Something for everyone at the best Phoenix art museums

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(Last Updated On: October 17, 2018)

While it might surprise visitors, Phoenix, Arizona, is filled with art. In a region with so many galleries, art fairs, studios, and museums, it can be hard to know where to look! To help you out, I’ve created a brief introduction to some of the best Phoenix art museums: The Phoenix Art Museum, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, the Heard, Western Spirit, the Eddie Basha Collection, and the Musical Instrument Museum.

Discover a world of art at the best Phoenix art museums

The vibrant art scene found in Phoenix and the surrounding area can be found in galleries, art fairs, and museums. But the best Phoenix art museums offer the opportunity to immerse yourself in some of the region’s – and the world’s – great art.

While there are museums of all types in Phoenix, the museums highlighted here are not only the best art museums in Phoenix, but many are also among the best things to do in Phoenix in general. They’ve earned that status by consistently exhibiting world-class collections in ways that engage even those visitors who don’t think they like art!

Of course, there is also a great gallery scene in Phoenix and Scottsdale. For those interested in mixing up their art viewing a bit more, a number of the best art museums are located near galleries, making it easy to combine an art museum visit with a bit of galley hopping.

A traditional art museum in the heart of the southwest: The Phoenix Art Museum

Looking for a traditional art museum with a broad, well-displayed collection and intriguing special exhibits?

The Phoenix Art Museum is the place for you.

Sign at the entry to the Phoenix Art Museum

Part of the downtown Phoenix arts district, the Phoenix Art Museum supplements the local arts scene with well-curated and thought-provoking exhibits that cross time and space. You really never know what you might discover.


The art of today and tomorrow:  The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

To dive deeply into the cutting edge of fine art, head over to Scottsdale’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

Entrance to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

This is the smallest museum on this list, but if edgy contemporary art, design, and architecture interest you, SMoCA is the place to go. Even if you don’t think it’s your thing, SMoCA is often open at no charge, allowing you to take a look for free!


Native art and culture of the southwest: The Heard Museum

You’re in the southwest, so it’s a good time to explore the art and culture of the people who have lived here for thousands of years. Luckily, the best place in the world to do that is right in the heart of Phoenix at the Heard Museum.

A complete overhaul of the Heard’s exhibit space a few years ago resulted in a comprehensive permanent exhibit on the people of the southwest. It also resulted in gorgeous spaces for temporary art exhibits.

While a large portion of the permanent cultural exhibit is historical in nature, the Heard’s current mission is focused on advancing American Indian art. That means a good share of gallery space is devoted to rotating art exhibits drawn from the Heard’s vast collection and special exhibits that draw on Native American work from other institutions or individuals. Of course, many works of art are also included in the permanent cultural exhibits.

The old west lives on: Western Spirit and the Basha Collection

For many people, the American West means just two things: Cowboys and Indians.

While the Heard Museum is the best-known place to go to explore the art and culture of the American Indians of the western United States, it’s not the only place. Both Western Spirit and the Basha Collection exhibit Native American art from the southwest. But both also have large collections of “cowboy” and other art with western themes.

Western Spirit, Scottsdale’s Museum of the West

Scottsdale’s leaders long dreamed of building a museum that reflected the city’s claim as the most western of western cities. A few years ago that dream became reality with the opening of Western Spirit, Scottsdale’s Museum of the West.

Sign outside Western Spirit, Scottsdale's Museum of the West

Scottsdale’s western art museum is a gorgeous state-of-the-art facility that uses art to explore the myths and realities of the American West past and present. It can be a bit high-concept at times, but there are wonderful pieces on display throughout the museum and the main floor galleries are particularly well-designed.

Western Spirit has a mix of semi-permanent exhibits and temporary installations. Besides the two mostly-permanent historical exhibits on the second floor, visitors can generally expect to find an exhibit of contemporary bronzes, Western movie posters and memorabilia, Hopi pottery, and the Spirit of the West collection of cowboy memorabilia. These are supplemented by a variety of other themed exhibits that change a once or twice a year.


The Basha Collection of Contemporary Western and American Indian Art

To discover the hidden gem in the Phoenix museum scene, head south to the Eddie Basha Collection of Contemporary Western and American Indian Art in the headquarters of the Basha grocery chain in Chandler, Arizona.

The galley displays the personal collection of the late Eddie Basha. An avid collector from a young age, Basha loved western art – both cowboy art and American Indian art – and loved meeting and interacting with the artists who created it. That interest, along with a good eye, some knowledge, and the money to pursue the best contemporary pieces available, led to an almost encyclopedic collection of contemporary western art. And that collection is open to the public at no charge.


The visual art of music: The Musical Instrument Museum

A musical instrument museum might seem like an odd addition to a list of the best art museums in Phoenix, but the Musical Instrument Museum north of Phoenix includes a lot of visual artistry in its vast collection.

