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Art Reigns in Scottsdale

June 28, 2016 Destination North America No Comments Print Print Email Email

Living History

Delve into the timeless traditions of the area’s original artisans at the Heard Museum (www.heard.org) in Phoenix.


Founded in 1929 by Maie and Dwight Heard, this renowned institution houses an exemplary collection of American Indian art and artifacts, and it plays host to special events such as the annual World Championship Hoop Dance Contest, a celebration of American Indian dancing.

Adobe structures along the Arizona Canal dating back to the 1930s house an artists’ compound and art galleries just minutes from downtown Scottsdale. Cattle Track is a historic complex and haven for writers, dancers and artists like Fritz Scholder, renowned for his contemporary American Indian works, and Philip Campbell Curtis, known for his surrealist paintings and desert landscapes. Looking through the lens of this historic architecture and preserved desert landscape, it’s easy to be transported back to the early days of Scottsdale when such celebrated “creatives” as Louise Nevelson might come for a stay. Today you will find a variety of well-known talented artists, including painters, photographers, ceramicists and even a blacksmith.

Art is at the Heart of Downtown

An internationally renowned artist colony, downtown Scottsdale boasts nearly 100 galleries – one of the most concentrated collections in the nation. The area is home to four art-filled districts, including Old Town Scottsdale‘s collection of authentic cowboy wares and American Indian pieces. Sprinkled across this rootin’ tootin’ mix of historic storefronts and old timey fun are a variety of galleries offering authentic American Indian pieces such as turquoise jewelry, concha belts and boldly colored pottery.

Fine art aficionados, meanwhile, will be in high heaven at the nearby Scottsdale Arts District, a compact stretch so chockablock with fine galleries and antique shops that you might need an extra set of eyeballs just to take it all in. Naturally, many of the galleries tilt toward traditional and contemporary Western works; however, there’s something for everyone here, from Southwest landscapes and Russian impressionism, to hand-blown glass and hand-pounded metal pieces. For a more modern approach, hightail it over to the nearby Marshall Way Arts District, a neighborhood-like setting overflowing with restaurants, boutiques and contemporary art galleries. Finally, savor a winning combination of tchotchke shops and fine dining establishments at Scottsdale’s Fifth Avenue District, where nearly 30 restaurants and about 60 shops are located within a five-minute walking distance of famed sculptor Bob Park’s Horse Fountain – one of the city’s most photographed landmarks.

Get a glimpse of downtown with local expert Ace Bailey on the Downtown Scottsdale Art & Cultural Trolley Tour offered by Ultimate Art & Cultural Tours(www.ultimatearttours.com). The free two-hour tour occurs on the second Saturday of every month and takes you through the area’s notable spots while highlighting the city’s history. Featured locations include the historic Old Adobe Mission church built in 1933, the arts district, Scottsdale Civic Center Park, and Hotel Valley Ho, as well as the Southbridge and Scottsdale Waterfront shopping areas. For an extended tour of downtown and the destination’s other hidden art and architectural gems, book a specialized tour with Ultimate Art & Cultural Tours.

Artsy Affairs

Aside from galleries of every genre, Scottsdale also is home to a series of high-profile art gatherings showcasing the finest local, national and international talents. Since 1971, the Scottsdale Arts Festival (www.scottsdaleartsfestival.org) annually attracts tens of thousands of serious and casual art collectors to the lush gardens and beautiful public sculptures of the Scottsdale Civic Center Park in downtown. Held every March, patrons spend a leisurely afternoon strolling among exhibitors, visiting with artists and enjoying live performances all while helping to support the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts’ programs.

Hailed as “one of the premiere art events in the West” by Art & Architecturemagazine, Celebration of Fine Art (www.celebrateart.com) is a 10-week gathering that begins in January and brings together 100 artists. Beneath the white tents of the event, visitors meet the artists and watch them work in the full spectrum of design media, from oils and watercolors to furniture and jewelry.

Native Trails, presented by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation and produced by the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts (www.scottsdalenativetrails.com), hosts a series of free American Indian performances every January through April. In 2016, Native Trails will commemorate its 14th season. Held on the outdoor amphitheater at the Scottsdale Civic Center Park, each noontime festival celebrates American Indian culture by highlighting individual tribes from across the Southwest through traditional music, dance, art and food. Watch history come alive with musical concerts using traditional instruments such as flutes, gourds and drums, as well as demonstrations including hoop dancing and inter-tribal pow wow dancing.

Art On-the-Go

Every Thursday evening, downtown Scottsdale’s vibrant arts scene spills out into the streets at Scottsdale ArtWalk (www.scottsdalegalleries.com), the country’s longest running al-fresco art walk hosted by the Scottsdale Gallery Association. Best described as a large, easygoing open house through the gallery-rich streets of downtown, ArtWalk patrons meander at their own pace, wandering in and out of galleries while savoring complimentary sips and nibbles and observing artist demonstrations. There’s even free transportation on the City of Scottsdale trolleys. Mark your calendar for these special themed ArtWalks including the Holiday ArtWalk (December) and Native Arts ArtWalk (March).

