Scottsdale Arts: Art for the Community

By local contributor
Susan Lanier Graham

Founded in 1987 as the Scottsdale Cultural Council, the nonprofit organization that operates many of the arts venues for the City of Scottsdale became Scottsdale Arts in late 2016. This ambitious organization is focused on bringing arts and culture alive to the community of Scottsdale—for residents and visitors alike.

The Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, much of Scottsdale’s impressive outdoor public art and some pretty cool art education and public outreach—including a wide variety of festivals—all fall under the umbrella of Scottsdale Arts. In the words of Scottsdale Art’s Chairman of the Board Andrew Chippindall, the organization is “strongly rooted in our community.” The recent name change, according to Chippindall, shows a “renewed spirit of cooperation, innovation, and purpose.”

Education is a huge component of Scottsdale Arts and this happens on an ongoing basis through community outreach programs, special events, and festivals. This offers a chance for visitors to experience some of the things that make Scottsdale such a unique place with a blend of so many cultures. 

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts

Scottsdale Arts

The Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts offers a full season of dance, music, theater and films from around the world. The building itself, designed in 1975 by Bennie Gonzales, is at the center of the 21-acre Scottsdale Civic Center Mall, an urban park in downtown Scottsdale.

Performances range from off-Broadway to films, dance, jazz, blues and theater. Even if you aren’t in town for a performance, you don’t want to miss a visit to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. The small store inside is open until 5 p.m. daily and filled with artist-made jewelry, unique creations by Arizona artists as well as fair-trade global crafts. There are numerous works of art inside worth checking out, including Kana Tanaka’s Spirit of Camelback in the atrium. Outside, you will find Robert Indiana’s Love sculpture, which is a favorite spot for photographs.

Another great venue, often used for performances with the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, is the Scottsdale Civic Center Amphitheater (pictured above), just a short walk across the park. The amphitheater is home to the popular Concerts Under the Stars and one of my favorites, Native Trails. You can enjoy Native Trails free at noon most Thursdays and Saturdays in January, February and March. It features colorful, traditional performances by some of our local Southwestern tribes, including the Hopi, Diné (Navajo), Akimel Au-Authm, and San Carlos Apache. In addition to experiencing the instruments and the fascinating hoop dances, the Saturday events also include a featured artisan.

The park is also home to an assortment of festivals, including the Scottsdale Arts Festival held each March, featuring artists in all media including glass, ceramics, jewelry, woodworking, painting and sculpture. There is always live music, great food and fun for the entire family.

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

SMOCA sign

The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) is a unique way to explore the art, architecture and design of both local and international works. The building is one of my favorites in Arizona, designed by local architect Will Bruder. SMoCA is a few steps away from the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, so you can visit both in one day. SMoCA offers about nine to twelve exhibitions each year, focusing on art, architecture and design.

Although there is a charge to enter the actual museum, you can visit the outdoor courtyard for free at any time the museum is open—and this is one of the most amazing spaces in Scottsdale. The outdoor courtyard houses Knight Rise, a skyspace by James Turrell. One of only 14 skyspaces open to the public in the US, it offers a special place of contemplation and introspection. It is located adjacent to Glass Scrim Wall designed in collaboration with James Carpenter Design Associates that reflects light into the Nancy and Art Schwalm Sculpture Garden. This is a perfect way to usher you into the quiet oasis of the museum.

There are four main galleries in SMoCA and the building has such an indigenous feel that I believe it represents the best of Scottsdale and what makes living here unique. SMoCA is always free on Thursdays and after 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays when the museum is open late, until 9 p.m. There are free docent-led tours every Thursday at 12:30 p.m. and every Sunday at 1:30 p.m. from October through April, included with museum entry.

Scottsdale Turns Art into Function

Water Mark

Scottsdale takes its love of art to the people—literally. Public art is part of the fabric of everyday life, becoming part of the bus stops, bridges and fixtures that you see as you stroll the city streets. Art becomes part of the fabric of daily life as we desert dwellers find ways to adapt to the ebb and flow here in what I believe is one of the world’s most beautiful environments, but also one of the harshest environments. Scottsdale Arts reaches people from around the world, sharing the beauty and culture of our little corner of the world and making art accessible to so many people in so many different ways.