Santa Fe, New Mexico – Canyon Road

Main Streets 2017: New Mexico

Primary Kent Kanouse
Paint Out Larry Lamsa
Primary Kent Kanouse Paint Out Larry Lamsa

The half-mile stretch of Canyon Road that attracts a million and a half visitors each year is unique in American culture.

This is literally a homegrown arts mecca, which began its commercial life when a group of painters here was permitted — by special city designation, in 1962 — to sell their artwork from their homes. Canyon Road has since grown into the third largest art market in the United States. Dozens of galleries and studios mingle with restaurants, jewelry and antique shops, boutiques and bars in the single-story adobe structures that line this narrow, memorably colorful lane.

Canyon Road’s history goes a long way back — to the Native Americans who used it to reach the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and to the 17th-century Spanish settlers who hauled firewood on the backs of burros from the forested mountains into Santa Fe. For nearly three centuries after that, this was just a dirt road through a farming neighborhood. But after the railroad reached Santa Fe in 1880, artists and photographers rode began settling here in the early years of the 20th century.

Canyon Road stayed a creative but quiet neighborhood until ’62, when the city’s decision to designate this a “residential arts and crafts zone” enabled residents to sell their work from home. With a historic style ordinance protecting the road’s traditional architecture, businesses, many of them connected to the arts, began to multiply and thrive along the road.

Canyon Road today is an international arts destination. Many doorways of the adobe structures are painted in vivid hues, visitors can watch painters and sculptors work in their studios, and galleries host exhibition openings throughout the year, especially on the popular monthly “Fourth Fridays.” The American Planning Association has named Canyon Road one of the Great Streets in America, and it finished second when USA Today reported the outcome of its 2013 reader poll, “America’s Most Iconic Streets.”

Much-anticipated special events include the Canyon Road Spring Art Festival in May, the Edible Art Tour in June, the Historic Canyon Road Paint & Sculpt Out in October, and the Christmas Eve Farolito Walk, when the road is lined with the small paper lanterns that are a New Mexico tradition.

But really, every day is a creative festival here. That’s what makes Canyon Road one of a kind.

Primary photo taken by Kent Kanouse
Paint Out photo taken by Larry Lamsa
Santa Fe, NM is home to a 2017-18 LifeChanger: Priscilla Cordova