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Mon, May 01, 2023

Oscar Paz

Oscar Paz - Catalizador de Programas Creativos

Then & Now: LGBTQ+ Gathering Spaces

A big red ball has rolled into town to commemorate the MAH’s 25th anniversary. Titled RedBall Project, this inflatable mobile sculpture by American artist Kurt Perschke has been traveling the world since 2001.

Measuring 15 feet in diameter and weighing 250 pounds, the public artwork has already started its weeklong journey around Santa Cruz County. The giant orb is popping up in places both unlikely and familiar, exploring the area’s unique architectural landscape and history in a series of daily installations ranging from the Santa Cruz Wharf and downtown Watsonville to the MAH itself.


So why a red ball? Here's an explanation from Perschke:

The magnetic, playful, and charismatic nature of the RedBall allows the work to access the imagination embedded in all of us. On the surface, the experience seems to be about the ball itself as an object, but the true power of the project is what it can create for those who experience it. It opens a doorway to imagine what if?

For me, the experience is more than just imagination; it represents the creative impulse that lies in all of us—the simple act of seeing a place with fresh eyes. Besides its obvious connection to the MAH’s visual iconography, the RedBall is a great representation of the spirit and vision of our museum, which for a quarter century has pushed beyond its four walls into the community. It challenges us to transform and redefine spaces, and like the MAH, it meets people where they are, offering a different kind of access point.

The MAH is an important cultural resource known for its exhibitions, programs, collections, and publications, housed within a civic landmark in the heart of downtown. It is distinguished by its community collaboration, eclecticism, and commitment to being a museum without walls—a major step towards being the revitalization of Abbott Square, which enabled us to connect with the community outside our physical building. The MAH is without walls in another sense too, as we work to ensure that all of our spaces—indoor, outdoor, and online—are welcoming and inclusive for all people.

To celebrate our special anniversary, we offer a humongous sphere of colorful happiness as our gift to the community that has supported us for more than 25 years. Our institution was founded on the idea of using art and local history to bring people together—a belief that is still core to our mission. We see this milestone year as a way to honor the past and embrace the future. And like the RedBall itself, we will continue to invite others into our story by igniting shared experiences and unexpected connections.

You can find the RedBall squeezed into and around well-known Santa Cruz landmarks by following the MAH and the artist on social media (@santacruzmah and @redballproject). We also invite you to follow the traveling artwork around live each day as local buildings, parks, piers, and more become the canvas for this celebratory installation.

Here is the full RedBall schedule, on view each day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.:

  • Tue, June 8: Santa Cruz Wharf
  • Wed, June 9: Del Mar Theater in downtown Santa Cruz
  • Thu, June 10: Esplanade Park Bandshell near Capitola Village
  • Fri, June 11: Cabrillo College in downtown Watsonville Center
  • Sat, June 12: The MAH in downtown Santa Cruz
  • Sun, June 13: Cowell's Beach in Santa Cruz

To learn more about the founders, visionaries, and benefactors of the first 25 years of the MAH, please read our Looking Back, Moving Forward publication or view our commemorative video.

Thank you for celebrating the MAH’s silver anniversary with us. We look forward to the next 25 years together!

— Robb Woulfe, Executive Director


How was Herland born?

I came out as a radical feminist lesbian during my first year at Wesleyan, I joined the Womanist House co-op and became part of the Iahu collective, our feminist newspaper. It was an intense time of questioning gender, sexuality, race, class, politics, values, and identity. I felt fierce and fabulous. I loved every minute of it.

A bunch of classmates went to New Haven to visit Golden Threads Bookstore. I remember walking in, the pine bookcases, the fresh scent, shelves lined with stories… by women, for women, about women. I spent hours entranced. I bought a book of poems by Alice Walker and a tiny silver Venus, both of which I still have. I was enchanted. I just knew this was what I wanted. I figured I’d get my master's degree, teach women’s studies, retire, and open a bookstore. Instead, it was the other way around.

After graduating in 1989, I worked at Aries Arts, a New Age store in Capitola Village for about three years. I remember hearing Ani DiFranco sing, “You have your whole life to do something, and that’s not very long.” I began taking business classes through Cabrillo College and met my business partner shortly thereafter. We found a location, began to do the labor, and Herland was born nine months later, in May of 1993, with three planets in Gemini.

Where does the name come from?

In the summer of 1987, Cabrillo College was offering a class in Feminist Utopias. This boggled my mind. I had read many dystopias as a youth, some of the few books offered in English at the Luxembourg airport, a traditional family outing. I gobbled up that booklist. Utopia refers to an imagined place or no place. What did Dorothy mean as she clicked her ruby red heels and said, “There’s no place like home” three times? What does utopia mean to you?

