Days and Nights of Wonder

Arts organizations routinely compete over the toughest consumer territory there is — the space of wonder. And here in Santa Barbara, where every bend in Mountain Drive reveals another astonishing vista, the natural environment itself is perpetually capable of producing the elusive “wow” factor that all of our cultural institutions covet. Perhaps that’s why our best arts organizations are constantly innovating — to keep pace not only with each other, but with the infinite capacity of our natural setting — to saturate everyday life with unforgettable beauty.

At the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, two recent initiatives seek to unlock the potential significance not only of the museum’s extraordinary collection, but also of the rich community in which we live:

• During Nights, the museum becomes a theater and a playground for Santa Barbara’s business and arts crowd to flirt, mix, and merge with the augmented art experiences concocted monthly by museum education staffer Kristy Thomas.

• In Picture Stories, the museum’s latest version of its evolving project to re-display the permanent collection, the curators have taken the emphasis off of traditional art history as chronology, and put it onto the web of meaning that extends through imagery, subject matter, and the individual viewer’s imagination.

As different as night and day, these two programs nevertheless emerge from the same impulse, which locates meaning where culture really happens — in people.

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