Travelers can keep busy while waiting for their flight home. Amongst the hustle and bustle at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (www.phxskyharbor.com), discover the museum promoting Arizona’s arts and cultural heritage. This diverse collection began in the 1960s and features nearly 600 works of art within 10 locations airport-wide. Phoenix’s largest terminal, Terminal 4, features rotating exhibits throughout the year.

In the Public Eye

While strolling the streets of Scottsdale, visitors will almost certainly notice an abundance of striking statues, dramatic fountains and other large-scale public works. This is the fruit of the Scottsdale Public Art Program(www.scottsdalepublicart.org), a city-wide beautification project launched back in 1985. Among the program’s nearly 50 permanent public artworks, two of the more prominent pieces include Robert Indiana’s iconic “LOVE” sculpture outside the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and “Knight Rise Skyspace” at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, a skyspace created by internationally celebrated earth and light artist James Turrell.

Artist Donald Lipski created “The Doors,” a series of 29-foot-tall mirrored panels arranged to create a walk-in kaleidoscope effect. Just around the corner, Soleri Bridge and Plaza, by the late famed architect and designer Paolo Soleri, features two steel-clad, 64-foot-high pylons that demonstrate the importance of solar movement. Built over the Arizona Canal, the prominent waterfront fixture debuted in December 2010 as the only Soleri-designed bridge ever constructed, although the renowned architect designed bridges for 60 years. Down the street is Herb Mignery’s “Passing the Legacy” sculpture that depicts a vintage pony express rider and contemporary Hashknife Pony Express rider handing off the mail at full gallop, encapsulating the “Old West” meeting the “New West.”

In 2014, Scottsdale Public Art unveiled a 20-foot, stainless steel and LED lit galloping horse at WestWorld of Scottsdale. “Impulsion” by Arizona artist Jeff Zischke beat out 200 other designs for the nationally recognized equestrian center. Also on the horizon is artist Stacy Levy’s “Swale,” a landmark made up of 8- to 14-foot tall colorful, steel grass and seed pods that will line a bridge near downtown Scottsdale. “Light Echo,” an installation featuring projected high-powered laser beams on the Arizona Canal, will also take form in the coming months.

Catch a glimpse of Scottsdale’s creative spirit every year during Canal Convergence, a multi-day event on the Arizona Canal in downtown Scottsdale that highlights innovative artwork by local and international artists, hands-on activities, live music, and performances. Past installations have included paper cranes hanging from Soleri Bridge and oversized flower blooms perched on the waterway.

Art-filled Stays

Experience living history at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch‘s (www.scottsdale.hyatt.com) Native American Learning Center, an ongoing collaborative venture with Native artists and educators. Visitors can take a self-guided tour that includes depictions of day-to-day life on the Navajo and Hopi reservations, efforts to preserve the languages, and the significance of art such as jewelry textiles, pottery, and carvings. The resort also features a renowned art collection that includes a life-size bronze gahn dancer and “Cliff Dweller,” a sculpture rendered in paper mache over cedar wood, to evoke the imagery of the Southwest.

Home to a museum-quality $25 million art collection, The Phoenician(www.thephoenician.com) offers a self-guided audio tour providing an enriching experience for all age groups. Free to resort guests and visitors, the audio tour features interpretive vignettes of more than 20 works of European and Native American art. Highlights on the tour include Allan Houser’s “The Future” bronze sculpture, a 17th century French tapestry found in the Lobby Tea Court, and fine antiques such as a Louis XVI commode from the estate of former Texas Governor John Connally.

Scottsdale’s only historic hotel and regarded as one of the best mid-century modern landmarks in the country, Hotel Valley Ho (www.hotelvalleyho.com) offers expert-led architectural walking tours of the buildings and grounds. Designed by Edward L. Varney, an apprentice of Wright, this restored 1950s gem has hosted Hollywood luminaries such as Zsa Zsa Gabor, Bing Crosby, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, as well as the 1957 wedding reception of Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood.

A veritable hidden gem, The Hermosa Inn (www.hermosainn.com) is a boutique hideaway originally built in the 1930s by famed cowboy artist Alonzo “Lon” Megargee as his art studio and residence. Today, the resort exudes artful desert ambiance by incorporating elements of the original structure and featuring one of the largest collections of Megargee’s original works. The hotel also plays host to an award-winning Artist-in-Residence series, seasonal art walks that teach guests about Megargee’s works and a $2 million art installment of sculptures and paintings from Figarelli Fine Art.

