Art is standing with one hand extended into the universe and one hand extended into the world, and letting ourselves be a conduit for passing energy. – Albert Einstein
Art is meant to challenge, inspire, question, and surprise. These towns stand out for embracing art in unique and fresh ways. This is not a list of the obvious. We know groundbreaking work happens in NYC, and that San Francisco's history is littered with non-conformist creators. This list is to celebrate the underrated places and artists that well deserve to be appreciated in our time.
Creators in these places are making a splash now that will last long into the future. Many practice sustainability—helping our resources last—and all provide a unique point of view. The public installations, sculpture, fine art, street art, and more to be found in these unique towns show us how the best things are truly Made to Keep.
1. Wichita, Kansas
Wichita isn't nearly as braggy as it could be about its incredible arts scene. Local and touring artists enjoy strong community support, and the city is bursting with colorful murals, innovative art spaces, and events. From the iconic Keeper of the Plains to the 31-piece Streetscapes collection to the numerous museums and galleries, Wichita's art assets are strong.Highlights:
- Urban art around town – Take a self-guided tour or experience it all during Avenue Art Days in September.
- Fisch Haus – This multi-disciplinary art facility houses unique fine arts exhibits and events that range from dance, music, and theater to festivals.
- Ulrich Museum – Exhibits range from grocery aisle-inspired art to installations emphasizing the importance of natural resources. Home to an 80-work outdoor sculpture collection.
- Hue Gallery – The gallery features contemporary works that make a statement, and is helping push Wichita into the realm of best cities for contemporary art.
- Wichita Art Museum – Exhibits like Kansas Land: Farm Photography asked questions like: What is life like for the first-generation, sustainable farmer?
2. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Love is in the motto and in the art of this city. Philadelphia embraces creativity and emboldens new visionaries in public, performance, sustainable, and unusual art. It will be difficult not to see amazing works on a visit to this art-adoring city.Highlights:
- RAIR (Recycled Artist in Residency) – As an organization that helps artists source materials from the waste stream, it also shows the community it cares.
- Mural Arts Philadelphia – This project—over 30 years in the making—is why many of Philly's public spaces have been transformed into a tapestry of impressive murals.
- Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts – The museum boasts an impressive collection, and this prestigious school also offers community education programs like the free Art at Lunch series.
- Festivals and events – Philadelphia knows how to party, especially when it comes to celebrating the arts. Events like the Manayunk Arts Festival draw hundreds of thousands, and support artists through juried prizes. Art Star Craft Bazaar is the place to find one-of-a-kind items that are made to keep.
3. Fort Smith, Arkansas
Fort Smith may be the artsy dark horse you've been waiting for. Home to the Unexpected Festival, this small city defies expectations with cool sustainable public art, a dynamic fine arts museum, and events that spark creative vibes.Highlights:
- Fort Smith RAM – Exhibitions like An Element of Nature challenge general perceptions and reflect on our connection with our surroundings.
- Unexpected Festival – This incredible event has brought art front and center over the years by painting the town and incorporating major installations.
- Fox and Opossum by Bordalo II – Spot theses sculptures made with upcycled goods at 708 Garrison Avenue and 309 Garrison Avenue.
4. Bandon, Oregon
This town on the pristine southern Oregon coast is its own work of art. Creators like Angela Haseltine Pozzi help preserve its beauty through the Washed Ashore organization, which makes art from ocean pollution. Art shows and galleries round out its artsy activities, and the scenery is enough to get any artist ready to create.Highlights:
- Washed Ashore – The premiere arts organization teaches environmental conservation through large marine animal sculptures made from collected ocean trash.
- Local art around the Southern Oregon coast – This area takes art to heart, and it shows in how it encourages the community at places like the Second Street Gallery.
- Port of Bandon Boardwalk Art Show – This public art show is on display along the Coquille River waterfront throughout the summer.
5. Glover, Vermont
Inspiration has struck this rural farm area, where residents like Clare Dolan are elevating the ordinary and highlighting the artistic nature of everyday life. Large-scale puppets, a very unique museum, and a spirit of inquiry make Glover the place for people seeking out-of-the-ordinary art experiences.Highlights:
- Museum of Everyday Life – This remarkable creation is road trip-worthy in its uniqueness. Here you'll find carefully curated exhibits that bring new meaning and elevated consideration to the ordinary.
