The Best American Cities for Artists and Designers

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In January of this year, Artbistro published a list of the 25 best cities in America for artists and designers to live in. The results might surprise you as it’s not just a roundup of the usual suspects and the list is notably heavy on smaller cities. In creating the list, Artbistro (which is a division of Monster.com, the ginormous  job-hunting site) first narrowed the field down to cities with vibrant art and design scenes and then focused primarily on cost of living and other economic factors. So keep that in mind as you browse.

Whether you’re looking for a new scene, hunting for work or just want to see how your city stacks up, click through for the full list.

25. Lousiville

Louisville is a charming southern belle of a city with a derby full of galloping job opportunities. Ranked at #16 for cost of living, Louisville offers country charm and city amenities. The job growth is pacing around the national average, and the unemployment rate has gone up a reasonable 4% since the recession began.

24.Hartford, CT

Hartford boasts some of our nation’s oldest institutions — the oldest art museum, park and continuously published newspaper all hail from Hartford. With a high average salary and a relatively low cost of living, its no wonder this picturesque city made our cut. It has a great arts community and is close to New York City so that you can get inspired regularly.

23. St. Louis

Known as the city that marks the divide between the Eastern and Western United States, St. Louis is often called the “Gateway City.” It’s home to some of our nation’s largest public and privately held corporations —Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Scottrade, Energizer and Anheuser-Busch Breweries are just a few of its best known local companies. And it didn’t just make our own short list of great cities — this charming city ranks among the whole world’s top 100 cities in terms of quality of life.

22. Indianapolis

Formerly a manufacturing-heavy city, Indianapolis has shifted to encompass a much more diversified economy – today, its key industries include education, healthcare, tourism and finance. The low cost of living and rich cultural life of this city makes it an attractive place for artists and designers to live.

21. Portland, ME

Portland is the banking capital of northern New England, home to major international law firms, import/export companies, and modern high-rise office buildings located in historic districts with centuries old architecture. It is also a top employer of fashion designers (ave. mean). It is a big city with a small town feel and plenty of support for the arts.

20. Boston

The unofficial “Capital of New England” is home to 21 four-year colleges and universities, making it a national center for higher education. Boston is the home of numerous art museums, art schools and design firms. And at an average salary of $66,870, Boston boasts one of the highest incomes on our list. Living costs, however, are on the higher side, which pushes this iconic city farther down the list.

19. Charlotte

Home to the nation’s largest financial asset – Bank of America – as well as a number of Fortune 500 companies, this comfortable North Carolina city offers a solid salary to cost of living ratio. However, this has also left it more vulnerable to the economic downturn. When the economy turns around you can count on the Charlotte companies giving money to the arts.

18. Columbus

Named after Christopher Columbus, the largest city in Ohio is also one of the largest cities on our list. The city boasts a robust economy, ranking in the top 10 in the nation. Government jobs provide the largest source of employment here, followed by its large higher education institutions. Columbus offers a relatively low cost of living and also boasts the lowest unemployment rate of all the 25 best value cities on this list. This city takes pride in its creative architecture and support of the arts.

17. Kansas City, Mo

Kansas City houses the headquarters of four Fortune 500 companies and several more Fortune 1000 corporations, providing a richly diverse economy with significant trade and transportation sectors, government programs and business services. Its cost of living has consistently been at or below the national average, boosting its rating on our list. Not only that, Forbes.com claims “there’s a ‘zone of sanity’ across the middle of the country, including the region around Kansas City, Mo., that largely avoided the real estate bubble and the subsequent foreclosure crisis.”

16. Minneapolis

When most people think of Minneapolis they think, cold. Well it is cold in the winter, but have you been there for a summer? It is beautiful. But apart from the weather, Minneapolis is known as a creative capitol of the Mid-West. Moreover, graphic designers get paid well in this state. It is ranked in the top 5 for graphic design salaries. And it has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation.

15 Nashville

As a leader in finance and insurance, health care, music and entertainment, publishing, transportation technology, higher education, biotechnology, plastics, and tourism and conventions, the economic diversity of America’s country music capital strengthens itself from the inside out. Its income to cost of living ratio is close to the best, especially given the city’s larger size, while the rise in unemployment has remained decently low.

14. Las Vegas

Las Vegas is still one of the fastest growing cities. It has a growing technology industry and it ranks in the top five for highest paid animators (mean). Never a dull moment in Las Vegas, the University enriches the cultural life in this city and many designers and artists are needed to keep the casino industry happy.

13. Atlanta

Atlanta, Georgia is one of the highest paying cities for artists (mean). It has a deep and rich history in supporting the arts from contributing companies to high stakes art collectors. It is a beautiful climate and a city that takes pride in its hospitality. The cost to live in Atlanta has risen in recent years, but has come down since the recession.

12. Portland, Or

Historically, Portland has had a long-standing association with high-tech industries. According to City-Data.com, more than 1,200 tech companies currently operate in Portland, and, in 2004, microcomputer components manufacturer Intel was the city’s largest employer. Portland is a picturesque city that has long been inspiring to artists and designers.

