Contraction is the primary function of adult arterial smooth muscle. However, in response to vessel injury or inflammation, arterial smooth muscle is able to phenotypically modulate from the contractile state to several ‘synthetic’ states characterized by proliferation, migration and/or increased cytokine secretion. We examined the effect of tissue length (L) on the phenotype of intact, isometrically held, initially contractile swine carotid artery tissues. Tissues were studied (1) without prolonged incubation at the optimal length for force generation (1.0 Lo, control), (2) with prolonged incubation for 17 h at 1.0 Lo, or (3) with prolonged incubation at slack length (0.6 Lo) for 16 h and then restoration to 1.0 Lo for 1 h. Prolonged incubation at 1.0 Lo minimally reduced the contractile force without substantially altering the mediators of contraction (crossbridge phosphorylation, shortening velocity or stimulated actin polymerization). Prolonged incubation of tissues at slack length (0.6 Lo), despite return of length to 1.0 Lo, substantially reduced contractile force, reduced crossbridge phosphorylation, nearly abolished crossbridge cycling (shortening velocity) and abolished stimulated actin polymerization. These data suggest that (1) slack length treatment significantly alters the contractile phenotype of arterial tissue, and (2) slack length treatment is a model to study acute phenotypic modulation of intact arterial smooth muscle.