Major cities get all the love. Regularly featured in travel guides, these destinations have the clout and financial resources to invest in topnotch art galleries and museums. What do you do though if you’ve already been to the Getty in LA or the MET in NYC? What about those communities where local arts thrive? Where a sense of community blends with artistic inspiration to create new and exciting designs. We’ve looked across America specifically for smaller cities and towns where art is a way of life. If you want to experience the best American art has to offer, these are the places you want to visit. In no particular order, these are the most artistic mid-sized US cities.
- 1. Edmond, Oklahoma
- 2. Ann Arbor, Michigan
- 3. Beacon, New York
- 4. Spring Green, Wisconsin
- 5. Oxford, Mississippi
- 6. Boulder,Colorado
- 7. Ojai, California
- 8. Des Moines, Iowa
- 9. Quincy, Illinois
- 10. Cambridge, Massachusetts
- 11. Saugatuck, Michigan
- 12. Berkeley, California
- 13. Lafayette, Louisiana
- 14. Minot, North Dakota
- 15. Santa Fe, New Mexico
- 16. Savannah, Georgia
1. Edmond, Oklahoma
Edmond is a suburban community located just north of Oklahoma City and features a lovely concentration of public arts projects. These include the Edmond Fine Arts Institute. Offering a range of classes, camps, and performances, the institute is dedicated to promoting creative expression in Edmond. Be sure you visit the Conservatory for Classical Art where you can enjoy numerous workshops and tour active studio spaces. Edmond’s Armstrong Auditorium stages a wide range of theatrical and music performances. Check the marquee at Upstage Theatre where you’re sure to find something innovative on offer. Edmond is a welcoming community for artists and they’ve responded by helping make this one of the most artistic mid-sized cities in America.
2. Ann Arbor, Michigan
Ann Arbor is arguably the quintessential Midwestern university town. Dominated by the University of Michigan, there has long been a vibrant artistic community both on and off campus. Start on the “Diag” and head over to the University of Michigan’s Museum of Art. Across University Avenue is the law school with its ornate architecture. Stroll through the Law Quadrangle before working your way downtown. Numerous galleries and print studios are scattered between campus and Main Street. This is a good place to just explore and see what you can find. Be on the lookout for Ann Arbor’s innovative street art, which includes large outdoor murals and creative storefronts. In summer, the Ann Arbor Art Fair attracts visitors from around world. It’s the major event on the city’s arts calendar and one you don’t want to miss. We know you’ll agree this is indeed a very creative town!
3. Beacon, New York
Set along the Hudson River off Interstate 84 is Beacon. Do yourself a favor a make a pit stop here if you’re on your way to New York City or Connecticut. Find Dia:Beacon, a sprawling art museum / studio space housed in a former factory. Specializing in modern and contemporary art, Dia:Beacon regularly features up and coming artists. Large installations make use of the space to explore natural and artificial lighting effects. Afterwards hit up the many galleries along Main Street including Catalyst, Morphicism, and the Eat. Paint. Love. Studio. Beacon has a Metro North connection so you can easily wander down into New York City or north to Poughkeepsie. If you ask us, Beacon is absolutely one of the most artistic mid-size cities anywhere in America.
4. Spring Green, Wisconsin
Roughly an hour west of Madison is Spring Green. This tiny town packs a huge artistic punch. Best known for its entertaining theater festivals, Spring Green is home to the American Players Theatre. Staging everything from Shakespeare to contemporary drama, the American Players Theatre has been a Spring Green staple for going on 40 years. In the fall, the city hosts an art tour that combines gallery visits with fall foliage viewing. Visit the Wyoming Valley School, which was designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright lived in the area for a time and his legacy is still apparent. This helps make Spring Green one of the most artistic towns in the US.
5. Oxford, Mississippi
Home to the University of Mississippi’s main campus, Oxford has a long history and vibrant artistic scene. Explore the pivotal events from the summer of 1962 when James Meredith attempted to enroll as the first African American student at Ole Miss. Visit the university’s galleries and exhibitions during the monthly Oxford Arts Crawl. The Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts stages well-known Broadway productions in addition to concerts, ballets, and other performing arts events. If you can, plan to come during the annual Double Decker Art Fest. Enjoy the city in full glory as artists, vendors, and musicians come from all over to entertain. As a Southern city with great culture, Oxford is a great road trip destination for any art lover.
