At its best, art does much more than fill our eyes with beauty. It can feel divinely inspired, as if the creative who made it was filled with the Holy Spirit as brush touched canvas or hands molded clay. And perhaps they were. After all, some of the greatest art is sacred art, meant to infuse those experiencing it with the awe that comes from God’s love.
But even art that doesn’t use religious symbols can spark spirituality for group travelers, especially in places like Santa Fe, New Mexico; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Philadelphia; Rapid City, South Dakota; and Chicago. Each is blessed with a bounty of art — sacred and secular — that is sure to stir the soul.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, was settled by the Spanish about 1609 and is filled with houses of worship that date back centuries. Groups should especially take time to visit San Miguel Chapel — the oldest church in the country — and the now-deconsecrated Loretto Chapel. It’s home to the Miraculous Staircase, spiral steps that were built in the late 1800s by a mysterious carpenter and — incredibly — have no means of support.
But there’s more incredible art for groups to discover in Santa Fe than just architecture. The New Mexico History Museum offers “Treasures of Devotion,” which features “retablos,” “crucifijos” and other religious works, some dating to the 1700s. The Museum of International Folk Art on Museum Hill boasts a collection of more than 130,000 objects, including sacred art. Downtown’s Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the country’s only institution dedicated to a woman artist, can provide guides for groups, and Santa Fe Art Tours will escort travelers on custom tours of Canyon Road, which boasts some 100 galleries.
According to Joanne Hudson, public relations manager for Tourism Santa Fe, what makes the city stand out as an arts destination is “truly the volume of art in a dense, concentrated walkable area.
“Groups really maximize their time and see the incredible diversity of mediums, styles and types of art in an easy, compact area,” she said.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s capital city has evolved into one of the country’s premier destinations for art, and it isn’t slowing down, with the Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center debuting on March 13. Along with exhibitions, it will offer art instruction, eventually giving groups the chance to produce their own masterpieces. And next spring, the First Americans Museum will debut, showcasing art from 39 tribes and nations.
“It’s going to be a phenomenal facility,” said Oklahoma Convention and Visitors Bureau president Mike Carrier. “We’re hoping that the motorcoach industry will start looking at it as they make their plans for 2021 and beyond.”
Groups should also be sure to visit the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, which boasts a comprehensive collection of Dale Chihuly’s sublime glass work. The crowd-pleasing National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum exhibits works from artists that depict the Old West, such as Frederic Remington. It also offers groups special tours and fun events such as “A Date With the Duke,” which pairs dinner with a John Wayne movie.
But the city’s most moving artwork will remain the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, which includes the “Field of Empty Chairs.” Made of glass, bronze and stone, the 168 sculptures represent the lives lost in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing.
“In a lot of ways, it’s very holy ground because of the things that happened there,” Carrier said. “Not just the bombing, but the recovery… the way that citizens here and from all over pulled together.”
The City of Brotherly Love has plenty of divine love to offer groups thanks to a host of magnificent religious architecture and art. The abundance is partly because “Pennsylvania was one of the few colonies founded on religious tolerance,” said Jim DePhilippo, Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau tourism sales manager. “So we have a lot of different faiths that have communities and churches here, some dating quite far back.”
Groups will want to visit the Neoclassical-style Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, which was completed in 1864 and offers a spectacular vaulted copper dome and interior filled with sacred artifacts and art. For art related to Judaism, groups can head to the National Museum of American Jewish History, fronted by the statue “Religious Liberty,” crafted by Moses Jacob Ezekiel in 1876.
Philadelphia is blessed with iconic museums, too, like the Barnes Foundation, home to a collection of impressionist, postimpressionist and early modernist works, as well as El Greco’s “Apparition of the Virgin and Child to St, Hyacinth.” The Philadelphia Museum of Art displays a legendary array of work in 200 galleries, including “The Annunciation” by Henry Ossawa Tanner. The institution also provides groups with special Christian art and Jewish art tours.
Rapid City, South Dakota
A friendly and lively place, Rapid City, South Dakota, is rich with outdoor art that groups will love. The patriotic “City of Presidents” is a series of life-size bronze sculptures of the country’s chiefs of state grouped around the downtown’s street corners. Tucked between Sixth and Seventh streets, Art Alley serves up brilliantly hued murals, and “The Sculpture Project: Passage of Wind and Water,” focusing on natural elements, offers 21 granite sculptures by the internationally renowned Masayuki Nagase.
Should the weather prove inhospitable during a group’s visit, Rapid City offers the Dahl Arts Center. Filled not only with contemporary visual art but also a fascinating 180-foot cyclorama that explores 200 years of American history, it hosts groups for guided tours and lunch or dinner. The Suzie Cappa Art Center features the work of artists with disabilities, and the two-story Prairie Edge Trading Company and Galleries proudly presents art from Northern Plains Native Americans.
“We are a huge motorcoach destination,” said Lindsey Myers, director of group sales for Visit Rapid City. “And arts and culture is really big for our city. We have a lot of residents who really embrace it, and we encourage visitors to go and see any of our art.”
The City of Big Shoulders might be better called the City of Big Art. Featuring a jaw-dropping array of outdoor sculpture, architecture and museums, Chicago beckons groups looking for an intensive art immersion.
“Chicago to me is the Capital of the Midwest, a metropolis full of experiences, many firsts, including art, architecture, entertainment, restaurants, culture, theater, classical and popular music, parks and the river,” said Arnaldo Altoran, director of global development for Choose Chicago. “Our slogan says, ‘Welcome Home Chicago.’”
With so much art to offer, it’s difficult for groups to know where to begin their tours of the Windy City. The fabled Art Institute of Chicago, guarded by its famous bronze lions, might be the place. There are sacred art superstars there like El Greco’s “The Assumption of the Virgin,” which groups can see in some of the museum’s 11 themed, guided tours. But groups shouldn’t neglect the city’s smaller institutions, including the National Museum of Mexican Art, which has plenty of religious art on display.
Chicago’s outdoor art and architecture provides singular pleasures as well, from the instantly recognizable Picasso sculpture at Daley Plaza to Millennium Park’s reflective “Bean.” And groups can choose to tour three of the city’s most beloved houses of worship — including Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral, designed by Louis Sullivan — with the Chicago Church Tour.