The Santa Fe Guide
In so many ways, Santa Fe is like a breath of fresh air. For starters, there’s the air itself—and plenty of places to enjoy it in the hills and gorgeous trails surrounding the city (not to mention Taos, which is just a short drive away). Culturally, it’s also in a league of its own. For more than four hundred years, the city has been a site for the collision of Native American, Spanish, and Anglo-American culture, and its status as a trade hub has given it a completely unique aesthetic and attitude. What gives the city its soul is the fact that those values (visual and otherwise) are so present in every segment of Santa Fe life, from the historical museums and traditional Native American galleries to the restaurants and art projects of the younger set, which have appeared in increasingly large numbers in recent years. The place is small enough that just a few days is enough to plant your feet in most parts of town, making this the ideal long weekend trip. Below, our must-hit spots.
Aspen Santa Fe BalletThe Lensic, 211 W. San Francisco St., Santa Fe | 505.983.5591
As the name suggests, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (ASFB) has two home cities, a hybrid business model that allows two small (but highly creative) cities that might not be able to support a full ballet company on their own to experience high-quality contemporary ballet for half the year. They often commission original new works, which means—to both communities' great delight—you never know what's going to be on the calendar. What's more, the company values community outreach and education, offering dance schools in both cities.
The Center for Contemporary Arts1050 Old Pecos Trail, Santa Fe | 505.982.1338
With the possible exception of SITE Santa Fe, this is probably the best place in town to catch contemporary art. The curators specialize in experimental and cross-genre exhibitions, with a particularly great schedule of performances and installation art (this, in fact, was the site of the first Meow Wolf exhibitions). Their historic Armory campus, which underwent a major renovation in 2009, also hosts a cinematheque where guests can see everything from mainstream art films like Moonlight to screenings from more avant-garde contemporary artists.
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum217 Johnson St., Santa Fe | 505.946.1000
This museum doesn’t require much of a prelude, beyond the simple promise of housing more than 1,000 works by the legendary Georgia O’Keeffe. The museum’s main campus, located just a few blocks away from the downtown Plaza, immerses you in O’Keeffe’s creative process through an exploration of the light and landscape that inspired her. It’s an oasis of 20th-century Modernism, presenting everything from the pioneering American artist’s iconic flowers to her less-well known (but prolific) drawings and oil paintings. And, if you’re up for it, you can set up an appointment to get the museum’s tour of her former home and studio along the Chama River about an hour north of Santa Fe.
Museum of Contemporary Native Arts108 Cathedral Place, Santa Fe | 888.922.4242
The Museum of Contemporary Native Arts is part of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), an entire college with a curriculum focused on contemporary native art—the only like it in the country. The museum is located off-campus in a historic building just off the plaza downtown. There, you'll find exhibitions of new work along with pieces from the National Collection of Contemporary Native Art, a 7500-work collection (every piece in it was created after 1962) that it stewards. The artists here range from nationally recognized to local newcomers; taken together, it's the kind of experience that's completely unique to Santa Fe.
Museum of International Folk Art706 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe | 505.476.1200
Founded in 1953 by Florence Dibell Bartlett (a Chicago native who frequently traveled to New Mexico for its unique art and culture), this is one of Santa Fe's largest museums, with a collection of more than 130,000 works. Bartlett donated the funds to build the first building—which still stands today, though the museum has undergone several expansions—right before her death in the early 1950s, citing the belief that different and often-conflicting cultures of the world might understand each other better through art. Though most of the collection lives in storage, visitors can expect to see tens of thousands of works on any given visit, so this is the kind of place where you can choose your own adventure, breezing through to get the gist, or digging in for a day to focus on individual pieces.
Peters Projects1011 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe | 505.954.5800
In a town where a lot of the galleries can be kitschy, Peters Projects offers ambitious exhibitions of contemporary art that would transfer easily to a larger city. Their stable of artists includes several impressive young native artists, and they often have works from more well-known names like Chuck Close, Kiki Smith, and Bruce Conner. Check the calendar for one of their public art talks.
SITE Santa Fe1606 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe | 505.989.1199
The first thing you’ll notice about SITE is its façade: Designed by Los Angeles-based architect Greg Lynn, the structure’s exterior is a work of art in and of itself. The relatively small contemporary art museum (which announced a major expansion to be completed in 2017) houses regional, national, and international exhibitions in the middle of the Railyard Arts district. While SITE offers exhibitions year-round, it was founded in 1995 to organize the first international biennial of contemporary art in the US, bringing a global contemporary art dialogue to the Southwest.
Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian704 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe | 505.982.4636
Born out of a partnership between a Navajo singer and a wealthy Boston philanthropist who began documenting Navajo traditions in the wake of forced assimilation and conversion, the Wheelwright Museum hosts exhibitions that celebrate the history of Native American tradition and look towards the future with exhibitions of living artists. Come here for traditional jewelry and weaving, historical and recent photography, and great talks on Native American issues.