Museum of the West

You haven’t heard me weigh in on this one because, a) I’ve been busy, and b) I figured the ridiculousness of the idea would be enough to drag it down all by itself. But, it looks like I’m wrong. With apologies to Councilman Bob Littlefield, in Scottsdale no bad idea ever truly dies.

I am reproducing below an article on the SMoW (which is what ‘they’ are apparently calling it now) from today’s Scottsdale Republic, which hasn’t appeared on AZCentral yet. I don’t understand why the editors don’t put some of the most important parts of the paper online where you can find them, but I guess that’s why I don’t own a newspaper. [update, now online]

From my perspective, SMoW looks exactly like the taxpayer-subsidized Scottsdale Cultural Council. Just as the Cultural Council is largely irrelevant to Scottsdale’s cultural arts scene, SMoW is going to be irrelevant to most of our Western culture. It will be an eternal leach on the city’s treasury.

I also find it ironic that many of the same folks who are angling for a piece of this boondoggle have for years mocked “The West’s Most Western Town” marketing slogan made up by the Chamber decades ago. Mostly the mocking has been done when long-time residents argue for protection of our low-density suburban and rural character instead of high-rise housing projects.

So I guess a person’s love for Scottsdale’s heritage depends on which side of the city’s checkbook they find themselves at any given time.

Executive director shares hopes for new Museum of the West

Editor’s note: Mike Fox, executive director of the non-profit Museum of the West organization, recently accepted our invitation to discuss the long-awaited museum and what it may offer our city and its visitors. The Scottsdale Museum of the West, which will be northwest of Marshall Way and First Street, could open as early as September 2014.

It took you years to get the requi­site approvals, especially during an economic recession, but you were committed to getting the Museum of the West built in Scottsdale. Why was the museum’s location so important to you, and how did you determine where in this city it should be built?

Museums are traditionally civic gath­ering places where people come togeth­er and share experiences. To be located in the Arts District, which has been an important node in Scottsdale’s down­town, and to be stimulating new foot traf­fic and attention to the region will be helpful in revitalizing a district which in recent years has faced difficult times.

As a “coming together kind of place,” indoor and outdoor, the SMoW will deliv­er this renewed sense of interest in the area and will act as a new anchor attrac­tion while being a catalyst in organizing cooperating events, exhibitions and ac­tivities involving many of the galleries and related businesses in the neighbor­hood. New life will be brought to this area of historic downtown by the pres­ence and active civic participation of Scottsdale’s Museum of the West.

Some in the community have point­ed to the museum’s projected $13.6 million price tag and said the city shouldn’t spend so much on some­thing it doesn’t necessarily need. Why is this the right time to build this mu­seum?

The need for the community of Scotts­dale to justify its long-standing brand as “The West’s Most Western Town” by de­veloping a Western-themed experience has been known for a number of decades, going back to Mayor Herb Drinkwater’s days of leadership. In previous strategic studies, including the Morrison Insti­tute’s “Which Way Scottsdale” and the Nichols Tourism Group’s 2006 Strategic Plan for Scottsdale’s visitor industry, the loss of unique Scottsdale identities and reduced differentiated destination as­sets were placing Scottsdale in an “at-­risk” position.

True differentiated destination themes are increasingly critical for suc­cessful future competitive performance and it is believed Scottsdale’s Museum of the West will offer that important com­petitive benefit to the community. Addi­tionally, in past visitor survey initiatives, the region’s Western heritage was one of the most powerful themes and had one of the strongest areas of interest to visitors to the region.

Unfortunately, over the years, the range of ways a visitor or resident can experience these Western themes has continued to decline, with very few ven­ues providing a year-round experience, as the new museum will. The Nichols Tourism Group recently stated that by introducing a compelling Western heri­tage experience, the city’s new Museum of the West will provide the following market attributes to Scottsdale:

  • It will significantly leverage public-­sector money.
  • It will be a catalyst to re-energize Western heritage themes.
  • It will stimulate new visitation to Scottsdale.
  • It will reinforce Scottsdale’s legacy among its residents.
  • It will be a leader in the Arts District revitalization.

What kinds of exhibits might pa­trons expect to see in the museum’s six art galleries, and how will you obtain the artwork on display?