As the smaller cousin to nearby Denver, people find in Boulder a sense of community and belonging. Grab yourself a cup of excellent coffee and head out to explore the arts scene. Boulder’s Museum of Contemporary Art showcases talent from around the region. In the downtown area, there are a host of galleries to explore. Once you’ve enjoyed the visual feast on offer, grab a table at one of the many local restaurants where chefs eagerly serve up exciting dishes. Consider timing your visit to coincide with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, where you can enjoy modern interpretations of The Bard’s masterpieces. The Boulder International Film Festival and the Jaipur Literary Festival both offer wonderful chances to explore film and literature from around the world. Come discover what makes Boulder such a great place for the arts.
7. Ojai, California
Northwest of Los Angeles is the small enclave of Ojai. Set near Los Padres National Forest, this fantastic town blends nature and artistic expression. Start with a visit to Ojai Valley Museum where you can explore the area’s rich artistic history. Time your visit to enjoy the Ojai Storytelling Festival or the Ojai Music Festival. These wonderful events feature innovative works that are sure to inspire you. Ojai has a number of great gallery spaces, perfect for a quick look at numerous featured artists. Finally, check the local events calendar for poetry slams, spoken word festivals, or book readings. This fantastic California town is an oasis for art lovers.
8. Des Moines, Iowa
Oft derided as “fly-over country,” Iowa is far more than the popular image of Field of Dreams-style cornrows. Downtown Des Moines is a great for walking. The confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers give the city lots of riverside parkways. While you’re taking in the Meredith Trail, stop off at the Heritage Art Gallery. Afterwards head over to the west side of town where you will find the Des Moines Art Center. Their collection features prominent works by Georgia O’Keefe, Edward Hopper, and others. Nearby Salisbury House and Gardens features a lovely gallery set in a 1920s stone mansion. You can also enjoy the botanical garden and concert venue. In the evening, return downtown and grab tickets for a performance at Temple Theatre. Art aficionados who delight in Midwestern charm will be beside themselves in Des Moines.
Drawing nourishment from the Mississippi River flowing past, Quincy is a town where the arts blossom. Drop in for a visit at Quincy Museum and see the fascinating collection housed in this Richardsonian Romanesque mansion. From there, a walk along Maine Street will take you past Quincy Art Center, the city’s primary exhibition space, resource center, and educational establishment. A bit further is the Downtown Quincy Historic District. Check ahead for information on the Blues in the District concert series. Another great event is QFest where you can explore all things creative in Quincy. Finally, pay a visit to Villa Kathrine and take a walk along the Mississippi for a truly pleasant afternoon.
10. Cambridge, Massachusetts
Cambridge is home to a vibrant arts scene. Both Harvard and MIT regularly feature new and innovative artistic works. Stop by the Harvard Art Museums or simply tour campus and stroll through Harvard Yard. Sanders Theatre is well worth a visit for its architectural beauty. The relatively new Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African and African American Art is also a must-see. Here you will find multifaceted programs that augment the visual works on display. Engage with scholars, art historians, and artists through a series of exhibitions, performances, and workshops. Lively conversation is found in the numerous small galleries and cafes sprinkled around town. When you’re in Cambridge the arts are always close by.
11. Saugatuck, Michigan
Nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan, Saugatuck is a fantastic summer arts town. Scenic streets feature numerous galleries where you can discover local and regional artists. Neighboring Douglas, Michigan lies just across Kalamazoo Lake and is itself a magnet for artists. Visit Ox-Bow, an artists’ residency that maintains affiliation with the Art Institute of Chicago. Saugatuck Center for the Arts has a performance space regularly featuring dramas, musicals, and other creative workshops. Those interested in a more hands-on experience should venture over to the Express Yourself Art Barn. Finally, don’t forget to enjoy Saugatuck’s natural beauty. We recommend a trip out to Lake Michigan for a beautiful sunset.
