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The Most Creative Small Towns in America

In America, cities like Boston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Austin, with their fine art museums, galleries, and creative enclaves, have attracted travelers drawn to the arts. But artistic communities have erupted in less populated cities around the country in recent decades, and travelers are adding these destinations to their travel plans. Art hubs are revitalizing small-town neighborhoods across the U.S., with the help of local groups who are converting abandoned strip malls and dilapidated buildings into thriving art communities.

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01 Marfa, Texas

A man checking out the Prada Marfa store near Valentine, TX Jonathan Percy / Shutterstock.com

Nestled between Big Bend National Park and the Davis Mountains in far West Texas, Marfa has been a beacon for artistic expression since the 1970s. Musicians and visual artists have worked side-by-side for decades to create a mecca for creative-minded individuals. Despite its small population of under 2000 residents, visitors from around the globe come here to explore the town’s museums, galleries, movie screenings, and festivals. The Marfa Lights Festival is its most popular celebration, highlighting the mysterious, sourceless lights that have been appearing east of town since the 19th century.

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02 Taos, New Mexico

Some say it’s the vast, majestic landscape that has drawn artists to this small, rustic town in the north-central part of the state since the late 1800s. Others say it is the enchanting natural light and mystical quality of the area that inspires creativity. Early Hispanic settlers and the Taos Pueblo community were creating artisan crafts long before Georgia O’Keeffe, Ansel Adams, and thousands of other creatives found their way here. Museums and galleries welcome visitors, and artist’s studios are sprinkled throughout the town and nearby mountains.

03 Jackson Hole, Wyoming

The first thing visitors notice when they arrive in Jackson Hole is the nod to cowboy culture and Western lore. But this town of around 11,000 residents also has a vibrant arts community, with 25 galleries housing the works of celebrated wildlife, landscape, Indigenous, and contemporary artists, sculptors, woodcarvers, and photographers. Many artists live and work here, and artworks line the walls of local eateries, businesses, and government structures. There are more than 20 public art installations to explore here, as well.

04 Berea, Kentucky

Art communities are sometimes tucked away in unfamiliar locales. Berea, in western Kentucky, is home to hundreds of artists who have carved out one of the most interesting and unique art communities in the country. Arts and crafts shops, antique stores, and galleries sit against the majestic views of nearby mountains. Public art, including sculptures of mythical beasts, magnificent fountains, and stained glass works, decorate the city’s streets. The Berea Craft Festival brings together creators and art lovers alike to browse the huge selection of handcrafted furniture, glassworks, paintings, ceramics, and jewelry.

05 Montpelier, Vermont

With a population of just under 8000, Montpelier is the smallest capital city in the country. Generations of artists have found a home here, creating a hub for all types of creative endeavors. You’ll find one-of-a-kind artisan shops, galleries, and art exhibitions in the downtown area. Two cinemas show independent, foreign, and art films as well as the latest blockbusters. For the past 23 years, Montpelier has hosted the annual Green Mountain Film Festival featuring screenings and attracting film creators and fans from all over the country.

06 Sag Harbor, New York

For the past 200 years, Sag Harbor, on eastern Long Island, has been a fishing village. But in more recent times, Sag Harbor established itself as a flourishing art community as well that continues to grow. The Church, an artist residency, exhibition space, and public garden in the center of Sag Harbor, opened in 2020. Historical centers, art galleries, and artisan shops draw in art lovers from all over. The John Steinbeck Waterfront Park, named for the famous writer who lived here for the last 16 years of his life, serves as the picturesque gateway to this artistic village community.

07 Ojai, California

Around 8,000 people live in Ojai, a small, tranquil community in Ventura County, just two hours northwest of Los Angeles. It’s an eclectic town with a well-established and thriving art community that has provided an oasis for talented, creative people. Ojai is home to art exhibitions, galleries, boutique shops, and independent design studios. The breathtaking views of the surrounding Topatopa, Sierra Madre, and Sulphur Mountains, as well as the nearby scenic orchards, add to the area’s charm.

08 Delray Beach, Florida

This city of around 70,000 residents sits between Boca Raton and West Palm Beach on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. In the mid-1920s, creatives established the seasonal Artists and Writers Colony here, and it became a haven for painters, authors, cartoonists, and other creatives, as well as politicians, aristocrats, entertainers, and sports figures. Today, the legacy continues with revitalized neighborhoods like Artists Alley and Pineapple Grove, where you’ll find trendy eateries, galleries, and art studios.

09 Manitou Springs, Colorado

Drive along Manitou Avenue in this quaint Colorado town in the Pikes Peak region, and you’ll see an outdoor gallery featuring a collection of extraordinary sculptures along both sides of the road. The local arts council rotates the display periodically, featuring different artists and providing opportunities for them to sell their work. Explore the many local shops featuring all kinds of handcrafted items and artworks, from molten glass pieces to pottery, wearables, and jewelry. While you’re there, check out the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, home to the ancient Anasazi people.

10 Red Bank, New Jersey

Touted as a hub for both the commercial and nonprofit art scenes, some locals call Red Bank the “Soho of New Jersey.” Just under 12,000 people live here, but the art scene rivals those of much larger cities. The Count Basie Theatre has been hosting an array of music, cultural, and theatrical events since 1926. Support for local artists, playwrights, and writers has a long history here, as well. The city’s art galleries feature works from well-known international artists as well as hometown art creators. Red Bank sits along the banks of the Navesink River, an area filled with natural beauty.

11 Yellow Springs, Ohio

Live theater groups, chamber music performances, a summer Shakespeare series, and a theater featuring first-run art films are just a few of the reasons why Yellow Springs earned its art community status. Despite its small population of under 4000 people, the town has established a thriving creative arts scene, with street fairs, galleries, and public art classes. In the downtown area, people dine in outdoor cafes, buskers perform along the sidewalks, and charming shops welcome visitors to view their wares.

12 Madeline Island, Wisconsin

To get to this lovely arts hub, you’ll need to take a ferry boat ride across Lake Superior. Madeline Island is the largest of the 22 Apostle Islands in northern Wisconsin, and it has a 300-year tradition connected to artistic pursuits. The island is home to one of the top arts and crafts schools in the country, where students receive instruction in studio painting, fiber arts, quilting, writing, photography, and more. Artisan shops and galleries feature the work of local artists and craftspeople.

13 Lawrence, Kansas

People visiting Lawrence, with its population of 100,000, might not expect the vast availability of art they encounter as they explore the city. No matter where you look, you’ll see evidence of a booming yet deep-seated art scene. This was the home of William S. Burroughs, the famous visual artist and Beat Generation author who wrote “Naked Lunch.” In 2010, the city initiated the Final Fridays Art Walk that includes performance and cultural events throughout the downtown and warehouse districts.

14 Moscow, Idaho

The local art scene in Moscow centers itself around its growing public art collection. From abstract metal structures to vinyl-wrapped traffic signal boxes, contemporary art is on display all over the city. Home to around 27,000 people, the community decided decades ago to use art to bring joy to its residents and establish a sense of community pride. The local government works with the artistic community to promote creative endeavors of all types, from musical performances to gallery exhibitions and art competitions.

15 Sisters, Oregon

Sitting at the foot of the Cascade Mountains in central Oregon, the artistic community of Sisters is home to the world’s largest and most famous quilt exhibition, the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show. For the past 46 years, quilters, craft guilds, hobbyists, and fans have gathered together in Sisters to view more than 1300 magnificent handmade quilts and compete with other artisans. Insiders advise visitors to arrive early enough to see the hanging and taking down of the quilts on show day. Local firefighters and a crew of 400-plus volunteers perform this massive undertaking.

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