In Scottsdale’s Museum of the West’s 40,000 square feet of new facility, it will present the history of the West and its on­going transformation using the stories of diverse peoples — as seen through their eyes, the work of their hands, the sound of their voices, the products of their cre­ativity and the spirit of generations of vi­sual, literary and performing artists who found their inspiration in the West.

There will be a dynamic mix of inno­vative, immersive and interactive “edu­tainment” visitor experiences, changing exhibits of outstanding regional art and cultural material, and stimulating public and educational programming.

Featuring predominantly loaned col­lections, the museum will offer a unique sense of place that celebrates the past and the present, and looks to the respon­sibilities and opportunities in the future — a place where the Old West meets the New West. The conceptual exhibit themes of Heritage, Expansion, Trans­formation, Interpretation and Inspira­tion will help project the story of the re­gion in one or more of the planned chang­ing exhibition galleries and other public areas, including its multi-sensory Orien­tation Theater. Sample exhibits might in­clude the following: » The lives and stories of notable Westerners.

  • The frontier and Western expan­sion.
  • Arizona’s Five C’s: Copper, Cotton, Cattle, Citrus and Climate.
  • Trails, roads and Route 66.
  • Western environments and environ­mental issues.
  • Water and the West.
  • The pioneer experience.
  • Ranchers and farmers.
  • Railroads — for commerce, for tourism, in art.
  • Native American art and culture.
  • The Western landscape.
  • The working cowboy.
  • Wild West shows, outlaws and law­men.
  • Historic Western movie material.

What factors went into shaping the museum’s design? Did architects for the project draw inspiration from any other museums, local or otherwise?

I believe Studio Ma Architects are performing creatively and most responsibly within their constraints, both of the project’s budget as well as the site on Marshall Way. With the active collaboration of the entire Design Build team of LGE/CORE contractors and their consultants, the architects are responding to the ambitious facility program in ways that will ensure the city-owned building will both aesthetically, operationally and functionally serve the many goals of the new museum.

I am confident the architects have been inspired in their design by the work of some of their peers, who have successfully created public gathering places of recognition, including here in the Valley, with both the original designs and new additions to the Phoenix Art Museum and the Heard Museum.

Additionally, their own recent work designing the Native American Cultural Center at Northern Arizona University has provided them added creative new ideas and solutions, of which this project could be the greatest beneficiary.
You’ve said the museum is expected to earn Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. What green features will it have?

The planned new museum will feature the following attributes that will support its Gold certification goal of the project:

  • High-performing thermal envelope.
  • High-efficiency mechanical system.
  • Overall energy use that is approximately 30 percent improved from ASHRAE 90.1.
  • Low water-use fixtures.
  • High recycled-content materials.
  • Daylight use in common areas.
  • Low-water and indigenous plantings native to the Southwest.

Lastly, what’s your long-term vision for the Museum of the West? How might it evolve in the decades to come?

While there are many wonderful museums of Western American art, culture and history in the region, … I hope that Scottsdale’s Museum of the West will over time find its own unique niche. It will engage its visitors unlike other institutions in the ever-evolving narrative of the West, inviting them to discover in themselves the qualities — courage, audacity, creativity, resilience and integrity — that shaped this special region of the country.

I would like to see it be recognized and appreciated as the communication center of the region, whereby the various institutes and centers devoted to Western study will expect the museum to share with the general public both in its facility and through other technological means the ongoing findings of these institutions and show their relevance to present and future generations.

I would like the museum to evolve into a place that inspires, educates, motivates, and impacts the lives of its guests in ways that will distinguish itself, while providing unique, quality and meaningful experiences for people of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities.

I envision Scottsdale’s Museum of the West will be the community’s civic gathering place … where the stories told and the lessons learned … will help in the maturation of the region to the benefit of future generations.

You may also like


  1. Mike,
    Know that I am here in the “wings” wanting to support the project any way that would be worth while.
    PS feel free to call (602) 446-4846

    Note to readers: This contemporary Wyatt Earp is a relative of the famous lawman, and a playwright and re-enactor. You can book him through

  2. Would like to talk with Mike regarding donation of Dee Flagg art pieces to the museum. I used to work with Mike at the Heard Museum when I had a company called RUSSCON.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *