DataArts Releases 2019 List of Most Arts-Vibrant Cities

Fifth annual Arts Vibrancy Index includes four new cities


SMU DataArts, the National Center for Arts Research at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, today released its fifth annual Arts Vibrancy Index, which ranks more than 900 communities across the country, examining the level of supply, demand and government support for the arts in each city. The report highlights the top 20 most arts-vibrant large communities and the top 10 medium and top 10 small communities. This year, 10% of the communities on the most-vibrant list appear for the first time – a total of four new communities. Eight others – 20% – return after an absence of at least a year. Download the Full Report (PDF)

“Arts vibrancy is dynamic, not static,” said Dr. Zannie Voss, director of SMU DataArts. “Fluctuations occur every year depending on measurable factors such as population growth, opening or closing of museums or performance spaces, and more. It’s important to stress that rankings are based entirely on data, not on opinions or popular votes.”

Key movements and new communities featured on the lists include the following:

  • Nassau County-Suffolk County, NY, is new to the index and is featured in the top-20, large metropolitan area list.
  • Charlottesville, VA and Boulder, CO, also new to the index, are featured in the top 10 medium cities list.
  • Brookings, SD, is making its debut in the top 10 small cities list.
  • Eight cities reclaimed spots on the lists: Denver, CO (large); Ithaca, NY and Bremerton-Silverdale, WA (medium); and Steamboat Springs, CO, Vineyard Haven, MA, Hudson, NY, Greenfield Town, MA, and Breckenridge, CO (small).

Community rankings are organized into three distinct lists based on size: large (population over 1 million), medium (population between 100,000 and 1 million) and small (population under 100,000 with an urban core of 10,000-50,000). The report complements each listed community’s scores with information about what makes the community unique and dynamic. In addition to the Arts Vibrancy Index, SMU DataArts provides scores for every U.S. county on its interactive Arts Vibrancy Map on measures of arts dollars, arts providers, government support, socio-economic factors and leisure characteristics.

“Arts and cultural organizations exist throughout the nation, serving communities both poor and affluent, rural and urban,” said Dr. Voss. “Their widespread distribution testifies to the human need for creativity and artistic expression. They are also engines of community development and community cohesion. In 2018, arts activity in every U.S. Congressional District in the country benefited from federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. The current climate of political, sociocultural and economic polarization makes it more important than ever to recognize and celebrate the essential role that arts and culture play in making communities throughout the country not only more vibrant places to live and visit but also more unified, safe and tolerant.”

The overall Arts Vibrancy Index is composed of three dimensions examined on a per capita basis: supply, demand and government support. Supply is assessed by the total number of arts providers in the community, including the number of arts and culture organizations and employees, independent artists, and entertainment firms. Demand is gauged by the total nonprofit arts dollars in the community, including program revenue, contributed revenue, total expenses and total compensation. Lastly, the level of government support is based on state and federal arts dollars and grants. All financial metrics have been adjusted for cost of living in order to level the playing field. The cost of doing business varies based on local conditions, so the same dollar goes further in some communities than others.

How vibrant is my city? Check our map of every county in America.

The Lists

The full lists, with detailed information on each community, are available at SMU DataArts, including scores on each of the three metrics of vibrancy, i.e. level of arts providers (supply), arts dollars (demand), and government support for the arts.

Large Cities

Among cities with populations of 1 million or more, the five most vibrant arts communities are as follows:

  1. New York-Jersey City-White Plains, NY-NJ
  2. San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, CA
  3. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA
  4. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI
  5. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV

Four of these were the top five large cities in 2018 as well; this year, Los Angeles moved from #6 to #3. New York and San Francisco traded places, while Minneapolis bumped up one notch from #5 to #4 and Washington moved from #3 to #5. One city joined the Top 20 list for the first time: Nassau County-Suffolk County, NY, debuted at #16. Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO, which was included in 2017 but not 2018, rejoined the list at #20.

Medium Cities

Two communities with populations of 100,000 to 1 million are new to the Top 10 medium city list: Charlottesville, VA, ranks #5 and Boulder, CO, is #8. In addition, two cities that were included in 2017 but not 2018 returned to the list: Ithaca, NY, at #6 and Bremerton-Silverdale, WA, at #10.

The top five list is as follows:

  1. Santa Fe, NM
  2. Pittsfield, MA
  3. San Rafael, CA
  4. Missoula, MT
  5. Charlottesville, VA

Small Cities

For small communities, defined as areas with an urban core of 10,000-50,000 people, one city is making its debut on the list: Brookings, SD, at #7. Several other cities returned to the list after an absence of one or two years: Steamboat Springs, CO, at #3; Vineyard Haven, MA, at #5; Hudson, NY, at #6; Greenfield Town, MA, at #9; and Breckenridge, CO, at #10.

The top five cities are as follows:

  1. Jackson, WY-ID
  2. Summit Park, UT
  3. Steamboat Springs, CO
  4. Bennington, VT
  5. Vineyard Haven, MA

Beyond the specific rankings, select findings in the Arts Vibrancy Index include:

  • Every region of the country has vibrant arts communities. Large metropolitan areas are represented throughout the nation. Medium communities on the list are chiefly located in the West, South and Northeast, while small communities are predominantly in the West, Midwest and Northeast.
  • The components of arts vibrancy are unique to each community. Some of the top communities have mostly small and mid-sized arts organizations and venues, while others have a concentration of large organizations and little else. Some benefit from close proximity and ties to another arts-vibrant community, while others are artist magnets or tourist destinations. Numerous arts sectors flourish in some communities, while a particular art form dominates in others.
  • Rankings of communities that have previously made the list are in constant flux. Many factors contribute to these shifts, including transformations in a city’s cultural scene (for example, through the opening of a large arts center) or changes in population size. However, changes in scores tend to be incremental, not radical.
  • Very large cities showcase vibrancy through extensive dispersion or high concentrations of arts and culture. Some feature a strong concentration of arts vibrancy in the urban core with less going on in the surrounding areas (e.g. Chicago and Philadelphia), while others feature vibrancy distributed evenly throughout the larger metropolitan area (e.g. Boston and Cambridge).

“We launched the Arts Vibrancy Index five years ago as a tool to help arts leaders, businesses, government agencies and others understand the overall intensity and capacity of their communities’ arts and culture sector,” said Dr. Voss. “We have heard from many of them that past Arts Vibrancy reports have helped their communities get the recognition they deserve from their mayors, city council members and state legislators for previously under-appreciated arts activity. Arts leaders have let us know that they have used the reports to decide where to tour and where to relocate. We hope this year’s report will continue to help arts and culture organizations as they work to overcome challenges and increase their impact.

About SMU DataArts

SMU DataArts, the National Center for Arts Research at Southern Methodist University, compiles and analyzes data on arts organizations and their communities nationwide and develops reports on important issues in arts management and patronage. Its findings are available free of charge to arts leaders, funders, policymakers, researchers and the general public. The vision of SMU DataArts is to build a national culture of data-driven decision-making for those who want to see the arts and culture sector thrive. Its mission is to empower arts and cultural leaders with high-quality data and evidence-based resources and insights that help them to overcome challenges and increase impact. Publications include white papers on culturally specific arts organizations, the egalitarian nature of the arts in America, gender equity in art museum directorships, and more. SMU DataArts also publishes reports on the health of the U.S. arts and cultural sector and the annual Arts Vibrancy Index, which highlights the 40 most arts-vibrant communities around the country. For more information, visit