The Coe Center explores and connects through experiencing the world’s Indigenous Arts.
The Coe Center creates awareness, education, and appreciation of Indigenous Arts. We connect people and art through inclusive hands-on experiential learning and partnering. In this, we responsibly steward a diverse and eclectic collection of world Indigenous Art that supports community narratives.
The Tewa People, and the neighboring communities of Tiwa, Towa, Keres, Jicarilla Apache, and Mescalero Apache, and Diné, have been committed to a reciprocal relationship with this land for generations. The Ralph T. Coe Center for the Arts, located in this place, recognizes this history and celebrates O’Ga P’Ogeh Owingeh (White Shell Water Place) past, present, and future.
The Ralph T. Coe Center for the Arts preserves a diverse collection of global Indigenous art. We recognize that some portions of our collection have historical ties to communities whose cultures and livelihoods have been adversely affected by settler colonialism. We also recognize the agency of artists, then and now, to create works that foster beauty, resilience, and independence. Our founder, Ted Coe, viewed collecting as a path for growing relationships. This principle makes us consider these artworks as living relatives; we honor them and their ties to current peoples. We deeply appreciate all of the stories and journeys held within these relatives, including the moments of great joy and moments of discomfort. These are not words for us; we treat our relatives with the utmost respect.
In our work here, we prioritize meaningful connections with the Coe Center Collection as an open resource by providing direct access to it through our programming, monthly open houses, and special events. We are committed to a process of sharing, learning, and growth across all generations of our community and to forging new paths, pushing boundaries, and offering opportunities for revolutionary invention.
The Ralph T. Coe Center for the Arts, founded by former museum curator, director, and collector extraordinaire, Ralph T. Coe (1929-2010), is dedicated to increasing public awareness, education, and appreciation of world Indigenous arts, emphasizing hands-on experience and learning through actively engaging art. The Coe Center is the legacy of Ralph T. Coe, known as Ted to his family and friends. His search for knowledge and quest to understand the human condition is evident in the varied collections he left behind and in his creation of the Ralph T. Coe Center for the Arts in 2007, a private operating 501(c)3 located in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Coe Center’s unusual eclectic collection of over 2,500 objects represents worldwide Indigenous cultures, with its core encompassing the span of historic to contemporary North American Native works.
Ted Coe collected not only art objects, but also immersed himself in the culture that produced them. He was not one to theorize, but rather chose to expound on the beauty and singularity of art, as well as on the experiences he witnessed. As one Native American artist remembered, Ted was “accommodating; he was easy to be with, laughed, and just went with the flow without too much fanfare. He was humble.”
Ted, born in 1929 in Cleveland, Ohio was an alumnus of Oberlin College (1953) and Yale University (1957). He embarked at a young age on a transformative journey into the world of art and culture, transcending traditional boundaries and shaping a career marked by innovation and advocacy. His family upbringing and academic life laid the foundation for a lifelong commitment to the arts. As a curator and advocate, he championed Indigenous arts while embracing the modern art of his time. His visionary approach found expression in groundbreaking exhibitions like Sacred Circles: Two Thousand Years of North American Indian Art (1976) and Lost and Found Traditions: Native American Art, 1965-1985, illuminating the richness of Indigenous artistry and cultural contexts. As curator, and then director (1977-82) of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Ted pushed boundaries, amplifying Indigenous voices and understanding among diverse communities through art. His deeply personal and immersive approach cultivated profound connections with artists and communities, enriching his lifelong dedication to the power of art.
To this day, his loving friends share delightful Ted stories, of how he never met a stranger and was endlessly curious about others. A visitor to his home might leave four hours later, as Ted, eyes shining, would engage with them, talking about the people and history behind the many objects he collected. Ted felt if one sincerely took the time to look at objects, they would draw us into the circle creating the opportunity to cross diversities leading to a greater understanding of each other and our histories and heritage.
The Coe Center continues to build on his legacy, committed to inspiring people of all ages and from all walks of life to be inquisitive and search beyond their own known experiences. Our diverse array of programs includes the Hands-On Curatorial Program for high school students, now celebrating its tenth year of empowering young minds; collaborations with artists and nonprofit organizations; educational programs rooted in our rich collection and designed to engage the public; and the Coe in the Classroom initiative. Additionally, we host events and offer special exhibitions year-round.
For those eager to delve deeper and wish to experience the Coe Center firsthand, we extend a warm invitation to contact us for a free tour. Join us in celebrating the enduring legacy of Ralph T. Coe, whose dedication to Indigenous arts and furthering understanding continues to inspire us all.