AirSprint | An Unexpected Art Mecca | Scottsdale

An Unexpected Art Mecca

Discover The American Southwest Art Scene In Scottsdale, Arizona

Known for golf courses, spa resorts and bachelor parties, Scottsdale doesn’t smack as a national destination for the arts—but it should.

Of course you’ll find art in galleries, but what Scottsdale does wonderfully, intentionally and at scale, is make the city its canvas. And it’s not by happenstance.

A pleasing climate, scrubby Saguaro-dotted terrain and the mystic quality of desert light, have attracted creatives to the Sonoran suburb since the early 1900s. You could say art is baked into Scottsdale’s DNA; today, it’s baked right into the city budget.

By Jennifer Hubbert

At last count, the city owned an astounding 1,155 pieces of art; a feat made possible by an ordinance that requires (some) private development projects to make a one per cent contribution to public art. Funds are stewarded by the non-profit Scottsdale Arts, and as a result, art is always on the agenda. Here’s how travellers can deep-dive into art and design in sunny Scottsdale.

Anchoring the Arts District, a visit to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art should be one of your first forays. In addition to its permanent collections, 2024 welcomes an immersive exhibit called the space in between by Dutch artist Roelof Knol, and Color Mirage, the first major U.S. museum exhibition on the prolific, yet underrecognized, American painter Dorothy Fratt. Before departing, proceed through the Nancy and Art Schwalm Sculpture Courtyard to reach Knight Rise, a James Turrell-designed Skyspace. It’s one of just a handful in existence.

“Knight Rise” by James Turrell at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

“Knight Rise” by James Turrell at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo Credit | Sean Deckert

You probably weren’t expecting to find an art show at a mall. This is the first clue that Wonderspaces isn’t your average gallery and that Scottsdale Fashion Square isn’t your average mall. Unlike a buttoned-up fine art gallery, this creative concept is fun, interactive, techy and highly Instagramable. Order a cocktail (the space is licensed) and start your playful amble through 14 multi-medium installations.

“The Immigrant” by Michael Murphy, a 3D halftone sculpture at Wonderspaces.

“The Immigrant” by Michael Murphy, a 3D halftone sculpture at Wonderspaces. Photo Credit | Jennifer Hubbert

In the 1930s, Frank Lloyd Wright (the prolific American architect) and his apprentices started work on Taliesin West, his summer home, workshop, drafting studio and residences. (Taliesin East is in Wisconsin.) A visit to this UNESCO-designated masterpiece exemplifies Wright’s “organic architecture” design principles which are deeply rooted in the desert canvas. Pop in some earbuds to listen to the 60-minute audio guide or take a 90-minute, in-depth guided tour of the campus. Through anecdotes, reports and audio clips from Wright himself, your eyes will be drawn to elements both grand and minute, obvious and subtle, in this famous “desert laboratory.” 

The Cabaret Theatre at Taliesin West.

The Cabaret Theatre at Taliesin West. Photo Credit | Andrew Pielage

The Scottsdale area is graced with not one, but two, influential twentieth-century architectural visionaries. In 1946, Italian-born architect Paolo Soleri arrived in America to study under Frank Lloyd Wright. The contentious apprenticeship lasted just 18 months. In 1956, Soleri began constructing Cosanti (his Paradise Valley home, gallery and studio) in the style of “Arcology” (architecture and ecology) theory—a democratic expression of urban design intended to bring people closer to nature and one another. Book a guided tour to learn how Soleri used “earth-casting” to create experimental concrete structures. In the foundry, see how iconic Cosanti bells are made from ceramic and bronze.

Iconic handcrafted Cosanti windbells.

Iconic handcrafted Cosanti windbells. Photo Credit | An T. Pham

There’s no shortage of Frontier-influenced art in downtown Scottsdale’s private galleries. Of course, the city’s history didn’t start when it was founded in 1894. For a broader understanding of the area’s first peoples, visit Native Art Market, the first (and only) 100 per cent indigenous-owned shop in Old Town. Peruse the authentic, handmade goods of some 200-plus artisans. Toward the back of the shop, you’ll find a cultural space where visitors can meet members from Native American communities and enjoy hourly performances like hoop dancing and flute.

World Champion Hoop Dancer Moontee Sinquah at Native Art Market.

World Champion Hoop Dancer Moontee Sinquah at Native Art Market.

Once you’ve appreciated art, it’s time to meet the hand that holds the paintbrush. A visit to Cattle Track Arts Compound—a 13-acre homestead-turned-creator-community—places you squarely in the maker’s studio. In this rustic, dust-kissed enclave, you’ll find resident artists tooling around in all sorts of mediums, from felt and timber to iron and photography. The property can feel a bit informal upon arrival, so we recommend reaching out in advance to arrange a private tour; artist Mark McDowell is an especially memorable and welcoming host.

Portraits at Cattle Track Arts Compound.

Portraits at Cattle Track Arts Compound. Photo Credit | Jennifer Hubbert

Each November, Scottsdale hosts Canal Convergence, a 10-day, public art event that illuminates the night sky in strokes of neon. Artists from around the world apply to participate, resulting in a thematic collection of 15 or so installations that invite admiration and interaction. Some are provocative; some are playful; some installations evoke portraits of Burning Man (the ground-breaking annual week-long desert event) which has featured work from Canal Convergence. From augmented reality digital art (you literally have to see it to believe it) to a door that opens to alternate realities, Canal Convergence is a celebration of art that can’t be framed and hung on a wall.

Reflections installation at Canal Convergence.

Your private jet dream is within reach.

Photos courtesy of Experience Scottsdale, Jennifer Hubbert, Native Art Market, Scottsdale Arts and Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

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