Scottsdale is for Art Lovers: Top Museums and Venues

Don’t miss these Scottsdale art museums and venues

Many pleasant surprises await those who may only think of Scottsdale, Arizona, as a golf and spa destination for escaping winter. After one year of living in Scottsdale, I continue to be surprised by this city in the Sonoran Desert and what it has to offer. I’ve written about some of the unexpected highlights that Mr. TWS and I have come across such as the extensive network of hiking and biking trails, many first-class hotels and restaurants, and diverse cultural attractions and events. We’ve also had chances to enjoy Scottsdale’s art venues and have these suggestions for art lovers who visit Scottsdale and the Valley of the Sun.

Red Metal bike and sun sculpture on the Scottsdale Waterfront

Public art along the Scottsdale Waterfront

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
7374 East Second Street

The exhibits at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art change frequently (9 – 12 rotating exhibitions per year) giving visitors and residents plenty of incentive to keep coming back. So although the works that I saw when I visited may no longer be on exhibit, I know there will be new and equally eye-opening, and thought-provoking art at any time you visit. The ambiance is vibrant and knowledgeable docents in the galleries enthusiastically point out must-see works and share information as well as their own perspectives.

"Ocean of Light: Submergence -- A Squidsoup Project" at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, September 7, 2017

“Ocean of Light: Submergence — A Squidsoup Project”

One of my favorite exhibits was Ocean of Light: Submergence — A Squidsoup Project (ran through September 24, 2017) by Squidsoup, a U.K.-based collective. This installation was an interactive LED light installation representing the enormous amount of data in our lives. There are more color transformations than shown in the photos above and top left in the collage below. Look closely at each of the photos and you’ll see people walking among the lights. Later that day, this exhibit was scheduled for a special event for 100 people. As interesting as the exhibit was with just a few people walking around, I thought how fun it would be as a party location.

Collage of exhibits at Scottsdale Museum of Art, September 7, 2017

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art — selected works September 2017

Be sure to see the outdoor sculpture Garden where James Turrell’s “Knight Space” is one of the artist’s public “Skyscape” enclosures. Visitors look up through the opening in the ceiling at the sky, but with illusions created by the edges of the elliptical opening. The effects were not quite so evident during the early afternoon when we visited. They say that the most dramatic effect is seen at sunrise and sunset.

Knight Rise at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art — Photo courtesy of Experience Scottsdale

Knight Rise at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art — Photo courtesy of Experience Scottsdale

Admission tip: Admission is free on Thursdays and after 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays!

Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West
3830 N. Marshall Way
Scottsdale, AZ

Paintings and sculptures of the American West at Western Spirit: Scottsdale's Museum of the West in Scottsdale, Arizona

Paintings and sculptures of the American West at Western Spirit

During our visit to Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West it became clear to me why this museum is highly recognized and includes among its accolades its designation as the 2016 “Best Western Museum” in the country by True West magazine. The extent and quality of the exhibits, including wonderfully surprising collections of fine art and rare artifacts was greater than I expected.

Read our comprehensive post about Western Spirit: Spirit Matters at Scottsdale’s Museum of the West to get an idea of all that this wonderful museum has to offer in celebrating the art, culture and history of the American West.

Scottsdale Public Art

Keep your eyes open for Scottsdale’s diverse works of public art in its vast outdoor gallery throughout the city. There is an interactive map to guide you to the 70 permanent, 30 temporary works, with many more in progress.

Soleri Bridge -- Photo by Tom Dekyvere courtesy of Experience Scottsdale

Soleri Bridge — Photo by Tom Dekyvere courtesy of Experience Scottsdale

The Soleri Bridge is a major public art pedestrian-only bridge across the Arizona Canal designed by Italian architect and artist, Paolo Soleri, and completed in 2010. It was the first of his more than 60 bridge designs that have been constructed. It connects the Scottsdale Waterfront area with Fashion Square Mall and other parts of downtown Scottsdale. In the photo below, the bridge is illuminated during Canal Convergence, an annual interactive public art event.

Goldwater Bell at the Soleri Bridge and Plaza at the Scottsdale Waterfront in Scottsdale, Arizona

Goldwater Bell at the Soleri Bridge and Plaza

At one end of the bridge in the adjacent Soleri Plaza is the beautiful Goldwater Bell assembly, designed by Soleri in 1969.

