Arts philanthropy, a revered practice in this moneyed town, mostly sheds its patronage on high-end disciplines like theater and ballet. But times they are a-changing. Just look at rock fan Scott Brittingham, who just donated half-a-million dollars to fund Grateful Dead archives at UC Santa Cruz. Brittingham saw his first Dead show at age 16 in the late 1970s. “I mainly went because they were playing across the street,” said Brittingham, who grew up near UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. He’d heard the American Beauty album and dismissed the band as a country act, but he wanted to hang out with his friends and went regardless. “All of us, we knew it was something amazing. And I remember when I went to bed that night, thinking, ‘Oh, I’m gonna do this again.’”
And back he went. A tie-dyed-in-the-wool Deadhead, he took jobs that left evenings and weekends free to follow his favorite band. “I was lucky to pick a band that toured a lot, and it got me into some of the best outdoor venues in the country,” he said, reciting a litany of Dead haunts from Las Vegas to the Ventura Fairgrounds.
Moving to Santa Barbara, Brittingham met former Capitol Records exec and S.B. Bowl boardmember Hale Milgrim, who brought Brittingham on. He spearheaded the Bowl’s $40-million drive, while creating the Rex Marchbanks and Jerry Garcia memorials there, and soon met Dennis McQuaid, who represented the band’s financial legacy efforts. Brittingham knew that plans to create a permanent fan enclave had been scrapped, but he didn’t know about the archives called Dead Central — a 1,500-square-foot memorial exhibition space located in UCSC’s McHenry Library.
Brittingham signed on fast, mostly to encourage others to donate money and memorabilia to the showplace, which officially opens on Friday, June 29.
“This is a gift from a fan to the fans,” said Brittingham. “[Their concerts were these] cultural events that always felt so safe and affordable. The fans would always take you in and take care of you. You can talk about social networks all you want. Forget Facebook; this was the ultimate social network. It was a strongly woven fabric. I only hope every generation of Americans gets something like this.”