No starving artists here: These cities are the best places for artists to live well and practice their craft.
Having access to art and culture is one of the best parts of living in a city. While it’s true that art is found and created anywhere — in cities, there are some definite benefits. Cities act as cultural hubs that draw both new and existing artistic talent. There is a feedback loop of inspiration that cities foster.
With people from many different cultures, backgrounds and walks of life living in close quarters, there is vibrant multiculturalism. Urban density makes it easy to try and experience many different things from theater to food. Artists feed off that creative energy. And when you also live surrounded by other creative individuals, you are constantly being inspired to create new work
But it takes more than that to make a city a great place for artists. It’s widely known that both historically and in modern times, artists are often underpaid for their work. That “starving artist” trope didn’t come from nowhere — artists still need to pay for things like rent and food. They still need to make a living in this world the same as everyone else.
That’s why, on top of a thriving cultural scene, artists need to live in a place that supports their passion and livelihood. That ranges from affordable housing for work and creation, walkability to get around to gigs and much more.
So if you’re an artist with a dream, these are the best cities for artists to create and live.
Finding the best cities for artists
Art is for everyone because there are so many different ways to create. You have visual mediums like painting, drawing or photography. There are performance arts like dancing or theater. And there are musicians across an incredible breadth of genres and instructions, from voice to electronic DJ.
Having a thriving artistic community makes a city a better place to live. There are shows and performances to go to, which improves the quality of life for residents and encourages tourism. But to have such a community, artists need to make a viable living in that city. Quality of life and cost of living for essentials like food and housing, plus affordable rent remain important for those looking to dive into their artist endeavors.
To determine the best cities for artists, we looked for cities with a good walk score and t the average price for studio apartments. Many artists need or want separate spaces to create and work in, same as with offices for other industries, so having affordable studios for rent is key.
We also looked for how many museums there are per density and how many artistic organizations were in the city by density. That included theaters, artistic collectives, performing arts centers and more. All cities also had a population of over 50,000.
The following 10 places emerged as the best cities for artists to live and work in.
10. Baltimore, MD
In recent years, Baltimore has risen the charts as one of the best cities for creatives. This is especially true for the visual arts.
There are more than 60 diverse museums within the area, and it’s the home of renowned museums like the Baltimore Art Museum and the Walters Art Museum. Their substantial collections feature historic art from around the world, as well as exciting contemporary work. The city also supports modern, experimental art in outdoor public spaces like the Glenstone museum and sculpture garden and Downtown Frederick Public Art Trail, making art accessible to all.
There are also ample opportunities in the performing arts. The city is home to seven different performing arts companies and numerous dance and music groups.
Living here, artists can enjoy an abundance of creative outlets and good, affordable quality of life. With an average city median income of $51,000, the average cost for a studio apartment is $1,346. This was down 8.3 percent from last year. That gives artists lots of choices for space, as well as affordable rates.
Baltimore also has good public transportation, and a high Walk Score of 72.
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9. St. Louis, MO
This city that was once the gateway to the West is now a gateway for artists to comfortably live and create in an up-and-coming art city. While it is not the most walkable city, there are many other benefits. The average rent for a studio apartment is $1,328 — with plenty of availability.
St. Louis has an especially good reputation for performing arts, with 14 performing art companies and ten dance companies. Performance venues like The Fabulous Fox, housed in a grand old movie theater, and the Center of Creative Arts give the community hubs to experience art. And the contemporary visual arts scene is also on the rise.
The public can appreciate art in outdoor spaces like Citygarden, and museums like the Grand Center and the St. Louis Art Museum boasts exceptional modern art collections. So there are plenty of places for artists to congregate and work together.
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8. Chicago, IL
Chicago has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the United States’ best cities for art, alongside staples like Los Angeles and New York City. But of those two, Chicago is the only one to make it into the top 10 best cities for artists. This means it’s much more affordable than the other two, but still gives artists the creative stimulation they crave. It’s also the place where many greats get their start.
Chicago has many benefits — the downtown area is a dense urban grid, with a very high WalkScore of 84. For outlying areas, there’s excellent public transit. However, most art and culture institutions are downtown — from theaters to museums — so it’s a very centralized area. There are outdoor spaces like Millennium Park for fresh air, access to nature and art installations (hello, The Bean). Museums like the Art Institute of Chicago enjoy tremendous renown for their collections.
Plus, there are top-ranked performing arts opportunities, from theater to music to improv at Second City, one of the nation’s best comedy and improv schools. While average studio rent is $1,784, making it the second most expensive city for studios in the top 10, you’ll have access to world-renowned art institutions for learning and displaying your art.
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7. Berkeley, CA
Although Berkeley is largely known as a center for engineering, science and tech due to UC Berkeley, art and culture are equally strong here. This city of over 121,000 has an incredibly diverse population. And the presence of the university invites fresh, young minds from around the world, feeding innovation and creativity.
Berkeley also feeds off of the cultural thrum of the surrounding Bay Area and nearby San Francisco.
But being in the tech-heavy Bay Area, life is expensive. A Berkeley studio costs an average of $2,250. This makes it the most expensive of the top ten cities. But on the upside, Berkeley is extremely walkable, making it easy to get to the many artistic opportunities that exist. Berkeley is especially known for its performing arts. It’s home to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, a Tony-winning regional playhouse and other top theater and performance companies.
For visual artists, collectives like the ACCI Gallery and museums like Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive exist. West Berkeley and the North Shattuck areas are especially popular artist neighborhoods.
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6. Philadelphia, PA
Aspiring and working artists priced out of New York have been turning to Philadelphia. This has made it one of the most exciting artistic hubs on the East Coast. Steeped in history, the city also buzzes with vibrant young minds and modern energy.
Rent and cost of living are significantly lower than in NYC. A studio costs, on average, $1,745. Two top art schools call Philly home: the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Temple University’s Tyler School of Art.
And there is art everywhere, from museums to public spaces. The Philadelphia Art Museum is the third-largest in the U.S., and the Rodin Museum has one of the largest collections of his work outside Paris. Performing arts-wise, there is a great live music scene, especially for classical music thanks to the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The Avenue of the Arts acts as a hub, with performance spaces for everything from dance to experimental work. Dancers will also find a welcoming community here, as there are multiple esteemed dance companies.
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5. Seattle, WA
Seattle’s reputation for incredible live music needs no introduction. Grunge originated here, thanks to influential bands like Nirvana. And music and performance are still part of the lifeblood of the city. But there’s more to Seattle’s art scene than that.
There are over 80 theater companies and great dance companies like the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Galleries and small venues provide space for experimental, undercover art movements. But “mainstream” art also has a place here at museums and places like the Seattle Art Museum, Chihuly Garden and Glass and the Olympic Sculpture Park.
In Seattle, studio apartments run an average of $1,481. And this is down almost 14.2 percent from last year, so there is plenty of space available and demand.
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4. Washington, D.C.
The U.S. capital is a hotbed for history and art, which go hand in hand here. There are abundant museums and inspiring architecture everywhere you turn. But it’s not just about the past. There is also a thriving contemporary art community.
Check out spots like the Culture House DC, a 19th-century church painted in bold colors and now houses an artist collective. And there are frequent art festivals and performances of music, dance and theater.
If you’re an artist looking for a city with a lot of options for studios, D.C. is the place for you. The average rent is $1,686, plus it’s also a very pedestrian-friendly city that’s easy to navigate on foot.
All in all, D.C. offers a great emerging art scene in a city that’s affordable and safe, with plenty of history to inspire you.
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3. Pittsburgh, PA
In 2018, Pittsburgh ranked as one of the top cities in America for artistic vibrancy. It’s no small wonder. Similar to Philadelphia, artists love the affordable cost of living — $1,194 for a studio.
In Pittsburgh, they’re finding world-class museums, outdoor festivals, creative collectives and performing arts companies that are pushing boundaries and generating buzz. Some must-visit spots include the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Andy Warhol Museum and The Mattress Factory.
Outside of town, you’ll also find Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece, Fallingwater.
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2. Minneapolis, MN
Coming in at No. 2 in the top 10 best cities for artists is one half of the Twin Cities itself: Minneapolis. Of course, this Midwest hub is well-known for its friendly residents, parks, lakes and outdoor access. But it also has fantastic opportunities for art.
Minneapolis has 55 different museums to visit, among them the eye-catching Weisman Art Museum. As a city that loves nature, lots of art is outdoors and open for everyone. Minneapolis is especially well-known for its vibrant murals, easily found all over the city. Oh, and of course, there’s a great music scene. What else would you expect from the home of Prince?
Add in low rent on studios, $1,236 on average, and you’ll discover why it’s no wonder so many artists find inspiration here.
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Topping the list of the best cities for artists is the Connecticut capital of Hartford. This scenic city celebrates both contemporary and historic art through its many institutions, from museums to collectives.
World-class touring performances come through at venues like the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts. And local companies like TheaterWorks showcase contemporary work. The city is also committed to promoting diverse artists and voices. For example, the unique Artists Collective highlights the work of the African Diaspora. And the Real Art Ways organization supports experimental and new work in a variety of mediums.
Beyond the artistic community, Hartford is also very affordable for working artists. It boasts the cheapest prices for studio apartments — the average being $1,121.
Good quality and cost of living go a long way toward supporting an artist’s lifestyle. And if the urban scene isn’t sufficiently inspiring, Connecticut’s natural beauty is also sure to spark the imagination.
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The 50 best cities for artists
Now that you’ve seen the top 10, let’s branch out to discover even more cities that have created an atmosphere where artists can thrive and create. Please note, our methodology allows for ties.
To find the best cities for artists, we used the following data points:
- Performing arts businesses and establishments per density
- Museums per density
- Walk score
- Average rent of a studio apartment
We looked at cities with at least 50,000 people according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 population estimates and ranked each city in each of these four categories. Then, we added up the rankings for each of the four categories to determine a final score for each city. Ties were allowed in our rankings. The cities with the lowest overall score were determined to be the best cities for artists.
We excluded cities from this study that had insufficient rental inventory or other data.
Business and establishment data comes from commercially sourced business listings. This may not account for recent business openings or closures.
Rent prices are based on a one-year rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com’s multifamily rental property inventory as of April 2021. Our team uses a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.
The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.