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Roswell, NM: ‘Come for the Aliens, Stay for the Art’

This New Mexico gem features a rich cultural scene for residents and visitors alike.

By Rebecca Treon on December 9, 2022

Sculptor Wen Liu (RAiR 2022-23) works in a studio provided by the Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program in Roswell, NM.
Tonee Harbert/RAiR

When you think of Roswell, NM, art may not be the first thing to come to mind. But as former Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program participant Debra Smith once said, “Come for the aliens, stay for the art.”

Though it’s a small town where locals say everything you want is within a 10-minute drive, the depth and diversity of the arts and culture in Roswell is surprising and rich for a community of this size.

At the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art, a unique 22,000 square feet of exhibition space is dedicated to showcasing the works of former fellows of the renowned Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program, which has been in place since 1967. The museum’s 12 galleries showcase more than 500 diverse works of art from its participants.

“The Artist-in-Residency Program really changed Roswell and added to its cultural vitality,” says Nancy Fleming, director at the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art. “When (Walker Air Force Base) was here in the 1950s and ’60s, there was a contingent of civic-minded people who wanted the amenities of the big city, so they started the Roswell Symphony, the Little Theatre, the stadium … they were big supporters of the arts.”

Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art in Roswell, NM
Nathan Lambrecht

Visual Arts

Fleming says the Roswell Museum and Art Center, a 50,000-square-foot facility that includes 12 galleries dedicated to art and history exhibitions, share a great relationship and visitors are often urged by staff to visit the other. Both museums also offer interesting arts programming throughout the year, like hosting singers from the Santa Fe Opera in the galleries or yoga meetups.

Miranda Howe, owner and operator of Bone Springs Art Space and a former Artist-in Residence fellow, has deep family roots in the Roswell area – her grandfather, also an artist, was born and raised here and she grew up not far away in Ruidoso.

Bone Springs Art Space is housed in a renovated historic warehouse and offers gallery space for solo and group exhibitions and events, studio space and a gallery that sells artwork.

Offering a connection for the community to the arts, Howe offers classes for children and adults that provide a range of creative options to explore.

“When my residency was up, my art community was here. It made sense for me to look for a studio to stay – and what I found was so much more than just a personal studio space,” Howe says. “I was able to buy and renovate these historic buildings and my vision for what I wanted to do changed beyond personal studio space. It was ‘How can I use this as an asset for the arts in Roswell for people here and be an extension of the residency?’”

Bone Springs Art Space in Roswell, NM
Miranda Howe

Local Colors

Another local place to find works by local artists is at the Gallery at Main Street Arts, an artist co-op. A newer addition to the Roswell arts scene is the Miniatures and Curious Collections Museum, a space dedicated to unique dollhouse displays and other collections.

The performing arts are a key piece of the cultural mosaic in the region. Roswell has a symphony orchestra, which holds multiple performances throughout the year, and the Roswell Community Little Theatre stages a variety of productions.

Venues such as The Liberty Social Club promote live music in the region, and each October, world-class jazz musicians from across the country come together in Roswell to perform at a variety of venues and events.

Roswell’s rich and diverse history is also showcased at several standout museums, including the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico, the McBride Museum on the New Mexico Military Institute campus and the Walker Aviation Museum at Roswell Air Center.

“People can definitely find a lot to do when they’re looking for the arts in Roswell,” Howe says. “We have a stellar and supportive, wonderful arts community.”

The Roswell Artist-in-Residence program

Allows studio-based visual artists to focus on their work for a year.

Professional artists involved in painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, photography, video, digital media and installation.

Each year, the program gifts studio space to six artists in residence.

The 50-acre complex in Roswell includes eight studios and six houses.

More than 260 artists from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Asia.

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