Were you born to take the stage? Or do you prefer to sit behind an easel — or in the audience?
Either way, life is better when your city is full of phenomenal art and performances that inspire you.
To mark International Artists Day on Oct. 25, Lawn Love compared nearly 200 of the biggest U.S. cities to rank 2022’s Most Artsy Cities in America.
We looked for cities with plenty of art museums, galleries, performance theaters, and music venues to visit. We also considered art schools, opera houses, movie lover-friendliness, and recording studios, among 22 total metrics.
Sing your heart out in artful cities with the help of our ranking below, followed by some highlights.
See how each city fared in our ranking:
West Coast wonders
From the days of abstract expressionism to decades of bohemian riffraff, San Francisco’s arts industry continues to boom today.
The Golden City brings home the gold overall and in Entertainment and Supplies. San Francisco has the most art museums, theaters, music venues, cultural centers, art supply stores, and music shops per square mile out of all the cities in our ranking.
San Fran boasts breathtaking landscapes and weather for California impressionists wishing to paint en plein air, and Southern California is similarly special for artists. Pasadena (No. 6) has the most art classes, art schools, and dance studios per 100,000 residents. Meanwhile, Los Angeles (No. 9) has the highest number of art installations.
- San Francisco: San Fran boasts unique art museums like the Cartoon Art Museum, Museum of Craft and Design, and Museum of 3D Illusions. The streets are full of art, too — don’t miss the Mission District murals.
- Pasadena: Explore the impressive collection of European Art at the Norton Simon Museum. Or see a play at the state theater of California, Pasadena Playhouse.
- Los Angeles: Music lovers should add The Hollywood Bowl and El Rey Theatre to their concert bucket lists. Admire the sights and sounds of Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry. At night, follow the glow of Urban Light, a landmark public artwork featuring SoCal street lamps along Miracle Mile.
With high populations and hordes of tourists, even the largest indoor theaters in the world can feel a bit crowded. Even still, people flock to New York (No. 3), Washington (No. 5), and Chicago (No. 14) for great art, theater, and music.
NYC has it all — it has the most universities with a visual and performing arts program and is the best city for movie lovers. Additionally, NYC has a high number of art museums, music venues, opera houses, art installations, and art fairs.
The Kennedy Center and Smithsonian Institution aren’t the only amazing arts establishments our nation’s capital has to offer. Washington is home to plenty of spectacular theaters (No. 3) and opera houses (No. 4). For visual artists and admirers, Washington and Chicago both have a lot of art museums, art installations, art fairs, and art space rentals. They also appease music lovers with abundant music venues and vinyl record stores.
- New York: Iconic spots like Broadway, Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, The Metropolitan Opera, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art just scratch the surface of what The Big Apple has to offer for art lovers.
- Chicago: In addition to great comedy and improv, Chicago has beloved theaters like Steppenwolf and Writers Theatre, as well as the world-famous blues club, Kingston Mines.
- Washington: Dance all night at the 9:30 Club, or see radical, experimental theater at Woolly Mammoth Theatre. For unique and stunning sights, head to Culture House DC or the Dupont Underground, an abandoned trolley station-turned-multimedia art gallery.
Sketching and singing through the South
Southern cities stand their ground as serious hubs for visual artists and performers.
Miami (No. 2) has the most art fairs, galleries, dealers, and consultants per 100,000 residents. Magic City also comes second in art museums, theaters, music venues, art space rentals, art supplies stores, and music shops per square mile.
It’s not very surprising that Nashville, Tennessee (No. 58), has the highest number of recording and rehearsal studios per 100,000 residents, followed by Atlanta (No. 9). A-Town has become a significant player in the TV and film industry and also has numerous dance studios, art installations, and art tours.
- Miami: Celebrate magical art at Miami Art Week (Nov. 8 to Dec. 4), featuring the can’t-miss art fair, Art Miami. You can take a tour through an urban graffiti art museum, Wynwood Walls, year-round.
- Atlanta: Once a church, the Tabernacle is now a beloved concert hall with previous performances by Kendrick Lamar, Bob Dylan, and Prince. ATL also has the Center for Puppetry Arts and Alliance Theatre, which has been producing original plays since 1968.
