America’s Leading Art Hubs


Los Angeles has eclipsed New York City, and knowledge hubs like Austin have seen considerable growth in their numbers of working artists.

Graffitti artist Anthony Arias works on a mural during the Art Basel Miami Beach fair in 2014. Andrew Innerarity/Reuters

Graffitti artist Anthony Arias works on a mural during the Art Basel Miami Beach fair in 2014. Andrew Innerarity/Reuters

It’s Art Basel Miami Beach on Wednesday, when the world’s leading artists, galleries, and collectors head to the main art fair and the many satellite fairs scattered across the Miami region. It’s impressive how much contemporary art can be amassed in one place. Walking through the fairs, you can see art from across the nation and the world.

This prompts the question: Where are America’s leading art centers and scenes—the places where working artists actually work and produce art?

To identify them, I used data organized by the economic data and modeling firm, Emsi, to measure the concentration of artists in America’s 100 largest metros. The data, which span 2011 to 2016, cover both employed and self-employed fine artists (including painters, sculptors, and illustrators), craft artists, multimedia artists and animators, and other artists and related workers. In 2016, there were more than 200,000 artists working in these large metro areas, a 12 percent increase since 2011.

We ranked America’s leading art scenes using a measure called “location quotient” or “LQ,” a ratio that compares a metro’s share of working artists to the national share. (An LQ of 1 means that a metro’s regional share is the same as the national average; an LQ lower than 1 means that the concentration of artists is less than the national average, and an LQ higher than 1 means that it is more than the national average.)

All Art Jobs


While New York galleries will be well represented at Art Basel Miami Beach, the metro is no longer the nation’s leading center for art and artists.

That honor goes to Los Angeles, which tops the list on our combined measure of employed and self-employed artists. Los Angeles not only has a larger concentration of artists than New York City based on its LQ, it has a larger number of absolute artists, even though New York City has a much larger general population. Indeed, it’s been shown that a significant number of artists are moving from the New York City to the Los Angeles metro.

A number of leading tech and knowledge hubs number among the top 10 as well. San Francisco is the second on the list, and Portland third, with New York trailing in fourth place. Bridgeport-Stamford is fifth and Seattle, Nashville, Austin, San Jose, and San Diego round out the top 10.

When it comes to income, artists earn the most in Bay Area, by far. In terms of growth, Austin leads with 43-percent growth in artists between 2011 and 2016. The number of artists has grown by 26 percent each in San Jose and Portland over the same period.

Employed Artists


Los Angeles again takes the top spot in terms of employed artists—that is, artists who are employed by large and small companies, non-profits, or government agencies. Again, leading tech hubs dot the list. Portland comes in second, San Francisco is third, and Seattle is fourth. New York is further down the list in sixth and Washington, D.C. is seventh. Kansas City takes 10th place.

Employed artists makes a great deal more money, earning more than $40 an hour in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, and Washington, D.C. Several metros have seen considerable growth in their number of employed artists. In Austin, the number of employed artists grew by more than 50 percent between 2011 and 2016; San Jose saw 40 percent growth in employed artists over the same period.

Self-Employed Artists

The picture changes when it comes to self-employed artists. Now, Nashville takes first place. New York City moves up to second, with Los Angeles falling to third place. The Rust Belt metros of Buffalo, Albany, and Syracuse, which are not represented on the other lists, make the top 10 on self-employed artists, as well as Las Vegas. However, self-employed artists make a fraction of what their employed counterparts do, averaging between roughly $8.50 and $11 an hour. Self-employed artists in Portland, for example, make about $25 less than the employed artists there.

Taken as a whole, artists are massively concentrated in just a few leading centers across the United States. The top 10 arts hubs are home to more than 40 percent (42.3 percent) of artists, the top five nearly a third (32 percent), and the top three more than a quarter (26.2 percent). Even though artists can in theory locate anywhere, artists and arts hubs are among the spikiest and most concentrated of all jobs and economic activity in today’s economy.

Well-known artists and musicians—including David Byrne, Moby, and Patti Smith—have been saying that as cities like New York, L.A., and San Francisco become increasingly expensive, they are likely to lose their artistic talent. But that does not seem to be the case—at least not yet. While it is surely harder for younger, struggling, yet-to-be-established artists to afford living in these cities now, they remain the country’s preeminent artistic centers. Interestingly enough, leading tech and knowledge hubs, such as Austin, Seattle, Portland, Nashville, and even San Jose, in the heart of Silicon Valley, also number among the nation’s leading art scenes.

Perhaps this is because their rising income levels and economic growth have attracted artists. But it is more likely that the demand for multimedia artists has grown in many of these hubs. However, seeing places like Buffalo, Syracuse, and Albany among the top 10 places for self-employed artists suggests that less-established artists may be starting to search out alternatives to expensive superstar cities.