Fifty artists from five decades: UC Santa Cruz 50th alumni exhibition opens Feb. 5

UC Santa Cruz 50th Alumni Art Exhibition banner
Vincent Mendez painting
Vincent Mendez
"Sesnon Family, 1958" Mixed Media by Molly Cliff Hilts
"Sesnon Family, 1958" Mixed Media by Molly Cliff Hilts
Ceramic artist Ramah Commanday
Ceramic artist Ramah Commanday

UC Santa Cruz alumni from across the country are contributing their works to 50/50—a new art exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the campus that opens on February 5.

The show will take place at both the R. Blitzer Gallery on the Westside of Santa Cruz, and on campus at the Porter College Faculty Gallery. It runs at both venues until February 28.

Featuring 10 artists from each decade of UC Santa Cruz’s 50-year history, the exhibition will spotlight local and visiting alumni artists from Santa Cruz to New York City.

One of those artists is Molly Cliff Hilts, from Portland, Oregon, who has a particularly close connection to the campus. The Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery at UC Santa Cruz is named after her great grandmother.

Hilts graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 1981, with a B.A. in Fine Art from Porter College. Her art is part of an emerging form that melds painting, photography and printing, using wax, lithographic ink, oil and graphite.

“I entered UCSC my junior year, and I loved riding my bike up the hill with my heavy art history books in my backpack, amidst the golden rolling hills and big oak trees, with the backdrop of the Monterey Bay,” Hilts recalled. “I loved my classes: astronomy, Russian, art history, printmaking, sculpture, and especially photography with Norman Locks.”

“I made friends for life at UCSC and stayed in Santa Cruz after college, for a few years, working for a couple of local architecture and design firms,” she added.

Hilts’ artwork can now be found in notable collections worldwide, including the private collection of Bill and Melinda Gates.

Her landscape paintings are also the basis for a presentation that debuted in the U.S. at the Getty Center for Paradoxical Undressing, a live spoken-word, music and visual installation by musician Kristin Hersh.

For the past 14 years, Hilts and her husband have also been hosting salon gatherings of artists, writers and musicians. A surprising discovery at her parents’ home of a bound 108-page book recently revealed that these salons are actually a continuation of a family history of hosting salons that was started by her great grandmother in 1911.

“I think back on her life and the contributions she made–she lived for community, art, and supporting others in their artistic endeavors,” Hilts observed. “It is a bit surreal to be organically continuing in this family tradition.”

Hilts said she was looking forward to returning to campus and seeing the other alumni artists on February 5 at the opening reception of the exhibition at the Porter College Faculty Gallery.

“It will be really interesting to be all together surrounded by our work,” she noted. “All of us were influenced by our professors, the environment, the era we attended, and that unique and sublime experience we shared on the grounds of Porter.”

“Who knows what collaborations could come out of this? I am honored to be included,” Hilts added.

The 50/50 alumni art exhibition is shared by two venues—the Porter College Faculty Gallery at UCSC, and R. Blitzer Gallery on the Westside of Santa Cruz. The opening reception on campus will be Feb. 5, from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The R. Blitzer Gallery opening reception takes place Feb. 6, featuring live music by UCSC alumni. Admission is free and open to the public.

50/50 is curated by Shelby Graham. For more information, contact or 831-459-3606. Visit for additional events celebrating the 50th anniversary of UC Santa Cruz.