Skip to main content

University
Library

The Grateful Dead Archive

McHenry Library, home of the Grateful Dead Archive and Dead Central exhibition gallery, is currently closed until further notice. See campus information on COVID-19

Dead Central is a gallery space on the Main Floor of McHenry Library at UC Santa Cruz dedicated to exploring cultural, social, and creative moments in the twentieth century in which the Grateful Dead played a critical part. Exhibits feature unique materials from the Grateful Dead Archive alongside original sources from across the University Library's rich historical collections. The creation of Dead Central was made possible through a generous grant from the Brittingham Family Foundation.

Dead Central admission is free and open to the public during all normal McHenry Library hours.

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

 

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)

Selected Previous Exhibits

Imagining the Dead: Photographs and Photographers in the Grateful Dead Archive, 1965-1995

May 15, 2016 - April 30, 2017

Imagining the Dead presented more than 200 images and artifacts drawn from every era of the Grateful Dead.

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.