- The Bread and Puppet Theater – Founded in 1963, this innovative theater has also transformed a hay barn into a museum of older puppets. Only in Glover.
6. Detroit, Michigan
Really good art often thrives through strife, and Detroit has seen its share of both. The community aspect to some of the city's art speaks to how the scene is moving toward rebuilding and bringing art into public spaces. In this way Detroit embodies how even through change, some things are made to keep.Highlights:
- The Heidelberg Project – Seeking to rebuild a neighborhood that suffered decline after riots in 1960, this initiative paints polka dots on abandoned houses and uses found objects and mosaics to add to the scene. The area now offers free creative workshops to young adults.
- The Edible Hut – Food grows on the roof of this community gathering place, which also hosts performances and educational events. Part outdoor hut, part sculpture, all collaborative community effort.
- Day trip – Head to University Center for a special day of art appreciation. Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum is a free way to explore the impressive works of Marshall M. Fredericks. The University of Michigan Museum of Art sees thought-stirring exhibits like Ceal Floyer: Things.
7. Sheboygan, Wisconsin
Artful spaces run the audience gamut in Sheboygan, where places like Bookworm Gardens inspire kids and adults of every age. Arts organizations, performance spaces, and a street art movement, the Sheboygan Project, keep the community's cultural heart beating.Highlights:
- John Michael Kohler Arts Center – Exhibits such as Hothouse: Virgil Marti display the artist's mixture of found materials, art history, and personal biography, and Mirror of the Universe: Lenore Tawney's Cloud Labyrinth highlight what makes Sheboygan one of the best small art towns.
- The Sheboygan Project – Bringing street art to the city, this group's aim is to free art from the confines of museums.
- Bookworm Gardens – Inspired by children's literature, this garden brings to life famous scenes and characters to spark creativity in young (and old) minds.
- Tellen Woodland Sculpture Garden – Mystical sculptures blend into their surroundings to surreal effect throughout this spot.
8. Coachella Valley, California
Though hot, vast, and arid, the Coachella Valley is no art desert. In fact, the arts flourish here. Festivals like Desert X and the famous music event bring creative thinkers from all over the world, and both lasting and temporary pieces are well worth the trek.Highlights:
- Desert X – This festival brings incredible large-scale works like Doug Aitken's Mirrored House (Mirage) and other works.
- Coachella – Beyond the artistry on display by the musicians in the lineup, the popular music festival features colorful installations and interactive visual treats.
- Day trips – The area is perfect for art-bound mini road trips. Head to recognizable Salvation Mountain, the passion project of Leonard Knight, for a technicolor experience like no other. Explore artist community East Jesus, and see the murals at The Coliseum.
9. Thompsonville, Michigan
If sculpture gets your imagination firing, visit Thompsonville's Michigan Legacy Art Park. It's a place to both appreciate and create art in a serene natural setting. Get inspired by Michael McGillis installations snaking through leafy trees and fern-strewn paths.Highlights:
- Michigan Legacy Art Park – Curious installations from various Michigan artists dot this park. Our favorites include:
- Superior by Brian Ferriby
- Five Needles by Michael McGillis
- Nurture/Nature by David Barr
10. Marfa, Texas
Marfa basically is art. It's a top contender among the most artistic cities, despite its small size. Since it made its name through installations like Prada Marfa and works by the Chinati Foundation, it's been known for out-there works in an off-the-beaten-path location.Highlights:
- Judd Foundation Marfa – This group leads guided visits that offer firsthand views of Donald Judd's work across properties.
- Chinati Foundation – One Judd property is this desert museum that features large, permanent installations and shows like Robert Irwin's untitled (dawn to dusk).
- "Giant" mural installation – These murals pay homage to the classic James Dean movie "Giant," which was largely filmed in the Marfa area, and make a great photo op.
11. Rochester, New York
Rochester is brimming with creativity and provocative creations. From street murals to immersive art experiences to workshops and classes, this city is rife with ways to explore, create, and enjoy art in all its forms.Highlights:
- Rochester Contemporary Art Center – Past exhibitions include things like Sweepings, "an intimate examination of detritus," so you're in for something different here.
