Of all the U.S. capitals, Santa Fe is the oldest … but that is far from the most exciting feature of the city. We’re drawn by the vitality of the arts, resulting from a distinctive convergence of cultures.

In 1610, Santa Fe was founded as a Spanish missionary town. It belonged to Mexico before becoming part of the United States in 1846. Today, it enjoys a well-deserved reputation as “the cultural capital of the Southwest.”

Georgia O’Keefe, N. Scott Momaday, and Cormac McCarthy lived in Santa Fe. In addition to those legends, here are some people and places that have made “The City Different” so amazing.

William Shuster (1893-1969), Painter

This World War I veteran moved to Santa Fe for its dry climate, which helped him to cope with tuberculosis and the ravages of toxic gas. As his lungs healed, William Shuster captured New Mexico’s beauty in works like Dome Room (1924), one of the earliest paintings of Carlsbad Caverns. He and other members of Los Cinco Pintores (The Five Painters) made Santa Fe famous among art lovers in the early 1920s.

Shuster contributed most remarkably to local culture by creating Zozobra, a giant puppet burned every year to exorcise gloomy feelings. The effigy has grown from 6 feet tall in 1924 to 40 feet tall in 1960 to over 50 feet tall in 2023. Admittedly, Zozobra has yet to cure our bad attitudes – but the centennial bonfire on August 30, 2024, might be large enough to do the trick!

Santa Fe Indian Market (est. 1922)

Every August, the world’s preeminent festival for Native art takes place on the Santa Fe Plaza. It is organized by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, which selects over 1,000 artists to participate. The festival draws around 100,000 people, who spend more than $160 million on art or local goods and services. There is also a juried competition.

Last year, Jennifer Tafoya won Best in Show for “Caught by Surprise,” an etched pot depicting dinosaurs. Other award-winning works included “Talavi Morning Katsina,” a wooden sculpture by Arthur Holmes, Jr., and “Autumn Rose Carnival,” a woven shawl and shoulder bag by TahNibaa Naataanii. After glimpsing photographs of these exquisite works, you will surely need to see the market for yourself.

Los Alamos National Laboratory (est. 1943)

Located about 35 miles northwest of Santa Fe, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is a federal research institute specializing in national security. It was founded to create the first atomic bomb, but its mission now includes nuclear deterrence and cybersecurity. As you might imagine, access is slightly restricted, but visitors can enjoy nearby hiking trails and the Bradbury Science Museum.

LANL has reported a welcome surge in public interest following the release of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, which tells the story of the laboratory’s first director. In this podcast, a LANL historian discusses events depicted in the film. We recommend listening to it during the drive from Santa Fe.

Valerie Martínez (b. 1961), Poet

After completing an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, Valerie Martínez taught at numerous colleges or universities, mainly in the Southwest. In 2009, she left academia during her term as Santa Fe’s second poet laureate. Since then, Martínez has worked for community improvement organizations while writing excellent book-length poetry.

Each and Her, a poem about the Ciudad Juárez femicides, won the Arizona Book Award (2011) and earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination. Most recently, Martínez published Count, which confronts the climate catastrophe. Asked about her process, Martínez explained that she “weav[es] together what I imagine, what I know, what I read in books, magazines, and newspapers, what I see in art, what I watch on TV, and more.” She is currently employed as Founding Director of Artful Life.

Kaela Waldstein (b. 1982 or 1983), Filmmaker

Kaela Waldstein, owner of Mountain Mover Media, makes short documentaries about Southwestern culture. While studying film at Santa Fe Community College, she won a Rocky Mountain Emmy Award® for Walk with Pride, a six-minute film about the Santa Fe Indian Market’s Indigenous Fashion Show. To create the documentary, Waldstein partnered with Amber-Dawn Bear Robe, producer of the fashion show and a professor at Santa Fe’s Institute of American Indian Arts.

Continuing to collaborate, Waldstein and Bear Robe just released Cara Romero: Following the Light. The 27-minute documentary explores the photography of Cara Romero, who splits her time between her Santa Fe studio and the Chemehuevi reservation. Romero’s portraits celebrate the contemporary vitality of indigenous people and can be quite provocative, as in the case of Last Indian Market. According to Waldstein, the documentary illuminates Romero’s “meticulous” work. Stream it on PBS today!

Geronimo (est. 1991), Restaurant

In 1756, Geronimo Lopez constructed an adobe home, the Borrego (Lamb) House. For 30+ years, it has been an award-winning restaurant bearing the Spaniard’s name. It is conveniently located on Canyon Road, a pedestrian-friendly, half-mile stretch famous for art galleries.

As Chef Sllin Cruz and his business partner, Chris Harvey, explained, Harvey was a waiter during Geronimo’s early days. Cruz took over for a highly beloved chef, the late Eric DiStefano, in 2016. While jet-setters prefer the elk steak, Cruz and Harvey recommend the short ribs, prepared for THREE FULL DAYS in a sous vide. They aren’t currently on the menu, but Cruz generously shared his recipe.

Shiprock Santa Fe (est. 2005), Native American Art Store and Gallery

Located on the Santa Fe Plaza, this remarkable store sells breath-takingly beautiful objects like turquoise jewelry, decorative pottery, woven rugs, wooden furniture, oil paintings, and more. The only wares that fit comfortably in our personal budgets are the books. Fortunately, Shiprock doubles as a viewing gallery, promoting new exhibits on an almost monthly basis.

Shiprock was opened almost 20 years ago by Jed Foutz, who grew up on the Navajo reservation. His store is named for Shiprock Peak, a site sacred to the Diné (Navajo) people. According to legend, the tribe came to their ancestral home by riding a giant bird, which subsequently turned to stone. You can admire Tsé Bit’ a’í, “Rock with Wings,” about 250 miles northwest from Santa Fe.

House of Eternal Return (est. 2016), Immersive Experience

The Seligs have gone missing after an experiment went awry, fracturing time and space inside their Victorian-style family home. Now, a fireplace, washing machine, or refrigerator might conceal a portal to another world, as likely to contain a prehistoric mammoth fossil as a holographic travel agent. While visitors marvel at such wonders, they may also search for clues concerning the Seligs’ disappearance.

This immersive story-telling experience was created by the artists’ collective Meow Wolf – with millions of dollars in support from George R. R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones and co-executive producer of the HBO series. Meow Wolf has continued to update the Selig’s home with new exhibits, but they didn’t need to do that to guarantee our eternal return.

That’s our roundup!

We’ll be back soon with another, if we don’t wander into a restricted zone at Los Alamos (scary), break our bank accounts at Shiprock (tempting), or join the Seligs beyond time and space (likely).

Until next time, find some creativity wherever you can. Stay safe, and be well. #StandCreative