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The Most Creative Mid-Sized Cities in America

Published: 11/07/2013
By Natalie Grigson, MOVOTO Blog --

As a writer, painter, and general resident of my right brain, I have been very fortunate in my life to live in two very creative cities: Austin and San Francisco. These two are consistently ranked among the tops when it comes to getting those inventive juices flowing, from their art scenes to their number of startups. These cities just buzz with that imaginative energy—something, until recently, I had only found in larger cities.

But then last week I paid a visit to a smaller city near San Francisco. Now perhaps it was the near lethal amount of caffeine I consumed at the quaint little coffee shop there, but almost as soon as arriving, I felt that creative, inspired energy just coursing through my veins. Surrounded by bookstores, art galleries, theaters, and craft stores, I sat down and wrote until the sun went down. I wrote until they closed the coffee shop. And then on my way home, I marveled at the inspirational city around me. The inspirational smaller city.

It got me wondering: If this little gem has been sitting right in front of my nose here in the Bay Area, how many other creative mid-sized cities are out there?

When I got home, still buzzing from my latte or perhaps the city itself, I sat down and paid a rare visit to my left brain—I did some research. Turns out, those larger cities out there have some competition when it comes to cultivating creativity. Here are Movoto Real Estate‘s top 10 most creative mid-sized cities in the US:

1. Salt Lake City, UT
2. Pasadena, CA
3. Richmond, VA
4. Dayton, OH
5. Torrance, CA
6. Fort Collins, CO
7. Columbia, SC
8. Eugene, OR
9. Knoxville, TN
10. Tempe, AZ

How did Salt Lake City beat out Savannah, you ask? How did Eugene make the cut and Waco didn’t? Okay—so maybe nobody is wondering that, but for those who are interested in how I came up with this list, put on your creative caps and keep reading.

Getting Creative

Just like our other Big Deal Lists, in order to come up with this ranking, I needed some serious creative inspiration—in this case, seven criteria. Saying goodbye to creative license and hello to sheer logic and math, I looked at the 100 second most populous cities in the US (mid-sized cities) based on these seven criteria:

  • Art supply stores per capita
  • Musical instruments stores and teachers per capita
  • Galleries per capita
  • Art schools per capita
  • Bookstores per capita
  • Colleges/universities per capita
  • Theaters per capita

I used the crowd-sourced review site, Yelp, to find the information for each criteria, which was then ranked from 1 to 100, with 1 being the best and 100 being the worst for America’s creative types. These results were then shredded into confetti, painted gold, splashed onto a canvas like a Jackson Pollock painting, performed as an interpretive dance, sung as a song, and voila—we had an average Big Deal Score for each city. The lower the score, the better. For a more literal explanation of how we come up with our Big Deal Lists, check out this page.

For those ready to delve deeper into the masterpiece that is the list, though, let’s move onto the first criteria: art supply stores.

Inspiration on Aisle Six

The Most Creative Mid-Sized Cities in America

Source: Flickr user cambodia4kidsorg

The first criteria I chose was the number of art supply stores per capita, because while you may be an artistic genius, you won’t get very far if you can’t find the supplies. (Yes, I’m looking at you, guy who paints with dye made from flowers and brushes made from your own hair—you still need a canvas.) Dayton, OH came in first in this criteria with 15 art supply stores for its population of just over 140,000, and tying for last place were several cities, like Miramar, FL and Port St. Lucie, FL. But maybe they’re just more musically inclined creative types in Florida… ?

That’s My Jam

I decided to include the number of music stores/music teachers per capita, in case music is more your creative jam, thinking that perhaps some cities with minimal art stores might make up for their flat out blandness with a hopping music scene. Turns out, I was wrong. Many of those cities that were low on art stores were also low in the music category— I’m looking at you Port St. Lucie.

On the other hand, places like Pasadena, CA and Salt Lake City, UT scored high in both. So if you think you’re seeing a pattern here, well, you’re right.

Galleries Galore

Art galleries per capita were looked at because I figured that a high number of these would be a really good indicator of lots of local creativity. Talent plus creation equals a need for art galleries. Coming in first in this category was Alexandria, VA with 66 galleries for its smaller population of just over 146,000, followed closely (again!) by Salt lake City, UT. On the other end of the color wheel, several cities like Elk Grove, CA, Port St. Lucie, FL, and Grand Prairie, TX had no notable galleries—so perhaps their rankings in the next category won’t be all that surprising…