The Most Creative Mid-Sized Cities in America
If you think only big cities cater to artistic types, prepare to change your tune—or write a new one in these 10 mid-sized metros where creativity is king.
As a writer, painter, and general resident of my right brain, I have been very fortunate in my life to live in two very creative cities: Austin and San Francisco. These two are consistently ranked among the tops when it comes to getting those inventive juices flowing, from their art scenes to their number of startups. These cities just buzz with that imaginative energy—something, until recently, I had only found in larger cities.
But then last week I paid a visit to a smaller city near San Francisco. Now perhaps it was the near lethal amount of caffeine I consumed at the quaint little coffee shop there, but almost as soon as arriving, I felt that creative, inspired energy just coursing through my veins. Surrounded by bookstores, art galleries, theaters, and craft stores, I sat down and wrote until the sun went down. I wrote until they closed the coffee shop. And then on my way home, I marveled at the inspirational city around me. The inspirational smaller city.
It got me wondering: If this little gem has been sitting right in front of my nose here in the Bay Area, how many other creative mid-sized cities are out there?
When I got home, still buzzing from my latte or perhaps the city itself, I sat down and paid a rare visit to my left brain—I did some research. Turns out, those larger cities out there have some competition when it comes to cultivating creativity. Here are Movoto Real Estate‘s top 10 most creative mid-sized cities in the US:
1. Salt Lake City, UT
2. Pasadena, CA
3. Richmond, VA
4. Dayton, OH
5. Torrance, CA
6. Fort Collins, CO
7. Columbia, SC
8. Eugene, OR
9. Knoxville, TN
10. Tempe, AZ
How did Salt Lake City beat out Savannah, you ask? How did Eugene make the cut and Waco didn’t? Okay—so maybe nobody is wondering that, but for those who are interested in how I came up with this list, put on your creative caps and keep reading.
Getting CreativeJust like our other Big Deal Lists, in order to come up with this ranking, I needed some serious creative inspiration—in this case, seven criteria. Saying goodbye to creative license and hello to sheer logic and math, I looked at the 100 second most populous cities in the US (mid-sized cities) based on these seven criteria:
- Art supply stores per capita
- Musical instruments stores and teachers per capita
- Galleries per capita
- Art schools per capita
- Bookstores per capita
- Colleges/universities per capita
- Theaters per capita
For those ready to delve deeper into the masterpiece that is the list, though, let’s move onto the first criteria: art supply stores.
Inspiration on Aisle SixThe first criteria I chose was the number of art supply stores per capita, because while you may be an artistic genius, you won’t get very far if you can’t find the supplies. (Yes, I’m looking at you, guy who paints with dye made from flowers and brushes made from your own hair—you still need a canvas.) Dayton, OH came in first in this criteria with 15 art supply stores for its population of just over 140,000, and tying for last place were several cities, like Miramar, FL and Port St. Lucie, FL. But maybe they’re just more musically inclined creative types in Florida… ?
That’s My JamI decided to include the number of music stores/music teachers per capita, in case music is more your creative jam, thinking that perhaps some cities with minimal art stores might make up for their flat out blandness with a hopping music scene. Turns out, I was wrong. Many of those cities that were low on art stores were also low in the music category— I’m looking at you Port St. Lucie.
On the other hand, places like Pasadena, CA and Salt Lake City, UT scored high in both. So if you think you’re seeing a pattern here, well, you’re right.
Galleries GaloreArt galleries per capita were looked at because I figured that a high number of these would be a really good indicator of lots of local creativity. Talent plus creation equals a need for art galleries. Coming in first in this category was Alexandria, VA with 66 galleries for its smaller population of just over 146,000, followed closely (again!) by Salt lake City, UT. On the other end of the color wheel, several cities like Elk Grove, CA, Port St. Lucie, FL, and Grand Prairie, TX had no notable galleries—so perhaps their rankings in the next category won’t be all that surprising…
Art SchoolsA major part of creativity is spotting patterns, but in this post I don’t think it will take a creative genius to see where this is heading. I decided to include art schools, because these places are hot beds for creative activities, not just for visual artists, but for actors, musicians, sculptors, etc. Here, again, many of the cities that have been striking out with art galleries, supply stores, and music stores, ranked at the bottom of the list when it came to number of art schools per capita, like Miramar, Grand Prairie, and Port St. Lucie.
But then there were those few cities that had more art schools than shades of green in a Prisma Color Premier Pencil Set (they had a lot.) Our winner in this category was Pasadena, CA, stealing the show with 21 art schools/classes, followed by Fullerton, CA, and Thousand Oaks, CA. In looking at the rankings, it really seems as though California does it right when it comes to art schools.
Non-Art SchoolsObviously, specialized art schools are not the only ones that harness and hone creativity, so I decided to include general colleges and universities per capita as well. Colleges and universities can be absolute breeding grounds for creative ideas—or other things, depending on where you go.
The city with the most colleges and universities per capita was Syracuse, NY, with 79 for its population of just over 144,000 residents, followed by Salt Lake City, UT, New Haven, CT, Richmond, VA, and Columbia, SC. The only three cities with zero colleges and universities—even with Yelp’s somewhat liberal definition—were Port St. Lucie, FL, West Valley, UT, and Cape Coral, FL. But who knows—maybe residents there find creative inspiration somewhere else?
You At Least Have to Have a Bookstore, Right?Actually, no. Shockingly to me, some of these mid-sized cities were barely able to list one or two decent bookstores—namely, Miramar, FL, Kansas City, KS, and Sterling Heights, MI. On the other end of the spectrum, though, were Pasadena, CA, Salt Lake City, UT, and Richmond, VA, with the highest number of bookstores per capita. I thought I’d include bookstores because even if you’re not creating something physical, musical, or even theatrical—well, you’re reading, and in this, you can create whole worlds.
Get Your Jazz Hands ReadyI chose this last criterion—the number of theaters/performing arts centers per capita—because creativity cannot always be measured in concrete artistic creations, in music, or on the hustle and bustle of campus. Sometimes you just have to express yourself Broadway style. Again, taking the lead here was Pasadena, CA with 69 theaters, closely followed by Dayton, OH and Salt Lake City, UT with 65 and 76 respectively.
I was happy to discover that nearly all of these mid-sized cities had at least a few theaters, but then, huddled down near the bottom of the list was old Port St. Lucie once again. Sorry guys, the Carmike doesn’t count.
The Final MasterpieceOnce everything was added and averaged, we ended up with our final masterpiece, the 10 Most Creative Mid-Sized Cities, with Salt Lake City, UT, in first place, due to its high number of, well, almost everything, and Port St. Lucie in last place with, well, almost nothing. But as one creative genius once put it, “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count, and everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”
But I don’t think Einstein had ever visited Florida.