By W. James Burns, Ph.D.
One of the Desert Caballeros Western Museum’s (DCWM) greatest successes in its 54-year history is the creation of its Cowgirl Up! – Art from the Other Half of the West program in 2006. This Spring marked the 9th anniversary of this internationally-known event which has put the Museum, and the town of Wickenburg, Arizona, on the map within the Western American art world.
When I tell people what I do for a living and mention DCWM, I get blank stares; same thing when I mention Wickenburg. But, as soon as I mention the words “Cowgirl Up!” light bulbs go on and eyes get brighter; there is a sign of recognition: “That’s where you work?” It’s a nice branding problem to have when the reputation of an event eclipses that of the host institution.
When Cowgirl Up! started in 2006 few venues existed for women Western artists to show and sell their work exclusively. On the forefront of cultural institutions recognizing the talents and contributions of women Western artists to the cultural legacy of the American West, DCWM stepped in to fill a void. Cowgirl Up! quickly became the most important show in the nation for women Western artists, embodying the lifestyle and spirit of the American West.
Taking on a life of its own, Cowgirl Up! is more than just a show and sale; it is a mindset and a basis for building new relationships. The artists who participate in the event are now longtime friends of the Museum, and each year we make new friends. Those friendships continue to develop as the artists, staff, and patrons interact over the years and support one another.
Cowgirl Up! provides an opportunity to publicly recognize the significant contributions of women Western artists to the genre of Western American art. In a realm dominated by men, Cowgirl Up! recognizes these talented women artists; the show is helping to right a wrong and to give women Western artists a place alongside their male counterparts.
In 2006, the event was founded with the following goals:
- To continue to tell the saga of the West by showcasing the best in art – painting, drawing and sculpture.
- To provide a museum setting for artists and audience to both share this ever-changing saga, and to interact.
- To focus on art from the “other half of the West” – work created solely by women artists who are capturing the spirit of the West and its lifestyle.
- To contribute to the overall high quality of Western art by sponsoring and perpetuating an invitational exhibition and sale.
- To serve as a resource for both sophisticated and emerging collectors of Western art.
- To inform and educate the public about the Western art genre and the women who are creating it.
- To support Arizona’s most Western museum as it reaches out to tell the stories of the West.
Each year, artists are rotated to keep the exhibition fresh and to provide opportunities for emerging artists to participate. The subject matter and styles of these artists span the spectrum of Western art expanding our horizons and redefining the definition of Western art. These artists add depth and dimension to the field of Western art.
The Desert Caballeros Western Museum is proud to have been on the forefront of cultural institutions recognizing the talents of these women artists. Now preparing for its 10th annual in 2015, Cowgirl Up! has earned the respect of artists, collectors, and museum professionals working in the Western American art world.
The Museum is committed to continuing to build one of the finest women’s Western art collections in the nation by adding artworks from Cowgirl Up! to its permanent collection. The art collected from previous Cowgirl Up! shows has expanded the Museum’s ability to interpret the Old West, the New West, and the Next West for its audiences. The variety of subject matter and styles represented in the work of these artists expands our horizons and redefines the definition of Western art, adding depth and dimension to the genre.
Cowgirl Up! is an invitational exhibition, yet the Museum receives scores of portfolios each year to be evaluated. Every May a committee of judges meets to select the artists for the following year’s show. They review the work of hundreds of artists to choose just 58 for the exhibition. Many of the artists are invited back every year; others rotate over time. We strive to keep Cowgirl Up! fresh and exciting by introducing between 15-25% new artists each year
The Cowgirl Up! artists are helping to redefine the parameters of Western American art as a genre. This makes for lively dialogue in the gallery - something that I personally think is one of the most important purposes of art. Diversity and variety strengthen the field and prevent monotony and stagnation from prevailing. The work of our Cowgirl Up! artists is helping Western American art achieve greater parity with the larger art world.
The 10th annual Cowgirl Up! Art from the Other Half of the West opens March 20 – 22, 2015 and is on display through May 3, 2015. You can learn more about the program here, or view the 2014 Cowgirl Up! artists here.
Dr. W. James Burns Burns is the Executive Director at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, as well as a WMA Board Member. He holds a BA in History from the University of Arizona, an MA in Public Historyfrom Arizona State University, and a PhD in Educational Policy Studies from Georgia State University. Burns is a graduate of the Museum Management Institute at the Getty and has worked in history, anthropology, and art museums since 1990 at organizations in Arizona, Georgia, Virginia, and Louisiana. Burns currently serves as the Vice-Chair of the Curators’ Committee of the American Alliance of Museums, as a peer reviewer for the Museum Assessment Program, and as a reviewer for the American Alliance of Museums’ Accreditation Program.