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The Best Cities for Up-And-Coming Artists

Whatever your creative dreams look like, here's the perfect place to make them come true.

By Claire Hannum on July 3, 2019

New Mexico
New Mexico / Photo by Nathan Lambrecht

If you’re looking to a launch a career in the arts, there are so many creative, inspiring places to explore beyond New York and L.A. No matter your craft, there’s a perfect U.S. city for growing your talents and connecting with a community of like-minded creatives – at a price point that will help you avoid that whole “starving artist” thing. 

Whether your artistic goals are of the literary, performance or visual variety, read on to discover the perfect home base to make your creative dreams come true.

Iowa City, IA
Iowa City / © 2016 The University of Iowa, all rights reserved.

For Writers: Iowa City, IA

Iowa City is such a book lover’s paradise that it’s been designated as a UNESCO City of Literature – seriously! Aspiring wordsmiths have long flocked here to be part of the Iowa City Writers’ Workshop, an MFA program at the University of Iowa known for its famous grads like Flannery O’Connor, John Irving and Ann Patchett.

Iowa City also hosts a nonstop roster of literary events, including festivals, readings and author talks. The Iowa Writers’ House is a gathering place for local and visiting writers, who flock to workshops and events designed to foster creative connection. At Prairie Lights, the city’s cherished local bookshop, you can rub elbows with fellow lit fans and work on your own masterpiece in the cafe upstairs where countless beloved books have been written. As one of Livability’s Top 100 Best Places to Live, Iowa City also offers plenty of other artist-friendly perks, including the affordable cost of living and endless opportunities for fun, like their epic annual Block Party. 

And did we mention the arts scene here is not limited to the written word? A multifaceted initiative to make Iowa City “The Greatest Small City for the Arts” showcases the city’s vibrant offerings in film, music and visual art. The creative energy in Iowa City is palpable – and totally inspiring.

Detroit MI
Detroit / Courtesy of Mike Boening Photography under a CC 2.0 license.

For Experimental Artists: Detroit, MI

Detroit has seen so much change over the past few decades, but one thing that has never budged is the city’s willingness to join together and try new things – especially when it comes to art. Detroit’s fascinating art scene provides makers with the freedom to try avant-garde projects that have never been attempted before, all with the support of a tight-knit community of local creatives. Detroit art projects run the gamut from innovative murals to immersive experiences to public pieces like the Heidelberg Project, a colorful reclamation of abandoned homes. With Detroit’s affordable rent, plentiful studio space, a growing local economy and awe-inspiring architecture, artists of all stripes will feel right at home.

Lucas KS
Lucas / Courtesy of IveGoneAway under a CC 2.0 license.

For Sculptors and 3D Artists: Lucas, KS

This tiny (and delightful) Kansas town leads the nation in highlighting grassroots art. The town’s creative hub is Lucas Grassroots Art Center, where you’ll find creations like sculptures made of found objects and vehicles crafted out of unexpected materials. Then, there’s the Garden of Eden, an installation featuring a 150-figure concrete sculpture garden surrounding a historic home. Even one of the city’s public restrooms – the Bowl Plaza Public Restroom – is decked out in mosaics. As you can imagine, you’ll find all kinds of like-minded creative spirits in Lucas to make art with, as well as constant inspiration.

Como Park Minnesota

For Theater People: Minneapolis, MN

With a long history of performing arts, Minneapolis is an absolute treasure for anyone who loves the stage. Most aspiring actors recognize Minneapolis for the Guthrie Theater, a world-class performance center, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the city’s offerings. Venues like the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, the Ritz Theater, the Orpheum Theater and the McGuire Theater offer space for everything from Broadway productions to first-run experimental plays.

Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that Minneapolis is simply a fantastic place to live, with low unemployment rates and great local infrastructure. The city’s booming music scene (don’t forget: this is Prince’s hometown!) makes for lots of on-stage collaboration opportunities.

Idaho Falls ID
Idaho Falls / Courtesy of BYU-Idaho

For Visual Artists: Idaho Falls, ID

Greater Idaho Falls is best known for its natural beauty, but those stunning landscapes also provide the perfect inspiration for the region’s art scene. What makes Eastern Idaho’s creative scene stand out is that here, the arts are fueled by and for the local community. The Willard Arts Center, a beloved local fixture, hosts around 200 events per year, including a national juried art exhibition. The nearby Art Museum of Eastern Idaho came to be thanks to the tireless work of local artists who dreamed of a creative space for their community, and the museum prioritizes reaching out to local young people to foster an interest in art. If you’re looking for a home where you can build a true community, live at a low-key pace, and wake up to breathtaking natural landscapes each morning, Idaho Falls is where you’ll want to build your art career.

Oklahoma City OK
Oklahoma City / Facebook/FactoryObscura

For Dancers: Oklahoma City, OK

Oklahoma City is home to a robust creative scene, and dance is one of the standout forms of creative expression here. For starters, Oklahoma City University is home to nationally renowned dance performance, dance management and dance teaching programs where you can hone your craft. (The school also has an acclaimed musical theatre program, so get ready for some epic collaborations!)

There’s also the Oklahoma City Ballet, featuring an annual roster of top-notch performances and an immersive training program. No matter what kind of dance you love – modern, ballet, swing, country – there’s a studio or club in OKC where you can bring your skills to life. If your tastes skew to the more avant-garde, you’ll love Factory Obscura, an art collective that creates immersive experiences with the help of more than 40 participating artists, including – of course! – talented dancers.

Santa Fe NM
Santa Fe / Photo by Kate Russell/Courtesy of Meow Wolf

For Photographers: Santa Fe, NM

If we were choosing cities for photographers based on scenery alone, Santa Fe would take the cake – its natural landscape and unique architecture make it a total stunner. But on top of that, Santa Fe offers a wide variety of opportunities for photographers that make it stand out from the rest of the country. With a higher market demand for photographers, proximity to the photography nonprofit CENTER and a vibrant creative community, Santa Fe is a great place to focus your lens. Just be sure to take the occasional break from shooting to chow down on the city’s iconic breakfast burritos and sopapillas.

Kansas City MO
Kansas City / iStock/TriggerPhoto

For Musicians: Kansas City, MO

Kansas City may lead the way when it comes to tasty BBQ, but it also tops the charts in something else: jazz. The friendly metropolis is the birthplace of Kansas City Jazz, a musical style that surfaced in the ’20s and ’30s and paved the way for the city’s current music scene. Today, you can find live blues and jazz throughout the city, and plenty of fellow musicians to jam with. Kansas City also offers affordable housing, a strong local economy and a growing population of hip, young residents bringing exciting new energy to the city. 

New Orleans LA
New Orleans / iStock/Kruck20

Filmmakers: New Orleans, LA

New Orleans is truly a feast for the senses, so it’s no surprise that it’s a wonderful place to film. New Orleans is also a lovely place to call home, with more than 66 parks, incredible food and no shortage of fun ways to spend your time. If you dream of making your own films, you’ll find plenty of inspiration among the city’s bright colors, beautiful architecture and animated personalities. 

If you’re looking to make your way onto professional film sets, you’re also in luck: NOLA is a hotspot for TV and movie filming. There’s always an impressive list of Hollywood projects underway in the area, and the majority of those projects hire local crews. Don’t forget to reward yourself with beignets after a long day on set!

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