Many famous art-lovers have found inspiration for their collections while traveling. With the wide range of arts booming in cities all across the country, the next great art collector might be you.
You can find artwork in just about any place your group visits these days. And yet there are some destinations that seem to overflow with creative energy, where thriving communities of artists have come together to open galleries and overtake neighborhoods with color. Many of those destinations also come with a scenic beauty or small-town charm that makes them an ideal stop for group travel.
So be sure to leave room in your suitcase — you may come home from those gallery towns with artwork in tow.
Asheville, North Carolina
The scenic beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a heritage of Native American crafts and a fiercely independent spirit have made Asheville one of the most famous arts enclaves of the eastern United States. Groups that visit the city will find numerous ways to enjoy the arts there.
“Our River Arts District has really blossomed over the past few years,” said Janelle Troglione, tourism sales manager at the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s home to 165 artists who work in turn-of-the-century industrial buildings.”
Groups can take guided tours of the River Arts District, where they’ll see sculpture, pottery, metalwork, traditional Appalachian crafts and other art. The CVB can also arrange demonstrations or interactive artmaking experiences with the artists there.
There’s more art to be found in downtown Asheville, where 30 galleries are mixed in with the independent retail and local restaurants that make up the city center. Group leaders can turn their travelers loose to explore the galleries and shops in the area, or pay a visit to an old Woolworth lunch counter that has been converted into an arts market.
To learn more about the arts and craft traditions of the area, groups can take a short drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Folk Art Center.
“The center showcases art from nine Southern states,” Troglione said. “The art is for sale. Most days they also have ongoing craft demonstrations. You could see someone tying scarves or turning wood to make an Appalachian-style broom.”
Situated on the Pacific coast between Seattle and Vancouver, the small town of Bellingham, Washington, has a growing arts and gallery culture.
“The most exciting development in Bellingham’s downtown has been the solidification of the downtown Cultural Arts District,” said Loni Rahm, president and CEO of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism. “There were lots of galleries, museums and cultural centers spread out throughout downtown. But by accident or by design, a part of downtown has now become the core of our arts scene.”
Much of the organization has been spearheaded by Bellingham’s Allied Arts Association, a group of local artists who work to encourage artistic development in the community. The association’s gallery is one of several that groups can tour during a visit to Bellingham.
“When you go to the Allied Arts Gallery, you have historic, scenic and environmental art,” Rahm said. “The things that they do in their gallery are reflective of the diverse group of artists in the community.”
In addition to the Allied Arts Gallery, visitors can take time to browse individual artist galleries in the Cultural Arts District. Highlights include CedarWorks, a gallery that showcases art from the tradition of the Lummi Native Americans, and Make.Shift, a “do it yourself” gallery and music venue that hosts exhibits from different local artists every month.
— www.bellingham.org —
Quilting is booming in Paducah, a riverfront city in southwestern Kentucky, and has helped to propel the community’s ascendency as an arts destination.
“We always say that the fiber arts are the forte here,” said Fowler Black, sales director at the Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Everyone is connected to it in some way or another. We have eight art studios and galleries that are geared to the fiber arts alone. That doesn’t include the other fabric shops or art and craft workshop centers.”
Most groups that visit Paducah will tour the National Quilt Museum, which displays some of the best traditional and contemporary quilts created by fiber artists around the country. One of them, Caryl Bryer Fallert, owns Bryerpatch Studio and works with the CVB to do studio tours and arts workshops that are growing in popularity with tour operators.
“She takes them through her process of creating an art quilt from beginning to end,” Black said. “She takes them on a tour and shows them how she uses computer-generated graphics and transforms that into fiber arts.”
Bryerpatch Studio is one of several arts establishments in Paducah’s Lower Town Arts District, a 25-block area near the city center that has been revitalized since 2000.
“Artists from across the country have moved there, and their galleries and homes are one and the same,” Black said.
— www.paducah.travel —
Bradenton, a city about 45 miles south of Tampa, is another up-and-coming arts and culture community. Much of its arts appeal comes from Village of the Arts, a 52-acre neighborhood full of cottages from the 1920s and 1930s that have attracted hundreds of artists.
“Village of the Arts is one of the oldest and largest live-work communities in Florida,” said Kelly Klotz, communications manager at the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The artists decorate their houses, which are also their boutiques, galleries and shops. You know you’re there when you drive by because all of the houses are really fun and colorful. The whole front yard is art.”
Visitors to Village of the Arts can admire the decors of the houses from the outside or go inside to spend time with individual artists. Along the way, they’ll see pottery, mosaics, jewelry and even art made from classic rock ’n’ roll memorabilia.
The village hosts an event called Art Walk on the first Friday of every month, with special themes surrounding interesting holidays.
“The fall ones are probably the best,” Klotz said. “They do a Festival of the Skeletons on November 1-2 to celebrate Dia de los Muertos [a Mexican tradition]. They put out luminaries and have wine tastings, Mexican food and music. They make skeletons and Mexican folk art.”
— www.bradentongulfislands.com —
Boothbay Harbor, Maine
Since the 1800s, Boothbay Harbor has been one of New England’s leading arts towns. The region boasts a diverse mix of galleries, artisan studios, educational workshops and music venues.
“We have over 200 artists who live around here,” said Catherine Wygant Fossett, executive director of the Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce. “We have all things from potters to glass to painters and all kinds of activities.”
Those artists, as well as sculptors, jewelers, photographers, crafters and others who call the area home, have organized into several arts associations and have a total of 23 galleries around the area. Visitors can get a studio gallery trail map from the Chamber of Commerce or take art tours of the area from June through October.
The arts come to the forefront during annual special events such as Harbor Lights, a Christmas boat parade; Claw Down, a lobster festival; and Windjammer Days.
“Windjammer Days is a two-day festival in June,” Fossett said. “We close down an alley and have crafters demonstrating there.”
— www.boothbayharbor.com —
Santa Fe, New Mexico
It’s impossible to discuss America’s arts towns without talking about Santa Fe, the New Mexico mountain destination with more than 250 galleries. Artists flocked to the town from the East Coast throughout the 20th century, attracted to its exotic environment, natural light and Native American heritage.
“They came to Santa Fe and found a very welcoming community,” said Steve Lewis, spokesman for the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They also found very clear light and air, and a very exotic landscape and a mix of exotic cultures that would make for interesting themes in artwork. They started renting houses on Canyon Road for their studios, and that’s how Canyon Road evolved into the gallery district it is today.”
Canyon Road is the community’s classic arts destination, with more than 100 galleries packed into a half-mile. Perusing those galleries, visitors will find many examples of classical Western and Native American artwork. Along the way, they’ll also see lots of public art, as well as painting, glasswork, sculpture and other art hung for display on the gallery exteriors.
One of Santa Fe’s newer gallery areas is the Railyard, a former train hub that has become the center for contemporary art.
“The contemporary line is very wide,” Lewis said. “One of my favorite galleries there is TAI, which does amazing bamboo sculptures that are fascinating to look at. Another favorite gallery, Charlotte Jackson, does luminous blocks of color, either in sculptures or two-dimensional pieces.”
Groups can arrange to have workshops with local Santa Fe artists, or visit one of 14 museums in town, including the International Folk Art Museum, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and several Native American art museums.
— www.santafe.org —