- Artisan Works – This immersive art experience is free to the public, and includes nearly 500,000 items in the collection.
- Create Art 4 Good – A self-described socially conscious gallery, this space hosts the Irondequoit Pop-Up Art Market.
- Clothesline Festival – This artist festival in September features hundreds of artists from around the country.
- Studio 34 Creative Arts – Make your own Made to Keep art with classes on glasswork and metalwork, or buy crafts at this spot in Neighborhood of the Arts.
- Eastman Museum – The house of Kodak founder George Eastman was built in 1905, and opened as a photography and film museum in 1949.
12. San Jose, California
San Jose might not be first on your lips when you talk about artistic communities, but that's about to change. The San Jose Museum of Art celebrates its 50th anniversary this year during its annual gala, dubbed one of the most creative events of the year.Highlights:
- Triton Museum – This museum in nearby Santa Clara hosts artists like ethno-botanist Dionicio Mendoza for some truly unique exhibits.
- San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art – Pay attention to this ever-transforming space where large-scale, immersive installations are made to inspire.
- Alameda Artworks – Filled with unusual and upcycled art, this ex-roller rink offers studio space for artists working in mediums from fabric to photography.
13. West Rutland, Vermont
West Rutland's art reputation is set in stone, literally. The marble-rich region provides inspiration for some incredible sculpture work. The main draw is the West Rutland Art Park, which features stirring sculpture in various media from artists from around the world.Highlights:
- Carving Studio and Sculpture Center – This space allows people to create their own sculpture, inspired by the on-site sculpture park.
- SculptFest2019 – Running from September 7 to October 20, this year's event centers on the theme Changes, so get ready for a fluid and diverse show.
- West Rutland Art Park – A can't-miss destination, come here to spend the day perusing eye-catching sculpture in lush natural settings.
- Campbell Plaster and Iron – This art foundry helps artists bronze, enlarge, and bring concepts to physical form.
14. Overland Park, Kansas
Overland Park likes variety in its art, and the city's Arts & Recreation Foundation makes sure to deliver. It's a place where creativity shines brighter in the open air, and everyone is invited to let their artsy side breathe. Murals and public art take on all sorts of cultural subjects and touchstones around town.Highlights:
- Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art – Located at Johnson County Community College, which was voted one of the top 10 university campuses for public art in America, the museum holds acclaimed pieces from emerging and established artists alike.
- Wonder Wonder – An interactive space that challenges viewers to participate in the art, Wonder Wonder will spark your imagination.
- InterUrban Art House – Studio artists work and exhibit in this space, which also holds workshops.
- 2010 Gallery – The art curated at this gallery will certainly make you think, and initiatives like Open Creations invite the public to share their own artworks.
15. Lincoln, Massachusetts
Lincoln and its surrounding area will take you on a unique artistic journey through sculpture-laden landscapes to cutting-edge gallery spaces. Get your camera ready for modern large-scale installations set against historical architecture for a thrilling juxtaposition of time and aesthetic.Highlights:
- deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum – You'll find a surprising piece of art around every turn, as well as events throughout the year like art-making workshops and lectures.
- Clark Gallery – Mixed media, sculpture, and all manner of thought-provoking art are the focus of this space.
- Artisans Way – Home to several vendors that use upcycled goods, like Pear Tree Studio and Reclaimed Wool, this is a perfect place to find a treasure to take home.
16. Chaska, Minnesota
Annual events like the Carver County Artists' Expo keep the area art scene fresh and forward-thinking and make Chaska stand out among artist towns. Run by the Arts Consortium of Carver County, this is just one of the innovative events spotlighting the importance of art in this community.Highlights:
- Minnesota Landscape Arboretum – This space features the Patrick Dougherty Stick Sculpture and hosts the annual Art in the Garden.
- Objects & Art – Find a unique creation to take home at this quirky store.
- Art Wander – This trolley tour takes all the work of studio hunting off your shoulders. Hop on and off to explore arts of all flavors.
- Artstock Art Wine and Music Festival – Who doesn’t love drinking and buying art? This is the perfect event to start.