Scottsdale Downtown Arts District
Main Street and Marshall Way
Downtown Scottsdale

Take a stroll around downtown Scottsdale’s Arts District where you’ll find many of Scottsdale’s 70 galleries and museums. The Fifth Avenue Shops and the Marshall Way feature Southwest and Native American arts and crafts as well as wide selections of handcrafted textiles and decorative arts in the area’s shops and galleries. Art appreciation tip: The Scottsdale ArtWalk, “America’s Original ArtWalk” started 40 years ago, takes places every Thursday night from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. along Main Street and Marshall Way offering a fun and casual opportunity for people to browse the galleries while enjoying refreshments and listening to street music.

Art beyond (but very close to) Scottsdale

Cosanti Gallery
6433 E Doubletree Ranch Rd
Paradise Valley, AZ

Cosanti Showroom -- Photo courtesy of Experience Scottsdale

Cosanti Showroom — Photo courtesy of Experience Scottsdale

In addition to the pleasure of seeing Paolo Soleri designs in public spaces in and around Scottsdale, you can get a first-hand look at the production of his famous wind bells on a tour at Cosanti Gallery in Paradise Valley. This was Soleri’s studio and gallery as well as his home up to his death in 2013. There are bronze and ceramic wind bells designed by Soleri and his staff available for purchase in the gift gallery in a range of sizes and prices.

Heard Museum
2301 North Central Avenue
Phoenix, AZ

Downtown Phoenix is easily accessible from all areas of Scottsdale, so put the Heard Museum on your itinerary. Since its opening in 1929, the Heard Museum has been showcasing unique and diverse collections of American Indian art and artifacts and currently has 40,000 objects in its 12 galleries.

Read more about the Heard Museum in our post: Heard Museum: A Cultural Highlight in Phoenix

The Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona

Heard Museum

Phoenix Airport Museum
Sky Harbor International Airport
Phoenix Deer Valley Airport
Phoenix Goodyear Airport

Gallery in Terminal 4 at Sky Harbor Phoenix International Airport

Gallery in Terminal 4 at Sky Harbor Phoenix International Airport

Whether you’re flying in or out of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, take note of the art exhibits displayed throughout the terminals, parking garages, Sky Train station, and rental car center. The Phoenix Airport Museum is exceptionally curated with close to 900 permanent and changing works. As someone who always appreciates the art displays in airports, I was impressed to learn that Phoenix Airport Museum is one of the largest airport art museums in the United States. The museum also includes art at the Phoenix Deer Valley Airport and Phoenix Goodyear Airport.

Planning tip: It’s possible to visit more than one of the Scottsdale’s museums and public art sites in just one day. Mr. TWS and I spent a morning at Western Spirit and the afternoon at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art with time in between for lunch.

Art and dine tip: We often enjoy brunch or happy hour at restaurants on the Scottsdale Waterfront. That’s a great opportunity to stroll the promenade and Soleri Bridge to admire public art.


Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks!

14 thoughts on “Scottsdale is for Art Lovers: Top Museums and Venues

  1. Kristin Henning

    This is a good round-up! I may get to Scottsdale in January for a meeting, and want to extend my stay a couple days. It’s been so long, I’d forgotten Scottsdale has a waterfront! And it’s been a while since I stopped by your website. New design? Looks great.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Extend your stay! You’ll find much to do here. And yes, we’ve had a site face-lift. Glad you like it! Thanks for coming by again.

  2. Vicki Winters

    I so often see airports (like you’ve pointed out here in Scotsdale) that have art exhibits, but I always seem to be rushing through and never have enough time to look! Thanks for sharing. I love the RED SUN BIKE photo.

  3. Charles McCool

    I love that Soleri Bridge. Gorgeous photo. I also love that you included the art collection at PHX airport. My favorite airports are the ones that I do not have to spend much time at, but when I am there for a little time, it is nice to check out something pleasing to the eye.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Wish I could take credit for that one. 🙂 I agree about art and decor in airports. And in places like PHX and SFO, etc. there’s such quality in the exhibits.

  4. Janice Chung

    Amazing photos! What a great collection of art throughout Scottsdale. Haven’t been there in years and when I do go back I’d love to be able to take a photo like the one of the Soleri Bridge!

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      That’s an awesome shot, isn’t it? The Soleri Bridge is very cool any time of day or from any angle, but that’s spectacular. Come on back here — I’ll look forward to seeing you pic. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Cosanti: The "Against Things" Spirit of Soleri | Traveling with Sweeney

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