The name comes from two books, Herland written in 1915 by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. She describes a place discovered by three male aviators to an all-female society, who then bring back ideas of sustainability, biodiversity, and equality. Our motto was, “A Feminist Utopia in Your Own Home Town.” After being so angry during my college days, I realized it was not sustainable. The whole focus of Herland was love, celebration, and acceptance, which is sustainable. Herland was a gathering place to recharge, inspire, heal, to feel at home.

The Wanderground was written by Sally Miller Gearhart in 1978 and described a community that bridged differences between an all-female and a patriarchal society. One detail I loved was that all the houses were built on books. When we moved to 1014 Cedar Street in 1999, I wanted to change the name to be more inclusive. While no longer having the cafe, we expanded and were honored to host over fifty artists on consignment. Our motto changed to “ Keep Your Business in Your Community, Keep Your Community in Business.”


How would you describe Herland?

Inviting. Beautiful. Scrumptious. A sanctuary. Sturdy bookcases that my business partner and I built ourselves, creamy lace curtains, thriving green plants, deep purple carpeting in the bookstore that matched the linoleum in the café, and of course, the glittering disco ball.

Clean, well-lit, and sustainable. Herland served fresh, healthy, organic, vegetarian, and vegan fare for six years. The librarians next door came over every day for a place to breathe. Colorful batiks, body-positive statuary, inspiring posters, evocative prints. People spent hours just taking it all in. There were descriptive cards for symbols, recommendations, and usages - Herland was always an education, part museum, part art gallery. We rented alternative videos, carried women’s music, and sold thousands of bumper stickers and Pride pins. Labryes, goddess jewelry, rainbow commitment rings, little pink and black triangle single earrings, and Pride flags galore.

And books… Feminist Nonfiction, Women’s Herstory, Lesbian Mysteries, Trans Science Fiction, Xena Fan Fiction. Fertility, artificial insemination, menopause, first periods. How to get pregnant, not get pregnant, and what to do when pregnant. A Grrls Rule section. Women’s Spirituality, including a huge assortment of tarot cards. Information for recovering from rape, sexual abuse, and gaslighting. References for coming out or transitioning, whether to parents, peers, or career. Have I mentioned sexuality? Saucy poems, sublime erotica, many a one-handed reading. So much yumminess.

Herland was much like KZSC’s Breakfast in Bed: Music by Women for Everyone. Herland was the place to gather together, to garner resources, and to feel validated, loved, and accepted. The café hosted rotating monthly art shows with receptions, regular Open Michelle Nights that welcomed Sister Spit, as well as Drag King shows. The bookstore hosted book signings, poetry slams, awareness workshops, and “Pleasure Wear'' parties. Herland sponsored dances at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center as well as producing four Annual Lesbian New Year's Eve Ball at the Chaminade.

What I loved most about Herland and will always treasure were the people and all their stories. I love a good story. Our diverse customers came from all over to find a safe haven, a tavern of sorts, a place to regroup, and share a laugh over coffee, before going back out to change the world. Our fabulous staff and dedicated volunteers, the eclectic artists and the like-minded vendors, simply being a part of the greater network of Santa Cruz and conscious people everywhere, this was what I always hold, what made it all worthwhile.

When did Herland close?

After the Santa Cruz Women’s Health Center bought our building in 1998, Herland moved to 1014 Cedar Street. Shortly thereafter, a chain bookstore moved in around the corner. This and 9/11 had disastrous results on small businesses as a whole. I organized the Santa Cruz Booksellers Guild, and we created events for awareness, and cooperation at its best. Nonetheless, independent bookstores started closing left and right.

I realized I was just not making it as a single mom. I put the bookstore up for sale. A couple of weeks before the lease ended, the buyer had to pull out. I closed the store in December of 2004 and donated most of the books to UCSC and Monterey Peninsula College, the inventory, and fixtures to a few local stores. In a few short months, I enrolled at Twin Lakes College and went from retail therapy to hypnotherapy.

Macrocosm, microcosm. When Herland opened, there were 150 feminist bookstores, last heard there are 13. In 1993, we had fourteen independent bookstores in Santa Cruz County. Today, we have Bookshop Santa Cruz, Bad Animal, and Two Birds.


Sacred Spaces in Small Places held a space for the viewer to bring conscious transformation into their lives. The pieces served as a reminder of one's goals and activated both conscious and subconscious wisdom to achieve those aims through the use of visual symbols combined with affirmations. Spice cabinets, mantels, crates, and other household items were first painted, then bedazzled with a variety of found objects ranging from feathers and shells to gems and jewels, and mismatched earrings. Pagan blessings, goddess chants, and queer positive prayers are framed by collaged borders that draw upon the diversity of our community as a source of strength and inspiration.

Afterward, I gave the Dream Box to my friend Melissa, who subsequently gifted it to the MAH. It was first a part of the Infinite Other Exhibition (Oct 2018 – Mar 2019) created by artists Monica Canilao and Xara Thustra (MCXT).