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The cultural heritage of the Land of Enchantment is manifested in a broad collection of institutions, centers, museums, and parks. No state has a cultural heritage like New Mexico, where you can walk among the undisturbed homes of prehistoric peoples and witness in living history the state’s colonization by Spaniards.
The state’s human history stretches back millennia, and the homes which early New Mexicans lived in can still be seen clearly. Chaco Culture National Historical Park is one of the best places in the state to learn about this history. Set in red rock desert, this airy park protects massive ruins which may have been the seat of an ancient empire. At the park you can see stone homes dating from around 900 AD. Similarly, you can see evidence of ancient human habitation in the canyons of Bandelier National Monument – here, monumental structures remain standing today in the form of cave dwellings and two large villages; there are also tens of thousands of pictographs and petroglyphs.
The Zunis have lived in their ancestral home for ages, and you can see visit their living pueblo. Visitors may see traditional dances and myriad cultural activities. Walk among the ruins of three missions built by early Spanish missionaries when you visit Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument – each site has an excellent visitors’ center. At Taos Plaza, you can see how indigenous cultures and those of colonizing Spaniards mixed – stroll quiet alleys popping into cafes and galleries and enjoy life at a slower pace.
Speaking of galleries, anyone interested in arts and culture should spend a day (or three) in Santa Fe. A three-quarter mile stretch Canyon Road is the mailing address for more than 100 galleries – it’s the definitive hub of the city’s arts scene. Step into the Michael Henington Fine Art Gallery to view works from established painters or check out the Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art Gallery, which specializes in aboriginal and abstract art from around the world, including Australia and the Southwest. Pro tip: many Canyon Road galleries have openings and special exhibits on Fridays from 5-7 p.m.
Santa Fe is also home to a number of important museums, several of which are on Museum Hill. Get lost in the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture or the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. The Museum of International Folk Art specializes in tapestry work, while the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art has ancient and underappreciated pieces.
The state hosts scores of arts fairs, especially in the summer. Each July, more than 350 of the state’s best artists set up shop at the Santa Fe Spanish Market. Held in the Santa Fe Plaza, it’s the oldest and largest of its kind in the United States – you can meet potters, chefs, furniture makers, musicians, metal workers, and more. For a break, head into to the New Mexico Museum of Art or the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, both of which are just off the plaza. In August, come back for the Santa Fe Indian Market, which is also on the plaza, to see pottery, jewelry, textile weavings, paintings, beadwork, and woven baskets. The show also has creative works such as graffiti, fashion, photography, theater, and performance art. Las Cruces holds its own art fair each March – come here to see this growing city’s blossoming local arts scene.
Located roughly halfway between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, Dixon is a small town with a ton of artists. To see some great works, stop by in November at the Dixon Studio Tour, when more than 30 local artists open their homes and studios. The event kicks off with a reception and also includes workshops in stone carving, poetry, wine making, photography, and plain air painting.
As one of the biggest cities in the Southwest, Albuquerque has a thriving culture scene – there are more than dozen theaters and museums as well as a huge number of festivals. Head down to Central Avenue to get an intro to the local arts scene at 516 Arts, then head off to Symphony 505, the Richard Levy Gallery, and others. Nearby are Factory on 5th and the SCA Contemporary Gallery – two alternative spaces where you can see ground-breaking work.
The city has a vibrant arts festival calendar – there’s something going on almost every weekend. One of the top cultural events is the Rio Grande Arts and Crafts Festival, which coincides with the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta – it attracts more than 300 artists who show their wok. In November you can visit the Rio Grande Holiday Show, which showcases traditional holiday work with a distinctive New Mexican twist. In March is the Spring Show, when more than 200 artists come from around the country to show their work at the Manuel Lujan Exhibit Complex.
Remote Silver City is an arts and culture enclave – word is definitely getting out about this great spot. This historic mining town has been made over as an art and adventure hub studded with galleries, art spaces, restaurants, and cafes. Check out A Space Gallery, which doubles as a performance venue, and the Chamomile Connection, where you can see fiber art traditions from the region. Silver City’s top festivals include the Southwest Print Fiesta and the Southwest Festival of the Written Word (both in September) and the Red Dot Art Fest (October) – and don’t miss the Day of the Dead party in November.
Pick a passion and pursue it – with New Mexico’s vibrant culture scene, anything is possible!