Just graduated? Starting a business? Look no further. New York may have a tight grip on the art world at large, but for young working artists – many of whom are still paying off student loans — three thousand dollars a month for rent is strictly out of budget. So creatives in the US have begun to flock to more affordable cities that pack a similar inspirational punch. Some studies argue that the big apple gets its competitive edge from the countless creatives who fill the streets, but as the city becomes less economically practical that artistic influence is spreading elsewhere. Dispersed across the country, these urban centers motivate and employ thousands of young artists who leave their imaginative mark on every street. With both a stable income and inspiration at every corner, these 5 mini-metropolises offer boundless opportunities for working artists — minus the exorbitant expense of The Empire City.
Located at the heart of America’s Lone Star State, this city lives by an unofficial code: “Keep Austin Weird.” The state capital imbues a Southern dedication to independence and unique local businesses like coffee shops, restaurants, galleries, and more than 1000 food trucks. Despite a rapidly changing culture, the “Live Music Capital of the World” sustains a strong hipster population and has seen impressive job growth in the creative field – as much as 40% — over the past twelve years. Aware of the benefits a thriving artistic culture can have on the economy, Austin “appreciates creativity and culture in a variety of evolving forms, which serves to both attract and retain talented people.” Plus, you can’t get better Mexican food anywhere else.
Tennessee’s capital is known as the “home of country music,” a popular spot for artists as a major recording and production center. Forbes ranked it fifth as one of the Best Places for Business and Careers in 2013 due to low costs and impressive annual growth. And it’s a smart choice for visual artists, too; with 9% job growth in the past twelve years, there are plenty of opportunities that come with less economic risk than those in pricier cities. Home to twenty-four colleges (including Vanderbilt University) Nashville has earned a nickname as the “Athens of the South” with a flourishing community that fosters a strong foodie culture, theater scene, and even a ballet company. Despite Tennessee’s staunchly conservative base, the town has held an overwhelmingly liberal majority since Reconstruction that welcomes artists and nurtures a particular lifestyle that’s suited to young creatives just getting their feet off the ground.
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans has a lot more to offer than a fabulous Mardi Gras parade, dirty rice, and world-famous jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong and Frank Ocean. In the years since Hurricane Katrina, public art has become widespread and rampant in “The Big Easy.” The well-loved streets are covered in public art and graffiti, including several by Banksy himself. From the boutique and antique shops that line Magazine Street to the infamous nightlife in the French Quarter, it has wide appeal for recent grads with a distinct Southern charm. Travel+Leisure ranked it second for its open acceptance of different lifestyles and gay friendliness in their 2009 poll of “America’s Favorite Cities,” a fact that may appeal to young creatives in search of common ground. It’s bike friendly, too; the 3,000 mile long Mississippi River Trail that stretches all the way from NOLA’s Audubon Park to Minnesota makes it easy for recent grads to get around town on a budget. And there’s an impressive platform for independent art as the city’s bustling galleries host endless events like Second Saturdays and Dirty Linen Night. Not to mention the world-famous Creole cuisine that gives the city its unmistakable Louisiana flavor.
Since the city’s economic decline, Detroit seems like little more than a post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland to a large part of the country. Once a thriving center for American automobile production and the birthplace of Motown, the name is now synonymous with crippling poverty, unemployment, and “white flight.” But Detroit’s rock bottom prices may be a major selling point for young creatives; with an average monthly rental rate of $800 for a three-bedroom single-family home alongside growing numbers of artistic opportunities and incentives, it’s become a smart economic choice. Not to mention the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) Is home to one of the most impressive collections of art — including a multi-story mural by Mexican painter Diego Rivera — in all of the United States that continues to draw a record number of visitors every year. Local music producer Mike Seger describes the changing culture as “the uprising of youth being able to have the opportunities to make a future for themselves.”
Providence, Rhode Island
The self-proclaimed “Creative Capital,” Providence is a little-known haven for the artistic community. Founded in 1636 by Roger Williams as a religious refuge during a time of mass persecution, the small New England town has always been somewhat of an anomaly; one of the first American cities to industrialize and home to world-class institutions like Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), few places pack so much into such a small footprint. In fact, Providence has the most coffee shops per capita of any US city, offering a plethora of meeting places for creative populace to share a cup and exchange ideas. Boundless inspiration awaits, from historic architecture, and the exhaustive art collection at the RISD Museum to the delectable food scene and countless artist-run boutiques and antique stores. And its advantageous location on the East Coast – right between Boston and New York – will keep you conveniently close to the beating heart of the art world.