grief & Remembering” on Feb. 19, “Abstract Feelings” on Feb. 26, “Reflecting & Connecting” on March 5, “Creativity in Quarantine” on March 12, and ITUT Virtual Film Screening on March 19. All are via Zoom and must be registered for in advance at the MAH website; admission is $5 for the general public and free for MAH members. Go to for more about the gallery talks and to register.

The final event will feature short films that look at a variety of aspects of the pandemic, such as Gabriel Medina’s “Campesinos & #LaborEsencial,” which documents a Watsonville caravan organized to show appreciation to farmworkers who are continuing to put their own lives on the line to feed the nation. Medina, a senior program manager at the Digital Nest in Watsonville, also has his own video production company, Ó Cillín says.


Detail from a collage by Carolyn Sayers | Provided photo

Ó Cillín wrote in the MAH’s blog that “art can give us the space to grieve, process and heal during these difficult times.” Being able to see this interpreted through art is vital to making it through to the other side.

“Art means a lot of different things to different people. It’s a way to manifest what’s inside of us and communicate it to others,” Ó Cillín says. “Everyone’s personal processes are unique … art shows us the ways in which we’re connected and similar.”

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Kathryn McKenzie

About Kathryn McKenzie

Kathryn McKenzie grew up in Santa Cruz, worked for the Monterey Herald for 10 years, and now freelances for a variety of publications and websites. She and husband Glenn Church are the co-authors of "Humbled: How California's Monterey Bay Escaped Industrial Ruin" (Vista Verde Publishing, 2020).