The overall mission of the Heard Museum is to educate the public about the heritage and the living cultures and arts of Native peoples, with emphasis on the peoples of the Southwest. The Heard Museum is not a history museum. It is a living museum featuring both artifacts and contemporary art of Native cultures. The main Phoenix location of the Heard Museum has been designated as a Phoenix Point of Pride.
The museum formerly operated the Heard Museum West branch in Surprise which was closed in 2009. The museum also formerly operated the "Heard Museum North Scottsdale" branch in Scottsdale, Arizona, which was closed in May 2014. 
The Heard Museum was founded in 1929 by Dwight B. and Maie Bartlett Heard to house their personal collection of art. Much of the archaeological material in the Heards' collection came from La Ciudad Indian ruin, which the Heards purchased in 1926 at 19th and Polk streets in Phoenix.
From its start as a small museum in a small southwestern town, the Heard has grown in size and stature to where now it is recognized internationally for the quality of its collections, its educational programming and its festivals. The current collection of the Heard Museum consists of over 40,000 items including a library and archives with over 34,000 volumes. The museum has over 130,000 square feet (12,000 m²) of gallery, classroom, and performance space. Some exhibits include:
- Home: Native Peoples in the Southwest
- The Mareen Allen Nichols Collection containing 260 pieces of contemporary jewelry
- The Barry Goldwater Collection of 437 historic Hopi kachina dolls
- An exhibition on the 19th century boarding school experiences of Native Americans. According to the New York Times, the exhibit admirably "captures the little-known experience of thousands of children bused, sometimes forcibly, from their reservations to government schools in order to erase their culture and “civilize” them. Haunting photographs, old uniforms, oral interviews and memorabilia offer a powerful look at this chapter in history."
The Heard Museum now attracts about 250,000 visitors a year. The Heard is an affiliate in the Smithsonian Affiliations program. The director of the museum from January 2010 through July 2012 was Dr. Letitia Chambers, the first Heard director to be of American Indian descent. From August 5, 2013 to February 27, 2015, the museum was led by James Pepper Henry, a member of the Kaw Nation of Oklahoma and the Muscogee Creek Nation. A search for a new Director is ongoing.
The museum is a member of the North American Reciprocal Museums program.
The Heard hosts the annual El Mercado de Las Artes, usually in November, with strolling mariachis and artwork by Hispanic artists from Arizona and New Mexico including santos, pottery, colcha embroidery, furniture making, painting, printmaking and silver and tinwork. The Heard also hosts the annual World Championship Hoop Dance Contest, typically held in early February. The most famous festival at the Heard Museum, the Indian Fair and Market, is now in its 56th year.
The Annual Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market, held annually in March, features over 700 Native American artists, and includes a juried competition. Approved artists compete in eight classifications: Jewelry and Lapidary Work; Pottery; Paintings, Drawings, Graphics, Photography; Wooden Carvings; Sculpture; Textiles/Weavings/Clothing; Diverse Art Forms; Baskets.
The judges of this competition come from a diverse range of occupations including experienced artists, museum curators, gallery directors, and art collectors. All have in-depth experience in judging artwork, and the majority of these judges come from American Indian tribes. Awards and cash prizes are given for Best of Show, Best of Division (first and second place), and an additional Conrad House award. The judges also confer a Judge's Choice ribbon and an Honorable Mention ribbon.
- "Phoenix Points of Pride". Retrieved October 18, 2006.
- http://blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com/uponsun/2009/08/heard_museum_west_will_close_b.php "Heard Museum West Will Close By the End of 2009", Phoenix NewsTimes, August 4, 2009
- "The Heard Museum's rich history". Retrieved July 31, 2006.
- Scarp, Mark (2008-12-04). "Gonzales left his creative imprint on Scottsdale". East Valley Tribune. Retrieved 2009-01-04.
- 36 Hours in Phoenix, By Randal Archibold, New York Times, November 30, 2008.
- Tropiano, Dolores. "Heard Museum’s Letitia Chambers." Phoenix Magazine. Dec 2010 (retrieved 7 Sept 2011)
- "Heard Museum". Affiliate details. Smithsonian Affiliations. 2011. Retrieved 17 Jul 2011.
- "About the Fair." Heard Museum. (retrieved 7 Sept 2011)
Media related to Heard Museum at Wikimedia Commons