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Made in the Southwest

When it comes to artistic inspiration, there’s no place like the Southwest. 

The region’s rugged mountains, plains and desert locales have drawn artists of all stripes for centuries. Today, they also draw visitors who come to enjoy the scenery and immerse themselves in the arts.

From Southwestern and contemporary art to cowboy and Native American crafts, these Southwest destinations offer many opportunities to stroll through art galleries and exhibitions, attend music and theater performances, learn about the artistic specialties of different cultures, meet local artists and participate in arts-and-crafts demonstrations.  

Gallup, New Mexico

Gallup, New Mexico, is a hidden gem of the Native American arts and crafts scene because of its proximity to the Navajo and Zuni nations. New Mexico itself is home to 19 pueblos that are known for their pottery and silversmithing. Gallup has more than 100 trading posts, some of the oldest in the northwestern part of the state. They include Richardson’s Trading Post on Route 66, which sells museum-quality Navajo rugs, pottery, jewelry, paintings, kachinas and more, and Ellis Tanner Trading Company, where artisans can bring in their pinyon, jewelry, wool, and rugs to sell. 

Perry Null Trading offers Native Americans a place to preserve their historical and ceremonial artifacts, since they don’t have climate-controlled rooms with fire-suppression systems on their reservations. Visiting groups can take a tour of the company’s museum-quality Native American items, such as Navajo rugs, saddles, buffalo hides and jewelry, and learn about how they were made and the different materials the artists used. 

Visit Gallup will organize meet-and-greets or arts-and-crafts demonstrations with various artists in the area. But groups should make a point of visiting during the Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial, which takes place the first two weeks of August and will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2022. The event includes Native American ceremonies, Native dancing, rodeos, exhibits and pageants.

“It allows people to experience Native culture without interfering with religious traditions,” said Jennifer Lazarz, tourism and marketing manager for Visit Gallup. 

The Gallup Native Arts Market is held every year and features the work of highly skilled Native American artists in the area. The 2019 market also included Native American dance groups and a fashion show.

Gallup is near Chaco Culture National Historical Park, which was home to Native Americans from A.D. 850 to 1250, as well as Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. Route 66, with its kitschy shops and restaurants, also runs through the city.

Durango, Colorado

From its famous Durango-Silverton railroad to its location at the base of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, Durango is steeped in both Western and Native American history. The city’s art scene ranges from historic to modern mountain culture, benefiting from the area’s plethora of outdoor recreation opportunities and its proximity to two Native American tribes: the Southern Ute and Navajo nations. 

Groups that want to sample the arts and crafts scene in Durango should take advantage of its monthly Artwalk that takes place downtown during summer and fall; visitors can wander gallery-lined streets, meet artists and see craft demonstrations, all while drinking a glass of wine and sampling hors d’oeuvres. Several galleries in the area cater to Native American and Western art. The Toh-Atin Gallery works with several of the area’s top Native American artists to display their work, which includes paintings, pueblo pottery, beautifully handcrafted silver and turquoise jewelry, and Navajo rugs. Sorrel Sky displays contemporary and traditional Western art, as well as Native American jewelry, paintings, sculpture and photography.

The Southern Ute are known for their beadwork, and the area’s galleries are full of amazing examples of this skillset. Durango’s Autumn Arts Festival takes place every September in the city’s historic downtown. It features more than 100 artists and is organized by the Durango Arts Center, a hub for the area’s artists. Durango is a great jumping-off point to visit Mesa Verde National Park and its famous Native American cliff dwellings and arts scene. Smaller towns in the area also have extensive art scenes, among them Mancos and Cortez.

Elko, Nevada

Surrounded by natural beauty, Elko, Nevada, got its start with the arrival of the Central Pacific Railroad in 1868. Silver and gold miners flocked to the area looking to strike it rich; many pioneers settled down on local farms. Elko was the site of the world’s last stagecoach robbery in 1916 and is still home to several gold mines. Only in the past decade has Elko begun to transform itself from a traditional Western mining town to an arts destination.

The Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum is a great first stop on any visit to Elko because it highlights the crafts that fueled Western expansion, such as saddles, bridles, harnesses and other cowboy gear. Staff members give workshops and demonstrations on traditional Western crafts like leather stamping, silver engraving and rawhide braiding. The Western Folklife Center offers a more modern take on cowboy and Western culture and is responsible for bringing the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering to Elko. The event takes place every January and features Western poets, musicians, artisans and storytellers from across the country. A booth at the event features rawhide braiding, leather tooling and hat- and saddle-making demonstrations.

Elko Art in the Park is a two-day event in July that brings in dozens of vendors selling Western art, jewelry, baskets, photography and clothing. Another event, the Elko Band Pow-Wow, takes place every October and highlights Native American drummers and traditional dancers.

Festivals aside, Elko makes public art a priority, with 51 murals that feature traditional Western, Native American and modern designs; 60 large cowboy boots painted by local artists; and Western cutouts made of iron scattered throughout. Groups can take advantage of the area’s natural beauty by visiting Lamoille Canyon in the Ruby Mountains or learning about the area’s pioneer history at the California Trail Interpretive Center. 

Ogden, Utah

Surrounded by mountains, Ogden, Utah, is a well-known outdoor destination, with plenty of hiking and biking trails and three nearby ski resorts. But like many U.S. cities, its downtown spaces needed revitalization. That prompted the city to redo historic 25th Street leading up to Union Station, which is now brimming with local eateries, bars, and shops. It also led to the creation of the Nine Rails Creative District in 2018. The goal is to reuse historic buildings and downtown spaces to create places where artists and other creatives can live, work, exhibit, perform and teach. The district is in downtown Ogden, between Grand and Madison avenues, and 24th and 26th streets. 

The name Nine Rails pays tribute to Ogden’s history as a major connection point on the Transcontinental Railroad and, later, a hub for nine different rail lines. The area already is home to numerous arts organizations and theaters, including the Ogden Contemporary Arts (OCA) Center, an exhibition space and contemporary art center in the historic Monarch building. It hosts virtual and augmented-reality exhibitions, as well as more traditional art exhibits. Platforms, OCA’s outdoor art park, will soon feature an interactive, light-based art installation titled Paradboxes.

The Dumke Arts Plaza, coming in November, will be an arts-focused community space, outdoor art gallery and performance venue. The Eccles Community Art Center, housed in an 1893 Victorian mansion, features a sculpture garden, local art exhibitions and the opportunity to purchase local art. It also offers classes on everything from visual to performing arts.

To promote the arts, Ogden hosts the First Friday Art Stroll, which features exhibit openings, artist receptions and live music; Platforms’ eight concrete stages feature many different art forms, including painting, sculpture, music and dance.

Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix, like many Southwestern cities, has a thriving Native American culture and arts scene. Downtown Phoenix is home to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, two tribes that have called the Salt River and Gila River areas home for centuries. Visitors interested in Native American art and culture can visit the area to learn more about the history of the Pima and Maricopa cultures and see how they are thriving today as an entertainment and shopping mecca in the heart of Phoenix. The Huhugam Ki Museum is a great place to learn about the community, with exhibits about the tribes and their ancestors and achievements. Baskets, pottery, photographs and other artifacts are on display, and groups can call ahead for guided tours of the exhibit gallery and traditional outdoor structures.

An outdoor Native Art Market takes place in Scottsdale, Arizona, every weekend during the winter and spring months, beginning November 1. Visitors that want to shop the market year-round can visit the Native Art Market retail shop in Scottsdale every day of the year.

The Heard Museum has one of the world’s largest collections of Native American culture and artwork, and the nearby Phoenix Art Museum is also worth a visit. To soak up the natural beauty of the area, groups should visit the Desert Botanical Garden, where they can learn how Native American tribes used certain plants, what they lived in and about the different landscapes surrounding the Greater Phoenix area.

First Fridays take place in Roosevelt Row, the city’s arts district and feature local artists, live entertainment and food trucks. The area is home to many art galleries and locally owned shops.