Student artists work on ‘Where the Buffalo Roam,’ a mural in downtown Amarillo. Photo courtesy of Blank Spaces.

Amarillo may be best known for Cadillac Ranch, country music songs (like “Amarillo by Morning” and “Am I Right or Amarillo”), and 72-ounce steaks, but there’s a whole different—and somewhat surprising—reason to put the Texas Panhandle town on your Route 66 radar. You can see it when you visit downtown, an area that has come alive in recent years because of its thriving art scene.

Sometimes dubbed the “biggest small town in Texas,” Amarillo is impressively evolving in its approach to art appreciation, balancing museums with street art, traditional with contemporary, curated with creative freedom. The result is an inspired conversation that is spanning artistic mediums and transcending generations.

“It’s difficult to quantify the impact of creativity, critical thinking, awe, beauty, and shared cultural experience on developing minds of all ages,” says Alex Gregory, curator of art at the Amarillo Museum of Art, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. “Visual art, and the ideas and humanity expressed, are often the measure of a civilization’s development, so a community without access to that as a resource is at a real disadvantage.”

Fortunately, accessibility to art is abundant in Amarillo, with the Museum of Art and galleries ranging from the ultra-cool and contemporary Greyhound Gallery at the Derrick that lives within a renovated and repurposed bus station to the more traditional Kenneth Wyatt Gallery, home to the Western-style works of art you might expect to see in the Panhandle. With the debut of the Hoodoo Mural Festival in 2019, outdoor art can be added to the menu.

The ‘Where the Buffalo Roam’ mural, created by Blank Spaces artists during the Hoodoo Mural Festival last year, is located on the Polk Street Eats building. Photo courtesy of Blank Spaces.

Spearheaded by Amarillo native Andrew Hall, and his wife, Lauren, the festival held its second iteration last October. “It’s a hybrid of mural and music festival,” Hall says. “We combine live music with art to bring people together in downtown for the event, and then hopefully give travelers a reason to exit off of I-40 for the long run. Amarillo has a tendency to be a rest stop on people’s way somewhere else, and we believe it can be a destination. If we give them a reason to stay one more night or enjoy one more meal in downtown while they view what is essentially ‘free art,’ then that boosts economic development.”

Currently, 11 giant murals adorn the sides of downtown buildings—six from the inaugural festival in 2019 and an additional five from 2021. (A map with these and other murals and art installations around Amarillo can be found here.) The artworks were painted by professional muralists from around country and homegrown artists, including Natalie Fletcher (of Skin Wars fame) and Drew Merritt, as well as Blank Spaces Murals, the area’s nonprofit collective and gallery for student artists.

In addition to the aesthetic and economic improvement to the area, the festival has an intention that is also aspirational. “We want the visibility of the murals to spur creativity among art students in the area,” Hall explains. “We do lots of field trips, and we really want to impress upon young people that there is a path to turn your passion into a profession, that artistic ability is appreciated.”

The creation of the festival coincides with a recent community-wide desire and effort to revitalize Amarillo’s downtown. As an Amarillo native myself (a resident for a collective 20 years), I can attest to the vibrancy that’s been infused into that part of the city.

Once a hub for suit-clad bankers and lawyers, downtown saw a decline in activity and occupancy as the city expanded westward and offices began to populate streets that were once “just outside of town,” as locals would say. It slowly became a place to be avoided after dark, and then essentially abandoned altogether. In the mid-2000s, it saw a pop of life—well, night life anyway—with the opening of a strip of bars on Polk Street, most of which have changed names and owners half a dozen times since then or shuttered entirely.

In the last decade, entrepreneurs and visionaries (Hall included) have taken interest—and big risks—in downtown, striving to resuscitate and reinvent it as a destination to stay and play. And it’s worked. The construction of Hodgetown Stadium, home to the minor league baseball team Amarillo Sod Poodles, is arguably the catalyst for the boost. The stadium opened in 2019 and regularly attracts sports fans and families for games and events, and the influx of foot traffic paved the way for bars, restaurants, and other establishments.

As the hype grew, the appeal of downtown Amarillo expanded beyond its residents and became a trendy area for out-of-towners, creating a niche for chic boutique hotels like the swanky Barfield Hotel, with a speakeasy and celebrity guests (Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and Sam Elliot all stayed there while filming 1883, the new series by Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan).

Art City

Add these spots to your next Amarillo trip

Amarillo Museum of Art
2200 S. Van Buren St.
Open Wednesday through Sunday, the museum is currently showing Achievement in Art Exhibition: Celebrating 50 years of AMoA’s Collection and the ongoing exhibition of Asian art collected by Dr. and Mrs. William T. Price.

Greyhound Gallery at the Derrick
814 S. Taylor St.
The gallery took up residence at the Derrick, an art deco building converted into a multipurpose space in downtown Amarillo, in 2020 and displays works by a roster of 36 artists.

Kenneth Wyatt Galleries
7306 S.W. 34th Ave., Suite 12
With another location an hour away in Tulia, Kenneth Wyatt Galleries is where to go for Western art lovers. The artist has been creating scenes featuring cowboys, windmills, and horses for more than 40 years.

Cadillac Ranch
13651 Interstate 40 Frontage Road
A can’t-miss landmark, Cadillac Ranch has been welcoming visitors since 1974. Open 24/7, the outdoor installation allows visitors to get creative and spray paint a vehicle—there are 10 to choose from—for free.

While the Hoodoo Mural Fest is a relatively young endeavor, the Amarillo Museum of Art turns 50 this year and is showing off its collection with a carefully curated exhibition on view until March and featuring works by renowned artists such as Georgia O’Keefe and Andy Warhol. There will also be events including ArtAfterDark with live music, cocktails, and art activities, and a Family Day with youth-oriented activities. “The building was dedicated on Oct. 1, 1972, so there will likely be a special event on that day as well,” Gregory says.

So, whatever your aesthetic or age, Amarillo has art for all. Cadillac Ranch is just the beginning.

The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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