17. Cincinnati, Ohio
If the Cincinnati Arts Association has their work cut out for them, it's only because the area is spoiled for choice. Art is abundant in this city, with many artists and projects worthy of support and attention. Exhibits like Kimono: Refashioning Contemporary Style turn the familiar on its head and show how this city stays curious and different.Highlights:
- Art Works – This group engages the community through future-conscious events like Creating a Sustainable Fine Art Career.
- Contemporary Arts Center – Public programs like crash courses in creative skills and exhibitions like animal-rights-focused Creatures: When Species Meet push the envelope toward new ways of seeing.
- Cincinnati Art Club – Events and educational workshops keep the wider community hands-on when it comes to local art.
18. Las Vegas, Nevada
Public murals, arts hubs, and engaging events make what's happening in Vegas every art-lover's business. From First Friday in the arts district to well-curated galleries in glitzy hotels, art is everywhere in the city. We'd bet that in the coming years, it will become among the most artistic cities in the U.S. When it comes to Vegas, art fans definitely hit the jackpot.Highlights:
- 18b Arts District – The center of art in Las Vegas, this district is a creative playground.
- The Arts Factory – This colorful spot houses art galleries, boutiques, and creative services.
- Metropolitan Gallery – Seek out this hidden gem right in the middle of bustling Freemont Street.
- Seven Magic Mountains – An electrifying, famous piece of geo-art that highlights the symbiotic human/desert relationship is a sight to behold.
19. Springfield, Illinois
Performance arts take center stage in Springfield, but the visual arts certainly don't play second fiddle. A world-class symphony, ballet, and multifaceted galleries celebrate arts of all stripes. Collective creation makes a colorful splash during events like Paint the Street Fest, a block party where over 300 artists literally paint the streets.Highlights:
- Old Capitol Art Fair – Over 50 years in the making, this event brings artists from all over the country to share their work in the shadow of the Old State Capitol building.
- Hoogland Center for the Arts – This community space, housed in a building from 1909, promotes the performance arts.
- Springfield Art Association – The non-profit, community-based group represents local artists and supports the visual arts across multiple galleries, events, and educational opportunities.
20. Des Moines, Iowa
Art in Des Moines is celebrated throughout the year, but things get especially festive at big events like Art Week. Hosted gatherings, performances, and unique tours introduce the public to the city's best. Art Beacon Des Moines keeps people informed about exhibits and arts opportunities, and the calendar is never empty.Highlights:
- Des Moines Art Festival – Community is the soul of this must-see event, which aims to foster a heightened appreciation for the arts.
- Des Moines Art Center – This organization is a strong cultural resource in the city, an essential part of helping Des Moines become one of the best cities for arts and culture.
- Olson-Larsen Galleries – Highly original works are the key feature of this contemporary gallery.
- Moberg Gallery – This gallery lets its art breathe, and exhibits feel fresh, open, and spacious.
- Art Week – Get out and meet the artists at workshops, gallery showings, and parties as the city celebrates all things artistic for a full week.
21. San Rafael, California
The Downtown San Rafael Arts District is a state-designated arts and culture district that advocates for bringing art to the people through spaces like Art Works Downtown. In-house studio artists, classes, events, and exhibits make this the hub of artistry in town. The California Film Institute keeps sustainability top of mind with its Green Initiative, which seeks to educate and reduce environmental impacts.Highlights:
- Art Works Downtown – Art Works Downtown seeks to support all creative processes by offering classes and lectures, hosting events and exhibitions, and leading outreach programs.
- Marin Society of Artists – Monthly rotating exhibits, studio space, and classes make this group an important part of the San Rafael arts community.
- Arts District – If you want to get to know art in San Rafael, you must explore this neighborhood, especially during events like Second Fridays Art Walk. The district fosters conversations surrounding topics such as affordable housing and homelessness, multiculturalism, and the environment.
- California Film Institute – This home of the Mill Valley Film Festival screens other cutting-edge films year-round at the Smith Rafael Film Center.
These places may not have the top art museums in the U.S. or the most well-known art programs, but that makes their work shine brighter. The most creative cities work with what they have, build what they don't, and never stop finding ways to move the conversation. Artists know this struggle all too well, and those qualities helped us pick our list of these best cities for art lovers.
Header image via Sophia P./Yelp