Some of the museum’s exhibits are all about the visual arts, whether it’s an exhibit of exquisitely inlaid guitars or a gallery filled with portraits from the golden age of jazz. But even the regular exhibits include a lot of visual art. Sometimes that comes in the form of and decorations on the instruments themselves, sometimes in the costumes worn by performers, and sometimes in the more traditional forms of paintings, photographs, carvings, and videos of musicians and musical instruments.

This is a spectacular museum (when the headphones work) and it overflows with visual art right along with the music.

General information on planning a visit to the best art museums in Phoenix is provided below. he Musical Instrument Museum’s website includes more detailed information on visiting the museum and its current exhibits.

Plan your visit to the best art museums in Phoenix

The six museums presented here are not only the best art museums around Phoenix, Arizona, but most are among the best of their type anywhere. And, as long as you have a car, it’s easy to get to all of them from anywhere in valley.

As you plan your exploration, keep in mind that most of these museums have large collections with many, many items on display. With the exception of Scottsdale’s small contemporary art museum, you probably won’t want to do more than one museum in a day unless you are just passing through on an Art Walk. To really explore these museums, plan to spend at least three or four hours in the galleries.

Phoenix’s best art museums are spread across the valley

Phoenix is infamous for its auto-centric culture. That means you’ll have to travel north and south across almost the entire Phoenix metropolitan area to visit all six museums. But that also means that at least one of these great museums probably isn’t too far away from you! And a few are within walking distance of each other and other artsy things to do, making it easy to plan an arts-filled day.

  • Downtown Phoenix: The Phoenix Art Museum and the Heard
  • Downtown Scottsdale: Western Spirit and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
  • North: The Musical Instrument Museum
  • South in Chandler: The Eddie Basha Collection

When to visit

Check the specific museum website for exact hours, but the following is a general guide to when the best art museums in Phoenix are open.

  • Most of these museums open by 9 or 10 am and remain open until at least 5 pm. (Exceptions include SMoCA, which never opens before noon, and the Basha Collection, which closes at 4 pm.)
  • All are normally open Tuesday through Sunday, except the Basha Collection, which is open Mondays, but closed on weekends.

If you’re looking for things to do in Phoenix on Monday, the Heard, Basha Collection, and Musical Instrument Museum are all open.

You have a few options if you are looking for things to do in Phoenix at night:

  • Wednesday nights: The Phoenix Art Museum is open until 9 pm
  • Every Thursday: SMoCA is open until 9 pm
  • Thursdays between November and April: Western Spirit is open until 9 pm
  • First Fridays: PAM and the Heard are open until 10 pm
  • Every Friday and Saturday: SMoCA is open until 9 pm

Admission fees

The Basha Collection never charges an admission fee.

At the other museums, regular adult (including senior) admission fees run from a low of $10 (SMoCA) to a potential high of $23 (PAM).

Admission for the Phoenix Art Museum varies depending on what galleries and special exhibits are open (admission includes all special exhibitions) and the day and time of your visit. Generally adults can expect to pay $15-$23, but there are times when admission is by voluntary donation (free). If free or reduced admission is important to you, check the rather complicated details on their website before you go. In the past, PAM has also offered Groupons for discounted admission.

The Musical Instrument Museum has also run Groupons for admission, but they don’t seem to be any cheaper than the regular admission cost! Check before you buy.

Visit for free

If you are looking for free things to do in Phoenix, the Eddie Basha Collection is one of the few totally free museums in Phoenix. There is no admission charge for anyone at any time, although donations are welcome.

collage of art museum photos with text "The best art museums in Phoenix Arizona"Several of the other art museums also offer free admission (voluntary donation) at various times during the week:

  • Wednesday: PAM is free after 3 pm
  • Thursdays: SMoCA is free
  • First Fridays: the Heard and PAM are free in the evening
  • Every Friday and Saturday: SMoCA is free after 5 pm
  • Second Sundays: PAM is free (afternoons)

Western Spirit is free for Native American visitors, but only through this December.

Most museums also offer free or reduced admission to military personnel and/or veterans. Check with the museum to be sure.

There are no free days or evenings at either Western Spirit or the Musical Instrument Museum.

Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun

collage of art museum photos with text "The best art museums in Phoenix Arizona"
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7 thoughts on “Something for everyone at the best Phoenix art museums”

  1. Wow! Six museums to visit! I’ve not yet been able to spend time in Phoenix (just have flown in and out) but would love to visit and put several of these museums on my list. And I like the fact that some of them are free or offer reduced admission for veterans.

  2. Super post. I, too, was surprised at the prominence of art throughout Phoenix and Scottsdale. We didn’t make our way through the list, but certainly enjoyed the Musical Instruments Museum.

  3. I never miss an art museum when I travel. If I ever get to Phoenix, I’ll check all of these out. Top of my list is the Basha Collection of Contemporary Western and American Indian Art. I’d like to learn more about Indian Art, and the fact that it’s free doesn’t hurt either.

    1. Yes, Nancie, you see a lot at the Basha Collection for free. Not in Phoenix, but in some other Arizona towns, various American Indian nations also run free information center/museums focused on their art and culture, so these might be another option if you are traveling around the state

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