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The Grateful Dead Archive

Dead Central's new exhibit is now open!

The Thread that Runs so True: Archival Connections of the Grateful Dead

LOCATION: Dead Central, on the main level of McHenry Library

Since their start in the 1960s, the American band known as the Grateful Dead showed immense capacity for creating a sense of radical welcome, connecting with fans, fellow musicians, and many others who shared their interest in the creative possibilities of experimentation and improvisation. The Thread that Runs so True draws on a variety of archival collections at UC Santa Cruz to explore the many threads running between the Grateful Dead and other artists, thinkers, and supporters who also have left behind archival traces within the archives held at UC Santa Cruz.

At UC Santa Cruz's University Library, the band’s papers keep company with musical scores of avant garde composers, recorded interviews of jazz and rock innovators, photographs and papers of Black Panther Party members, scholarly studies on sound, and even the writings of a certain gonzo journalist. A look into some of these other archives reveals the threads that run between the Grateful Dead and a diversity of artists, authors, journalists, and activists whose archives also have their homes at UC Santa Cruz today. 

Selected Previous Exhibits

When We Paint Our Masterpiece: The Art of the Grateful Dead Community

February 2, 2020 - December 22, 2022

LOCATION: Dead Central, on the main level of McHenry Library

Any reference to the Grateful Dead, perhaps the world’s most iconic improvisational band, can easily conjure images in one’s mind of psychedelic tie-dyed clothes, dancing bears, and rose-garlanded skeletons. But just as they defied expectations with their music, the band also inspired in their listeners a diverse visual landscape in response to their songs. 

The creative works presented in When We Paint Our Masterpiece, drawn from the Grateful Dead Archive, reveal a richly envisioned and varied world of design practices, international traditions, visual icons, and art forms. Sent to the band from around the world, these works document the blossoming of a transnational community of Dead Heads even in countries where the band never toured, like Japan. 
This artwork also reveals the deep affection that the band and its staff—who curated the collection piece by piece—had for Dead Heads’ unique and broadly conceived notions of what Grateful Dead-related art could and should be. Pencil sketches, abstract works, portraits, and screenprints share space with sculptures in paper and metal. Repurposed found objects as well as comic art and drawings inspired by the English Arts & Crafts movement a century ago all have a place here. The Grateful Dead’s universe made space for all of these patterns and images.  
These works, considered collectively, offer a powerful example of the possibilities of fan culture. Collaboratively created, expanded, and improvised for over half a century, the art of the Grateful Dead fan community remains vibrant today. Dead Head artists like Miki Saito and others continue to make new art, and as stewards of the Grateful Dead Archive, we “hang it up and see what tomorrow brings,” as Robert Hunter counseled so long ago. 


(card sent to the Grateful Dead from Dead Heads Japan, with art by Miki Saito)


Love on Haight: the Grateful Dead and San Francisco in 1967

6 June 2017 - 1 May 2018

View the Digital Exhibit


Love on Haight

Love on Haight brings together posters, photography, and ephemera to explore the revolution in print culture, music, and social change in 1967, the Summer of Love. Included are documents from the Grateful Dead Archive, photographs from Ruth-Marion Baruch’s 1967 Haight-Ashbury series, and selections from the Library’s exceptionally rich holdings in alternative publications from this time period: a variety of newspapers and magazines, comic books, literary journals, broadsides, and political tracts. Supplementing these sources are audiovisual components – films about the Summer of Love, snippets of performances and, of course, music.

Songs of Our Own: The Art of the Grateful Dead Phenomenon

27 April 2013-30 April 2014

Exhibit poster by Gary HoustonThis exhibit explored the art that documented, celebrated, and inspired the Grateful Dead and their fans. 

Visit the guide to this exhibit.