11. Oakland

Oakland is close to San Francisco and San Jose, two favorite cities for artists and designers. However, it has a lower price tag to live there. Oakland is one of the top 5 states for animators’ salaries (mean). Oakland keeps you in-the-know about the major trends in art and design as well as technology from its creative community and proximity to other major hubs.

10. Seattle

The home to many prominent corporate headquarters; including those of Starbucks, Nordstrom, Microsoft and Amazon.com; Seattle is Washington state’s largest city and the region’s major economic, cultural and educational center. While the cost of living is a little on the high side, our #10 city has a particularly supportive community for the arts.

9. Washington DC

Maryland and the greater DC area pays its artists and graphic designers well. It is not the cheapest place to live on our list, but many find this city full of art and treasures stimulating to their creativity. It certainly is a city that appreciates its artists. Washington DC spends more percapita on art than any other state or district.

8. Raleigh, NC

One of the nation’s top areas for overall growth, Raleigh-Cary shines with expected job growth in in the coming years. Our #8 pick is becoming a preferred location for artists and designers in the South. Its relatively low income to cost of living ratio and potential for growth definitely place it in the top tier.

7. Oklahoma City

Ranked by Forbes magazine as 2008’s most recession-proof American city, Oklahoma City is still bustling with the prospect of significant job growth. Oklahoma’s capital city has managed to hold steady with an impressively low change in unemployment rate since the recession’s outbreak. There is plenty of growth potential in the art and design fields here.

6. Los Angeles

2009 was a tough year for California. The recession hit the state hard but despite that it remains one of the best-paid cities for artists and designers. Artists, animators and fashion designers make more here than 98% of the cities in the nation. Living expenses have gone down in the past year making it more livable. If you can brave the traffic, this sunny location has still got what creative people need.

5. Salt Lake City

Offering better employment conditions than most other large cities, Utah’s biggest city boasts the lowest unemployment rate boosting it right near the top. Many designers are employed here per capita for its growing tech industry. The cost of living in Utah is reasonable and the access to the outdoors is unparalleled. It is not an artist’s mecca but it is growing in support for the arts.

4. San Antonio

The second largest city in Texas, San Antonio has one of the most solid salary to cost of living ratios in the country and has seen the lowest change in unemployment rate since the onset of the recession. Its projected job growth is extremely promising and consistently high performing, with plenty of opportunity in art and design sectors. Famous for its River Walk, the Alamo and Tejano culture, San Antonio’s tourism also continues to thrive despite a down economy.

3. Bridgeport

Bridgeport is a thriving multicultural city located right on the water of Long Island Sound in the southern part of Connecticut. Its great location and proximity to other cities such as New York and Boston make Bridgeport a wonderful city to live and work. Bridgeport ranks in the top five cities for median salaries for graphic designers, architects, and fashion designers.

2. Newark

Newark, New Jersey is a skip away from New York City, the creative hub of the country. But it is a bargain to live in compared to Manhattan’s cost of living. Newark boasts top pay in the professions of fashion design, graphic design, and art. It has a rich cultural heritage of its own. So if you want to be close to the center of things but can’t quite afford to do it in style, Newark is a great choice for you.

1. Austin

Austin tops our list with robust projected job growth and one of the lowest changes in unemployment rate since the onset of the recession. The city has enjoyed a recent explosion of high-tech entrepreneurism. Animators in Austin are some of the highest paid in the nation. A “best cities” list veteran, Austin’s our top pick again this year!

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  • http://teddybrownoriginals.com Teddy Brown

    WOW!! Thank you so much for this info. I live in Asheboro NC. I have out grown my home studio , and was looking to rent a space in either Raleigh or Charlotte .I am all most exactly the same distance from each . I didn’t have a clue which would be the better location for me as an artist, Till I found this info. Thank You !!

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  • erica

    cant believe chicago didnt make the cut!!

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  • Nazeeha Khalid

    this was really helpful!! thank you!

  • 41stCentury

    Newark’s crime rate is so ridiculous, especially with their huge police layoff, that I think it needs to be booted from the list….at least from the 2nd spot.  

  • N.E.F.

    It’s best cities to work, not to live.

  • Casey123e

    OMG who would want to live in Newark?! I’m from NJ and no thanks!

  • Jjbclayworld3

    I am an artist and can’t wait to move from Las Vegas, Nevada…..

  • Ali Pourahmad

    thanks for all the useful information !
    I think  Austin does have some good support structure for some artists BUT Los Angeles has a lot of opportunities to offer !

  • Anonymous

    Newark? Newark? You gotta be kidding me! I can’t even, for one minute, believe this list since Newark is number 2. Newark or Hell, Newark or Hell….hmmmm…choose, Hell.

  • TheMarnina

    I love you, Mitzi! I’m laughing from my bed in Sacramento, CA, as I search my phone for places to retire & start a second career. You just saved me!