Choosing a town to call home is not always easy, and requires figuring out exactly what you value. For creatives and aspiring artisans, there are certain features that make some towns a better fit than others. To be included on this list, towns needed to have an abundance of art galleries, at least one museum, and an organization (e.g., council, committee, etc.) actively working to support the arts. Additionally, these cities are places to which some artists are relocating and starting businesses, but they haven’t reached a saturation point where creatives are priced out. Additionally, they meet the following criteria:
Population: Less Than 500,000
These geographic regions have a population between 25,000 and 500,000. Because we were looking specifically for towns, many of the locations have populations of 100,000 people or less.
Cost of Living: Less Than 100 Percent
The cost of living for every town on this list is indexed at lower than 100 percent of national averages. Although there are many wonderful towns offering lively art scenes all across the United States, we hand-curated a list that gives you artsy, relatively affordable options from coast to coast. As you read, you’ll find cities listed in order of cost-of-living from lowest to highest. Additionally, we’ve included the lowest cost-of-living component for each town (i.e. housing, utilities, transportation, etc).
Joplin, Missouri’s commitment to artisan festivals and museums makes this an incredibly special town. Happening each year in the downtown area of Joplin, the Joplin Arts Festival focuses on fine artists and performing artists, showcasing the variety of resources available for artists in the town. The festival is sponsored by the Joplin Regional Artists Coalition, Connect2Culture, and Spiva Center for the Arts. Furthermore, the Joplin Museum Complex offers affordable admission for individuals and families to various museums in the town, as well as ongoing events and a variety of displays, ranging from cookie cutters to circus exhibits to fire trucks.
Although this town is in Texas—not France—Paris still has an Eiffel Tower. This town’s Eiffel Tower boasts a huge cowboy hat as a cultural complement. The structure, built by a local iron workers union (i.e., creative iron-worker types), is 70 feet tall. Aspiring artists in Paris also can visit the Valley of the Caddo Museum & Cultural Center, a non-profit organization that is volunteer-run and offers exhibits and workshops for people of all ages. Furthermore, the Paris Farmers and Artisans Market operates May through October every year and draws in more than 35 vendors, including those working in varied mediums such as jewelry and organic bath products. Artists wishing to display their paintings, furniture, ceramics, and more can strive to display their art at The Plaza Gallery, located in the Paris Town Square.
Jazz concerts and art exhibits can provide business and outreach outlets for inspiring artisans in the birthplace of blues legend Ray Charles. Artists looking for connections can stop by the Albany Museum of Art, which hosts exhibits that include quilts by African-American makers, sculptures by University of Georgia graduates, and a juried photography show from local photographers. Classes, tours, and events are ongoing at the museum. Artists can also share their skills by displaying work in local art galleries. Albany is home to the Woods Gallery, the Plantation Gallery, and the Renaissance Cultural Arts Gallery, among many others, allowing lovers of art to see pieces in glass and oils, peruse limited editions or display other, contemporary works.
Cleveland can be a fantastic home to anyone interested in the arts. In fact, this town was so desperate for a museum in the early 1990s that a task force was created to look into the feasibility of adding one. About seven years later, the Museum Center at 5ive Points (yes, you read that right) was opened, providing space for permanent and traveling exhibits as well as art activities, events, and featured artist series. The Museum Center store sells artwork of people living within 200 miles, and its Cultural Center offers in-house events. Bradley County, where Cleveland is located, is also part of the Tennessee Craft – Southeast Chapter, which features regular meetings, art exhibitions, and even tours of artist studios and lofts.
Carlsbad could be right for any artisan interested in crafts, food, painting, or chalk art. This town is located in the south of New Mexico, close to the border of Texas, and the relatively warm climate allows for a downtown farmers market throughout the summer months. Local artisans and foodies have the chance to sell their crafts, wares, and artisanal culinary creations each summer at this market, accompanied by performances of local musicians. The downtown corridor of Carlsbad also provides access to the Carlsbad Museum & Art Center, many local art galleries, and the Halagueno Arts Park.
Located in the heart of central Washington, Yakima offers plenty of opportunities for artisans and creative types. The Larson Art Gallery is just one of many sites dedicated to preserving the art and work of the broader Yakima Valley. The Cellar Gallery, hosting work by local artists, features built-in bench seating and cellar-like walls. For those interested in starting a new or cutting-edge creative business, the town’s Incubator could be a resource for launching a locally-grown art business. Business-2-Business incentives also may be available for those looking to set up shop in Yakima.
Harrisonburg is a town located within the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. The Forbes Center for the Performing Arts makes it home there, and has five distinct venues at its location on the campus of James Madison University. Artists also can find outlets through various galleries, museums, and the town’s public arts work program. Harrisonburg’s “LOVEWorks” display is a celebration of all that is unique about the town. The Arts Council of the Valley has provided artisan support since its formation in 2000. The council even offers grants for artists and art educators, and has a performance arts space and exhibition space available, as well. The valley’s Small Business Development Center may be helpful to any artist trying to launch a new business or interested in business plans, marketing strategies, or financial projections.
Grand Junction supports aspiring artisans in many different ways. During First Fridays in Grand Junction, art galleries and art venues stay open later to expand access to those who can’t appreciate art during regular gallery hours. Receptions to kick off each Friday are held at the Art Center in Grand Junction, featuring work from local artists. Ceramic artist Terry Shepherd is just one local artisan who has found an outlet for his work in Grand Junction. Local work from oil painters and photographers is available as well. Artisans interested in opening a gallery or shop may want to check in with the Grand Junction Economic Partnership—an organization providing local tax credits and cash incentives to people who qualify.
Wilmington features a mile-long Riverwalk and a World War II era battleship that has been turned into a museum. The town is home to many certified art-friendly businesses, including shops, restaurants, services, and more. Certified businesses have shown evidence of their support for the arts community and adhere to specific art-friendly values. The Arts in Wilmington Awards also are given out yearly to an artist, government, business, organization, and individual, showcasing further support for art in this town. Taking place in Wilmington’s lovely downtown, the Cucalorus Festival provides an outlet for aspiring filmmakers to submit and show accepted work in categories including documentary, narrative, and shorts. The Cameron Art Museum provides artists opportunities connect through events, participate in various programs, and network through exhibitions.
The Minot Council of the Arts is a solid indicator of the support available for artisans in this town. Events, programs, and member spotlights help artists to network and engage others in what they create. The Heritage Singers Variety Show is a prominent choral group that has been performing at various venues for more than 40 years. Artists and creative types also might be interested in the Minot Artspace Lofts, the newest building to be erected in the downtown area slotted to provide 34 units of living and work space. A children’s music academy and an artist-run cooperative gallery will also be located within the building.
Details on population for this list came from the U.S. Census Bureau. Information about cost of living and its various components (housing, transportation, utilities etc.), were based on the ACCRA Cost of Living Index (sourced from InfoPlease).