The Legend of the Scottsdale Arts Scene

Scottsdale, Arizona, one of the state’s biggest cities, is often known for its nightlife and fun. A city where there is always something to do. Major professional sports teams all play in the area and it is one of the PGA Tour’s biggest stops. Scottsdale’s reputation as such has grown so large that the New York Times once described it as “a desert version of Miami’s South Beach.” However, the city holds some other major factors as well though, its burgeoning arts scene.

Now we’re not trying to claim that Scottsdale’s arts and culture scene is one of those secret discoveries – after all, American Style Magazine lauded the city’s culture festivals as the best of their kind in the U.S in 2005.What we are saying, though, is that if you’re ever in the city and looking for something to do skip the nightclubs and try out the famed Scottsdale Art Walk…and you should do it while you still can.

Actually, let’s take a step back and talk about the city’s arts and culture in general. The Scottsdale Art District can be divided into three distinct segments. The biggest and most known of the three is Scottsdale Main Street Arts District – which houses a large and diverse array of genres and artistic styles. The second district is the Marshall Way Arts District, which is much more oriented towards contemporary art styles while the third is the tourist and western-oriented Old Town district – which includes the renowned Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. It is in this third district that the Scottsdale Art Walk is held once a week, every Thursday evening.

The city’s galleries are most well known for Western and Native American art, though, as one can see from the different segments, there is a commitment to contemporary art and several other diverse styles. Within the Marshall District sits the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and is joined by number of other modern and contemporary galleries where you can find the art of famed artists like Theodore Waddell, Gary Ernest Smith, Dennis Ziemienski, and Fritz Scholder among others.

Unfortunately, though, the Art Walk, and Scottsdale’s art district in general, has gone through some political times as of late. At the height of success the art district was filled with no less than 125 galleries. Even more importantly, though, it was filled with an innovative local artist community and voracious collectors. All of this contributed to the national fame gained by the Scottsdale’s Art Walk as its daily quality and attendance numbers surpassed all others. Unfortunately, cities and cultures can change, and like we said before, Scottsdale’s nightlife scene has continued to outgrow the arts scene, so much so that the arts of culture of the city barely register anymore aside from the several annual festivals.

Art GalleryAnd then there is the in fighting. Earlier this year some of the city’s brick and mortar galleries rallied to shut down an Artisan Market even that store owners believed to be stealing potential customers and support.The Cultural Council and government agreed, and ultimately shut down the event, albeit not without protests.This may seem like a small issue, but unfortunately it is indicative of a much bigger issue plaguing the Scottsdale art galleries and institutions – a stubbornness and lack of willingness to adapt to the city’s changing identity.

Much of the stagnation of the Scottsdale Art Walk and Scottsdale art galleries has to with the mismanagement of the city’s cultural Council, which by all accounts is a mess today. An opaque organization with directors coming and going becoming almost an annual tradition, the organization is paid four million dollars a year to oversee the Scottsdale art institutions and has failed miserably.

Despite some of its failings, Scottsdale still remains a popular tourist location for its culture – this mainly revolves around its clubs and restaurant scenes though. A 2015 city-commissioned study showed that while Scottsdale art galleries, museums and shows were listed as priorities,they were simply not as popular as nightclubs, casino outings, restaurant visits and shopping.

While the Scottsdale Art Walk still takes place every Thursday night it becomes more and more of a tourist attraction, filled with novelty art and knick-knacks, as vendors and artists try to figure out how to make money. So remember when we said if you’re ever in Scottsdale to make sure to check out the Art Walk? Well, you definitely should, if only to see one of the remaining remnants of Scottsdale’s famous arts scene before it, too, is gone.