Among the many benefits of travel is exposure to new ideas. With that in mind, every state legislator in America should visit the New Mexico state capitol building in Santa Fe.

No, not because the New Mexico legislature only meets for one 60-day session in every odd year and for one 30-day session in every even year. They should visit because of the world-class art collection the legislature has developed and displays in the building. I know you’ve seen art in public buildings before; I can promise you, you’ve not seen anything like this.

Mural in New Mexico capitol building.

In 1991, the New Mexico legislature established the non-profit Capitol Art Foundation. Since then, the Foundation’s mission has been to accumulate for permanent, public exhibition at the capitol building, contemporary masterpieces from artists who live and work in the state across all mediums.

In an art mecca overflowing with galleries and museums, some of the best work can be found in the “round house” – the locals’ name for the round capitol building.

RELATED: Our favorite Santa Fe artists. 

And looking is free. Visitors are encouraged to stop by, wander around, and look at the art. Wandering and looking at art are two of my favorite pastimes.

Better still for East Coasters like myself, the New Mexico capitol building opens at 7AM local time, perfect for those of us vacationers who wake up at 5AM Mountain Time wondering how to kill a few hours until regular businesses open. I toured the building at 7:15 AM on a Friday morning and had the place to myself. I was also offered – and took advantage of – a private tour of the building led by a summer intern. All visitors to the capitol are offered either a free docent-led tour or audio tour.

Can you beat that?

A state capitol that’s barely used, doubles as an art museum, and offers free guided tours with early morning hours – top that!

Let’s look around.

Art fills every available space inside the New Mexico capitol building.

 

Holly Hughes’ buffalo head mixed media bust inside New Mexico capitol building demands attention.

 

Art greets you before you even enter the New Mexico state capitol building.