The Most Artistic Cities in America

Some smaller neighborhoods maintain surprisingly vibrant artistic communities

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Andrea Bowers & Olga Koumoundouros

Art Basel Miami Beach kicks into full gear this week, bringing nearly half a million people from across the globe to greater Miami. Art and design have played big roles in Miami’s revitalization, from South Beach’s restored Art Deco treasures to the more recent redevelopment of the Design District and the Wynwood Arts District, homes to galleries, private museum collections, bars and restaurants. Art and culture are increasingly important components of urban redevelopment efforts everywhere. The National Endowment for the Arts embraces the connection in its pioneering ArtWorks slogan and strategy.

But which U.S. cities and metros have the most extensive artistic communities?

With the help of my Martin Prosperity Institute colleague Kevin Stolarick, I used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to rank the leading metros for both their numbers of artists and their concentration relative to their population. We used the data on "artists and related workers," which covers both employed and self-employed visual artists in the United States. There are about 237,000 such artists across the U.S., of which roughly 210,000 are located in cities and metro areas.

The list of the top metros with the largest number of artists largely follows population size, as you would expect. New York comes in first, followed by Los Angeles, with Chicago in third place, San Francisco in fourth and Seattle fifth. Atlanta, greater Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Orange County, California and Dallas, Texas round out the top ten. Even with all the hub-bub of Art Basel, Miami ranks just 28th on this metric.

But we wanted to examine which metros have the largest concentration of artists relative to their population. We use a measure called a "location quotient," or LQ, which is basically a ratio that compares a region’s share of artists to the national share of artists. An LQ of one implies that its regional share equals the national average; less than one is less than the national average and greater than one is more than the national average. An LQ of two, for example, means a region has twice the national average of artists.

Below, you'll find a slideshow of the top ten metro areas by this new measure:

Now smaller metros move up the list. Boulder has a university, bohemian culture, and scenery; Santa Fe, of course, has been an arts center since the days of Georgia O’Keeffe. Santa Cruz, New Bedford, and Barnstable-Yarmouth are coastal locations with long-standing artistic communities. Jersey City is just across the Hudson from Manhattan; like Brooklyn across the East River, it is a source of more affordable housing and work spaces.

It’s time to get over the notion that only large urban cities like New York or L.A. can make it as artistic centers. While it’s true that large cities and metros dominate in terms of sheer numbers of artists, smaller communities are home to vibrant artistic communities as well—many with national and international reputations and reach. 

Photo credit: Andrea Bowers & Olga Koumoundouros: "Transformer Display of Community Information and Activation," 2011 / Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles, part of Art Basel Miami Beach 2011

About the Author

  • Richard Florida is Co-founder and Editor at Large of CityLab.com and Senior Editor at The Atlantic. He is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at NYU. More
    Florida is author of The Rise of the Creative ClassWho's Your City?, and The Great Reset. He's also the founder of the Creative Class Group, and a list of his current clients can be found here