Revel in the bright tropical artwork of renowned Cuban artist Nelson Garcia-Miranda at The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa‘s (www.kierlandresort.com) deseorestaurant. As the resident artist at this elegant Latin hot spot, guests are able to savor Miranda’s exuberant-yet-functional pieces, including votives, champagne flutes and wine glasses, as well as watch this Cuban-born artist create vibrant paintings right inside the restaurant.

Stitch together the past and present with the Talking Stick Destination in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC). Pay a visit to Talking Stick Resort’s (www.talkingstickresort.com) Cultural Center, which showcases distinguished artwork from the SRPMIC including paintings, sculpture, metal work, ceramics and basketry. Also housed at the resort is a permanent exhibition of historic photographs from the collection of Jeremy Rowe Vintage Photography dating as far back as 1880. The newest attraction at the community is just down the street atButterfly Wonderland (www.butterflywonderland.com), the largest butterfly pavilion in the United States, which spread its wings in May 2013. This is the first phase of the “Odysea in the Desert” entertainment complex that also will feature the largest aquarium in the Southwest region (scheduled to open in 2015); an IMAX theatre; a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum; and a “Taste of the World” culinary showcase with 14 to 16 distinctive international restaurants.

Museums & Performance Centers

In January 2015, the “West’s Most Western Town” paid tribute to its roots with the opening of Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West(www.scottsdalemuseumwest.org), a storytelling institution that showcases the history, present day and future of all 19 states in the American West. Through its five galleries featuring paintings, sculptures, cultural artifacts and interactive exhibits, the museum depicts the ever-evolving American West, from cowboys on horseback to historic roads like Route 66. Pieces by famed artists such as Carl Oscar Borg, John Coleman, and Maynard Dixon will take the spotlight at the two-story, 43,000-square-foot museum. With its dynamic rotating exhibits, educational programming and special community events, Scottsdale’s Museum of the West will seek to teach visitors all about the “Western Spirit.” Stop by to see the first exhibits including “Inspirational Journey: The Story of Lewis and Clark Featuring the Artwork of Charles Fritz,” an exhibit that chronicles Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s legendary expedition through paintings by Charles Fritz and bronze sculptures by various artists.

Designed by famed local architect Will Bruder, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA, www.smoca.org) is a stylish space with five ever-changing galleries devoted to the art, architecture and design of our time. Spend an afternoon observing the exhibitions and end your visit in the museum’s SMoCA Lounge, a flexible mixed-use space that opened in fall 2011. The Lounge, intrepidly re-imagined by the late artist and designer Janis Leonard – the creative force behind many of the memorable art installations shown at nearby AZ/88 restaurant (www.az88.com) – serves as a place for educational activities by day and a swank, unique gathering spot by night.

Located next door is the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts(www.scottsdalearts.org), presenting world-class performances of dance, jazz, classical and world music, theater and satire, in addition to events such as La Gran Fiesta: A Celebration of Hispanic and Latin Cultures. The 2015-2016 season produces a dynamic lineup including stand-up comedian Margaret Cho, country musician Lyle Lovett, and Latin Jazz performers Arturo Sandoval and Poncho Sanchez.

In April 2010, the first global museum of musical instruments opened in the desert. The Musical Instrument Museum (www.themim.org) showcases cultures from around the globe with more than 5,000 instruments on display from nearly every country in the world. See the re-creation of a gong workshop, listen to the sounds of the traditional Beijing Opera, experience a contemporary Ukrainian wedding procession, view instruments played by musicians such as Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Carlos Santana, or test your own musical abilities in the Experience Gallery. Go from strumming a guitar to hearing professional musicians in the 300-seat MIM Music Theater, spanning two floors of the museum. Designed with spacious seating and state-of-the-art acoustics, the hall is a premier venue for performances, films and seminars about worldly musical traditions.

Known as the city’s cultural crown jewel, Phoenix Art Museum (www.phxart.org) presents renowned international exhibitions and features more than 17,000 works in its collection of American, Asian, modern and contemporary, European, Latin American, and Western American art and fashion design. A vibrant destination for 56 years, Phoenix Art Museum plays host to festivals, live performances, independent art films, and educational programs that enlighten, entertain, and stimulate. During a visit, check out PhxArtKids, an interactive space for children; the lushly landscaped Sculpture Garden; Palette, the on-site restaurant; and The Museum Store.

At Arizona State University’s Kerr Cultural Center (www.asukerr.com), take part in a variety of theatrical events and musical ensembles inside a quaint recital hall built from natural adobe bricks made and dried on property. Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre (www.desertstages.org) offers family-friendly productions such as “Oliver!” “Footloose,” “West Side Story” and “Hello, Dolly” in an exciting theatre-in-the-round setting, where performers suddenly appear and disappear via one of eight entrances.

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