Acrylic horizontal aspect painting of a silhouette of a soldier with binoculars looking through windows down to people around buildings in a Japanese American internment camp

Many Wests: Artists Shape an American Idea

March 19, 2022 - August 21, 2022

Lightcatcher Building

Ideas about the American West, both in popular culture and in commonly accepted historical narratives, are often based on a past that never was, and fail to take into account important events that actually occurred. The exhibition Many Wests: Artists Shape an American Idea examines the perspectives of 48 modern and contemporary artists who offer a broader and more inclusive view of the West, which too often has been dominated by romanticized myths and Euro-American historical accounts.

This exhibition presents an opportunity to examine previous misconceptions, question racist clichés, and draw attention to the multiple communities and histories that continue to form this iconic region of the United States. Working in various media, from painting and sculpture to photography and mixed media, the artists featured bring a nuanced and multifaceted history into view. Many Wests highlights many voices, including artists who identify as Black, Indigenous, Asian American, Latinx, and LGBTQ+, who stake a claim in the American West.

Central Themes

The exhibition is presented in both English and Spanish, and organized around three central themes, Caretakers, Memory Makers, and Boundary Breakers. “Caretakers” examines how artists can redefine what it means to take care of themselves, their communities, and their futures. Featured artists include Ka’ila Farrell-Smith (Klamath Modoc), Awa Tsireh/Alfonso Roybal (San Ildefonso Pueblo), Patrick Nagatani, and Marie Watt (Seneca).

“Memory Makers” explores how artists act as transmitters of cultural memory as they bring forth neglected histories of the West through their work, and includes artists Jacob Lawrence, Roger Shimomura, Christina Fernandez, and others.

“Boundary Breakers” includes artists whose representations break away from myths of the West and assert their continued presence despite centuries of omission and erasure by mainstream culture. Featured artists include Angela Ellsworth, Raphael Montañez Ortiz (Apsáalooke/Crow), and Angel Rodríguez-Díaz.

Rip, Write, Reflect.
Community Art Experience

Ongoing through Exhibition in the Lightcatcher first floor hallway

Auburn-based artist Marita Dingus initiated a new art piece related to the exhibition for a community art experience called, “Rip, Write, Reflect.” Using found and repurposed materials, Dingus constructed a mixed-media wall tapestry. Visitors are invited to add their thoughts through words or drawings on torn map pieces, responding to a prompt about the West. Watch this video to learn more about this project, which is generously supported by Art Bridges.

Multi-Institutional Partnership

Many Wests is organized jointly by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and four nationally accredited art museums located in some of the fastest growing cities and states in the western region of the United States. It is the culmination of a five-year exhibition partnership made possible by the Art Bridges Foundation. The partner museums are the Boise Art Museum in Idaho; the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene, Oregon; the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in Salt Lake City; and the Whatcom Museum. E. Carmen Ramos, acting chief curator and curator of Latinx art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum has led the collaborative curatorial effort.

Many Wests features artwork drawn from the permanent collections of all five collaborating museums and the exhibition will be presented at all five venues. The multi-city national tour began at the Boise Art Museum (July 31 to Feb. 13, 2022). It travels to the Whatcom Museum (March 19 to Aug. 21, 2022), the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art (Sept. 26 to Dec. 31, 2022), and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (Feb. 4 to June 11, 2023). The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, will be the final stop on the tour, where the exhibition will be on view from July 28, 2023 to Jan. 14, 2024. Learn more about this exhibition from the Smithsonian Voices blog or read a review from Essential West Magazine.

Support Provided By:

This is one in a series of American art exhibitions created through a multi-year, multi-institutional partnership formed by the Smithsonian American Art Museum as part of the Art Bridges Initiative.

The Whatcom Museum presentation of Many Wests is sponsored by Peoples Bank and Rafeeka & Neal Kloke. Additional support is provided in part by a Pandemic Relief Grant from ArtsWA (sub-granted from the National Endowment for the Arts), the Whatcom Museum Foundation, and the City of Bellingham. Media support funded through a City of Bellingham Tourism Promotion Grant. Generous support for the youth docent program and Marita Dingus’s community art installation is provided by Art Bridges.

Logos of black letters saying Art Bridges with a blue arch above the t and B followed by a plus sign followed by blue letters SAAM and Smithsonian American Art Museum spelled to the right of the lettersGraphic shape with triangles and cubes of red, orange, dark blue, and chartreuse designed into the shape of Washington state with the words ARTSWA in white overlaying and the words Washington State Arts Commission in blue underneath the shapeBlack rectangle with the words National Endowment for the Arts, in white and a red white and blue stripe underlining the words




The Whatcom Museum acknowledges that we gather on the traditional territory of the Lhaq’temish – Lummi People – and the Nuxwsá7aq – Nooksack People – who have lived in the Coast Salish region from time immemorial. The Museum honors our relationship with all of our Coast Salish neighbors and our shared responsibilities to their homeland where we all reside today.