Set in a stunning high valley ringed by mountains, Prescott has always been a magnet for artists and culture-seekers escaping the heat of the Arizona desert. And since the opening of the elegant Elks Opera House in 1905, Prescott has also understood the importance of the arts to a vacation retreat serving urban sophisticates and Hollywood stars.
For a city of 44,000, Prescott is rich in museums: the Sharlot Hall Museum, one of Arizona’s finest repositories of Western history, art, and culture; the Smoki Museum of American Indian Art and Culture; and the Phippen Museum of Western Art. All three hold important exhibitions and sales throughout the year that draw collectors from throughout the region.
Emerging artists are also increasingly drawn to Prescott by the presence of three colleges and a healthy art market fed by visitors and second-home buyers. Contemporary art venues include the Prescott Center for the Arts Gallery, the Sculpture Garden at Yavapai College, the Prescott College Art Gallery, and a dozen or more privately owned galleries downtown.
The contemporary side of Prescott is on colorful display in the McCormick Arts District, a street of old cottages and sheds painted with fantastic murals that house shops, restaurants, and galleries. Not surprisingly, Prescott is listed among the “100 Best Art Towns in America” in a guidebook of the same name by Arizona Republic writer John Villani, who notes that many art towns owe their economic vitality to ongoing support of the arts.
It’s not just painting and pottery, however. Performing arts have an even longer history here, starting with the Elks Opera House, once the premier venue for this art form west of the Mississippi. Today the Elks is joined by the Prescott Center for the Arts, Blue Rose Theatre, Yavapai College Performance Hall, Tim’s Toyota Center, Prescott Strings Classical Orchestra, Yavapai Symphony Association, and Prescott Pops Symphony, among others, in bringing world-class entertainment to residents and visitors. The arts are very much a part of the town’s many celebrations and festivals, which include an annual jazz festival and a film festival. More than 20 venues for live music showcase everything from rock to blues to country, often with no cover charge.
Art is Prescott’s vibe, on the streets, on weekends and whenever the weather is fine, with spontaneous acts of creativity popping up wherever there is an appreciative audience. What else would you expect from a historic retreat for the artists and adventure seekers? People have always come to Prescott to indulge their senses and escape the ordinary, which has meant art, song, drama, and dance were sure to follow.