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A Perfect Palette: Art in the Southwest

Art and cultural heritage often go hand-in-hand in the Southwestern states of New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Oklahoma.

Always a mecca for the arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico, plays host to numerous festivals that inspire creativity. Native American heritage and a thriving arts scene happily converge in the cities of Phoenix and neighboring Scottsdale, Arizona. Groups will be pleasantly surprised at the bounty of art and culture available in the Reno-Tahoe, Nevada, region. Spanish-Mexican influences are the lifeblood of the color and culture of San Antonio, Texas. And in Oklahoma City, the Old West is an integral part of the past as well as the present.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe has approximately 250 galleries concentrated on Canyon Road and in the downtown Railyard Arts District. The city’s more than 70 annual events include international festivals such as August’s Indian Market, one of the world’s premier indigenous festivals.

In July, three stand-alone shows, known as the Art Trifecta, occur simultaneously: the International Folk Art Market, Art Santa Fe and Site Santa Fe. The first two were respectively voted No. 1 and No. 4 in a monthlong USA Today readers poll.

Museums worth noting include the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and, on Santa Fe’s Historic Plaza, the New Mexico Museum of Art and New Mexico History Museum. Next door, the Palace of the Governors is available for historic tours. The Under the Palace Portal program showcases artists who follow rigorous standards to display and sell their artwork. Often they’re working in centuries-old crafts and mediums.

“The daily art market is a must-see because it’s such a unique opportunity to see indigenous art and cultural traditions firsthand and talk with the artists,” said public relations manager John Feins for Tourism Santa Fe. “Items are quite affordable, since there’s no middle man.”

Highly entertaining and educational, the Santa Fe School of Cooking offers numerous classes taught by some of the best chefs in the area. Demonstration classes accommodate up to 60 people. A scavenger hunt format challenges teams to gather ingredients and prepare a portion of the meal at individual stations.

Numerous Santa Fe hotels are steeped in culture and history. Hotel Santa Fe the Hacienda and Spa displays indigenous artwork, hosts native musicians and is owned by the Picuris Pueblo. La Posada staffs a curator who gives talks and classes about the property’s artwork. La Fonda, the only hotel on the downtown plaza, provides docent tours highlighting its rich history. Many properties offer Native American and Southwestern-inspired spa treatments, and their restaurants serve some of the best cuisine in town.

Scottsdale and Phoenix, Arizona

Scottsdale boasts nearly 100 galleries, one of the most concentrated collections in the nation. Old Town Scottsdale offers authentic cowboy wares and American Indian pieces. The Scottsdale Arts District boasts fine art and antiques. And the Marshall Way Arts District overflows with contemporary galleries. On Thursday evenings, the Scottsdale Gallery Association hosts the alfresco Scottsdale ArtWalk.

The free Downtown Scottsdale Art and Cultural Trolley Tour, the second Saturday of each month, highlights the city’s history. Minutes away, Cattle Track’s adobe structures along the Arizona Canal date back to the 1930s, when it first became a haven for writers, dancers and artists.

“Ultimate Art and Cultural Tours can customize a behind-the-scenes group tour that features stops at Hotel Valley Ho, Taliesin West and Cosanti,” said Megan Neighbor, director of communications at the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Cattle Track isn’t generally open to the public, but tours can be arranged.”

“Native Trails,” presented by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, presents free American Indian performances at the Scottsdale Civic Center Park during the lunch hour from January through April. History comes alive with traditional instruments such as flutes, gourds and drums, plus intertribal dancing.

In downtown Phoenix, the Heard Museum showcases cultures and art of Native Americans of the Southwest with stunning displays of intricately beaded clothing, textiles and jewelry. Touch screens featured videos of artists talking about specific pieces of their work. The Pueblo Grande Museum’s archaeology park preserves a Hohokam Indian site. Reconstructed Hohokam homes and an ancient ball court unravel some of the mystery surrounding the large community that once lived there.

Numerous hotels, among them the Phoenician, the Hotel Valley Ho, the 1930s Hermosa Inn and the Talking Stick Resort’s Cultural Center, offer multimillion-dollar art collections, guided tours and self-guided audio tours that feature the Maricopa and Pima communities. Kai restaurant, located at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa, is the state’s only AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star restaurant. Tribal artwork hangs on the walls, the menu features native cuisine, and diners look out upon the Sierra Estrella Mountains that frame the Gila River Indian Community’s vast acreage.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.