"Of all the awards I've gotten all over the world - and I have been in this business a long time - this means more to me because I'm being awarded this in a place that I seriously and deeply love," she told an audience of about 400 on Saturday night
MacLaine's honor was bestowed by New Mexico Women in Film, which cited her career achievement and commitment to advancing the role of women in the industry.
The 73-year-old actress, who has lived in New Mexico for a dozen years, said she's learned to balance her frequent time on the road with the spiritual solace of the Southwest, where she can get "reassembled and renewed and reorganized."
"With all the chaos out there, I find that returning home is a meditation -- it's also a deep perusal of who I still am and still need to be."
Reflecting on her career, MacLaine praised the creative life and urged the audience, many of them independent filmmakers in town for the 8th annual festival, to persist in their art.
"After all politicians and leaders and the generals and scientists ... after they are dead and gone, what will remain is art, and that's why I am so proud to be a part of this industry," she said. "Art is man's attempt to preserve his imagination against time."
MacLaine is a five-time Oscar nominee who won best actress for 1983's "Terms of Endearment." Her other nominations were for roles in "Some Came Running" (1958), "The Apartment" (1960), "Irma La Douce" (1963) and the "The Turning Point" (1977).
She has authored numerous books, many with a New Age bent touching on topics like reincarnation and extraterrestrial life. Her latest, published this year, is entitled "Sage-ing While Age-ing."