- Nashville: Music City is home to Ryman Auditorium, aka “The Mother Church of Country Music,” which formerly housed the Grand Ole Opry. Music lovers should also check out the Nashville Opera and the “Jazz Cave” at the Nashville Jazz Workshop. You could even attend a concert in an actual cave nearby at The Caverns.
Skilled fish, small pond
Just because a city is small-ish doesn’t mean it lacks art. Minneapolis (No. 7) had high scores across the board, with many art museums, theaters, art galleries, and music venues to stay entertained and creative.
Providence, Rhode Island (No. 11), the self-proclaimed “Creative Capital,” and Cincinnati (No. 13) each stand out with numerous music venues and art tours.
Unfortunately, not all small cities have a thriving arts scene. Laredo, Texas, Kansas City, Kansas, and Warren, Michigan, each fared poorly, alongside West Valley City, Utah, which dropped all the way to the bottom of our ranking.
- Minneapolis: Catch a concert at First Avenue, where Prince filmed “Purple Rain.” Theater lovers can see groundbreaking productions at the Guthrie Theater and the Playwrights’ Center.
- Cincinnati: Have a special night out at the Cincinnati Opera or Cincinnati Ballet. Cincy also hosts May Festival, one of the world’s oldest choral festivals.
- Providence: Experience Providence’s public outdoor art phenomenon, WaterFire. This event attracts many visitors, with performances and an astounding fire art installation along the three rivers downtown.
Behind the ranking
For each of the 200 biggest U.S. cities, we gathered publicly available data on the factors listed in the table below.
We then grouped those factors into three categories: Education, Entertainment, and Supplies.
Next, we calculated weighted scores for each city in each category.
Finally, we averaged the scores for each city across all categories.
The city that earned the highest average score was ranked “Best” (No. 1), while the city with the lowest was ranked “Worst” (No. 200).
- The “Worst” among individual factors may not be No. 200 due to ties among cities.
- “Universities and Colleges with Visual and Performing Arts Program” may include one or more of over 60 total majors, including those listed here.
- Most of these metrics have been adjusted by population size or land area to make it a fairer playing field for smaller arts hubs.
Artfairmag.com, Cause IQ, Gaynor Minden New York, Musical Chairs, National Center for Education Statistics, Operabase, Other Lawn Love Studies, The Real Yellow Pages, TripAdvisor, and Yelp
Final thoughts: Art as an escape
From artists to art lovers, engaging in the arts is a great opportunity to express yourself and get involved in a community.
Every city has its own artistic vibe, from graffiti and street art to honky-tonks and jazz cafes.
If yours is lacking, plan a trip to explore some more of the best artistic destinations America has to offer:
From Billie Holiday and Philip Glass to John Waters and Divine, many arts icons have called Charm City home. Check out some of the best visual art in Baltimore by doing a gallery crawl through the Baltimore Museum of Art, American Visionary Art Museum, The Walters Art Museum, and Creative Alliance.
Kansas City, Missouri
Thanks to its legacy in jazz and blues, KC is the only UNESCO-designated City of Music in the U.S. Learn more by stopping by the American Jazz Museum. Explore the Crossroads Arts District, where theater lovers can marvel at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, designed by architect Moshe Safdie.
Derby City is often overlooked but has a thriving theater scene, thanks to the award-winning regional theater, Actors Theatre of Louisville, and the Humana Festival of New American Plays.
This small town in West Texas (population of about 2,000) is home to an art oasis. Artists flock to the town’s annual art fair, Marfa Invitational. Here, you can visit “Prada Marfa,” a permanent land art project in the middle of the desert, and local museums Ballroom Marfa and The Chinati Foundation.
A national historic landmark, the Academy of Music has been training skilled musicians since 1857. It is the oldest continually operating music hall in the country. Philly also has The Philadelphia Orchestra, Kimmel Cultural Campus, and Walnut Street Theatre, the oldest theater in America.
Your lawn and landscape can be an art display of its own. Hire a local Lawn Love pro to help maintain or add some personality to your growing green gallery.
Main Photo Credit: iStock