12. Berkeley, California
Berkeley’s reputation is forever suffused with 1960s radicalism. This was a time when artists flocked to Berkeley and neighboring San Francisco eager to challenge existing conventions and forge new ground in turbulent times. Though the “Days of Rage” may have subsided, Berkeley has managed to retain the sense of dynamism. The UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive produces shows, offers lectures and tours, and screens independent and arthouse cinema. Likewise, Berkeley Art Center is a multiuse institution combining music performances, art exhibitions, and literary events. Classical music lovers will enjoy attending the Berkeley Symphony, which makes a point to bring the genre to a broader audience. Finally, the California Jazz Conservatory is where you will find brilliant and creative minds exploring the boundaries of the music.
13. Lafayette, Louisiana
Located approximately two hours west of New Orleans is Lafayette. The Creole and Cajun cultures that infuse this part of the United States are on full display. Stoll around and there’s a good chance you will bump into an outdoor jazz band or a group of street musicians working up intoxicating melodies. Start downtown near Lafayette Science Museum. Find a good café or enjoy a bite to eat before making your way around the Downtown Lafayette Cultural District. Try to visit during ArtWalk, held each month on the second Saturday. Art galleries and studio spaces open to the public. There is also plenty of visual arts on display in addition to film screenings, musical performances, screenwriting workshops, and more. Lafayette hosts the annual Festival International de Louisiane, reputed to be the largest international music festival in the United States. It’s an amazing event and a true testament to the artistic spirit on display in this part of Louisiana.
14. Minot, North Dakota
North Dakota is undergoing a renaissance thanks to the discovery of massive oil and natural gas reserves locked deep inside the Bakken shale formation. Money and resources have flooded into the state and allowed artistic enterprises to bloom. Organizations like the Minot Area Council for the Arts work to expand public access and culture offerings. Their efforts include a summer concert series, sponsoring street art, and helping create long term art spaces. Be sure to visit the exhibits at Minot State University and the Taube Museum of Art. Finally, Minot has a lovely municipal orchestra, practically unheard of in a town this size. If you’re venturing to the Northern Plains, consider stopping in Minot, one of the most artistic mid-sized cities anywhere in the US.
15. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe was the home of renowned American painter Georgia O'Keeffe. She immortalized the stunning landscapes in the Desert Southwest over her long career. Pay a visit to the Georgia O’Keeffe museum before exploring the nearby Manitou Galleries and the New Mexico Museum of Art. Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery, located on West San Francisco Street, displays a range of amazing works available for purchase. The Gib Singleton Museum of Fine Art showcases works focused on the American West alongside rotating exhibitions dedicated to modern art. Nearly a dozen additional small galleries and spaces are set throughout town as well. No matter how you slice it, Santa Fe is a city for the arts.
16. Savannah, Georgia
Atlanta may get an outsized share of attention, but coastal Savannah should not be underestimated. A broad range of artistic styles and tastes are on display. Begin your tour in Forsyth Park where the dense summertime canopy makes for a thoroughly romantic setting. Near the northeast corner of the park is Savannah College of Art and Design. The galleries there are filled with works by talented students pushing the boundaries of various aesthetic forms and trying to make a name for themselves. Visit the nearby Mercer Williams House Museum to see the mansion vividly portrayed in John Berendt’s bestseller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Work your way towards the river and the Savannah City Market. Often described as the Savannah’s “art and soul,” the galleries here are a must-see. Finally, allow yourself some time to explore this most Southern of towns and draw in its wonderful artistic sensibilities.
America’s small towns are eminently creative places. Strong community investment has helped the cities profiled here create world-class venues and places for artistic expression. When coupled with small town sensibilities and beautiful natural scenery, these places make absolutely unbeatable vacation destinations. Why spend the time and energy fighting crowds at the major museums in Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles when you can adopt a more leisurely pace and enjoy the arts as you see fit? It’s hard to go wrong in any of the towns we’ve detailed above. These are without a doubt the most artistic mid-sized cities in the United States.