Last week we covered the best small cities in the U.S. for artists looking for recognition and art funding. We pick up our series with moderately sized cities, that is, with a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) between 100,000 and 1 million people.  These areas offer a lovely balance of big city living and small town charm, for those of you looking for that Goldilocks option.

Santa Fe Railyard

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Population: 148,651


Santa Fe, New Mexico has long been a cultural powerhouse and haven for the arts community in the U.S. It is home to more artists than just about any other city in the nation and has one of the biggest art markets as well. There is a focus on First Nations art as well as traditional Spanish Colonial art. The visual arts are particularly strong here, with over 150 galleries. Canyon Road has the highest concentration of galleries in the city and is one of the main destinations for visitors including international art collectors, tourists, and locals. Santa Fe is home to three major visual arts markets each year: International Folk Art Market Santa Fe, Indian Market, and Spanish Market. Music and dance are also well represented by the Santa Fe Opera, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, the National Dance Institute of New Mexico, and many internationally recognized flamenco dancers such as Maria Benitez.

Meow Wolf was formed as an artist collective in 2008 and is the main feature of Santa Fe’s contemporary art scene. Backed by $50,000 from the City of Santa Fe, $100,000 from a crowdfunding campaign, and a $2.7 million dollar contribution from author George R. R. Martin (talk about art funding!), the Meow Wolf Art Complex was opened in March of 2016. Its main feature is the House of Eternal Return.

Cost of Living

Santa Fe is a relatively affordable place to live with an overall index score of 121, which is a bit higher than the national average of 100. Most of the cost of living scores are below or right at the national average but the housing market raises the score with the median home cost being $332,900. While this is not ideal, the thriving arts scene provides plenty of opportunities to live in Santa Fe while pursuing a passion for the arts.

Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Population: 126,903


This statistical area is best referred to as the Berkshires, with Pittsfield being the largest city and county seat of Berkshire County. It is home to a world-class arts scene including art, theater, dance, music, film, and historic sites. Berkshire Theatre Group, Jacob’s Pillow, the Norman Rockwell Museum, Barrington Stage, Aston Magna Festival, Berkshire Music School, Williamstown Theatre Festival, and Tanglewood are just some of the assets in this arts scene. Tanglewood is the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, while Pittsfield is the home of the Colonial Theatre which dates back to 1903 and is one of the few remaining theatres from the Vaudeville age. Pittsfield was also where author Herman Melville lived during the most productive portion of his life and is where he penned Moby Dick.

Pittsfield’s Upstreet Cultural District is a hotbed for the creative community and hosts the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts. This is a community arts center that contains galleries, performance areas, workshops, studios, and a darkroom. Much of the arts community is based out of this area of town and it keeps the arts very much alive in the city.

Cost of Living

Pittsfield comes in at a considerably cheaper price point when compared to Santa Fe. All but two index scores are below the national average and the median home cost is a manageable $158,000. This is 52% cheaper than Santa Fe and makes Pittsfield a great option if you’re looking for more affordable but still a good population size.

Gene Leahy Mall in Omaha, NE. Photo by John Matychuk on UnsplashJ

Omaha-Council Bluffs, Nebraska-Iowa

Population: 924,129


The Omaha-Council Bluffs area is substantially larger than both Santa Fe and Pittsfield coming in just shy of 1 million in population. It is on the larger side of our Medium Metropolitan areas and has a growing arts scene. The community wide support of the arts puts this area among the top 4% in terms of Arts Dollars. The Omaha Community Playhouse is the largest community theater in the country. The performing arts community is strong and includes assets such as he Omaha Symphony Orchestra and its modern Holland Performing Arts Center, the Polina and Bob Schlott Performing Arts Center, the Opera Omaha at the Orpheum theater, the Blue Barn Theatre, and The Rose Theater. Other arts organizations include Joslyn Art Museum and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.

Council Bluffs, in particular, boasts a thriving arts scene concentrated in the South Main district. Pottawattamie Arts, Culture and Entertainment (PACE) raised an impressive amount of art funding with over $27 million to build the new Hoff Family Arts and Culture Center that will be home to the Chanticleer Theater, Kanesville Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Nebraska, and the Kitchen Council. This area also ranks in the top 4% in terms of Government Support.

Cost of Living

Omaha-Council Bluffs is comparable to the Pittsfield area in terms of cost of living. Both are considerably cheaper than Santa Fe, with Omaha-Council Bluffs being substantially larger in terms of population. The median home cost is $163,400 and all but one index score is below the national average in cost of living terms.

We’re pretty keen on these options, but if Santa Fe, Pittsfield, and Omaha-Council Bluffs still feel too homegrown for you, be sure to check back next week as we conclude our series with Mega Metropolitan cities that you can get jazzed about!

Check out Part 1 and Part 3 of this series as well!

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