Paris, Barcelona and…Asheville? The Best Small Cities for Art Lovers
by ANNIE WANG on MAY 20, 2013
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When art lovers think of dream destinations, cities like Paris, Barcelona and New York come to mind. However, travelers shouldn’t forget about the smaller destinations closer to home with incredible art cultures. TravelNerd selected the top 10 small cities in the US for art lovers. We focused on cities with populations under 200,000 that hosted numerous art museums, galleries, and festivals to find locations with plenty of events and destinations for art lovers.
Laguna Beach, CA
Laguna Beach, just south of Los Angeles in Orange County, is an artist haven. Laguna Beach has always been popular with artists, starting from its humble beginnings as a beautiful beachside town, and Laguna Beach has embraced the artistic community. With world-famous museums like the Laguna Art Museum, currently hosting John Mason’s Blue Wall, and myriads of art galleries, Laguna Beach has embraced the artistic community with popular ongoing events like the First Thursdays ArtWalk.
If you visit during July or August, you’ll catch the world-famous Festivals of the Arts, including the Pageant of the Masters, with real-life reenactments of famous paintings. Additionally, the Sawdust Festival, a non-profit festival dedicated to promoting the art created in Laguna Beach, occurs every summer and winter. For more information on festivals and other events, check out the full calendar of art events in Orange County.
Savannah’s long history provides a rich cultural backdrop for its vibrant art scene. Located on the coast, Savannah is famous for its stunning architecture, so architecture buffs should make sure to visit the restored Historic District along the Riverfront and the Victorian Historic District. The Telfair Museum of Art, the first pubic art museum in the South, is housed in a renovated Regency-style mansion.
Savannah’s thriving art community stems from its famous Savannah College of Art and Design, which hosts the Savannah Film Festival, the Sidewalk Arts Festival, featuring chalk-drawing competitions in April, and the Sand Arts Festival, held on Tybee Island. With these popular events, its no wonder Savannah’s artist community is a draw for visitors everywhere.
To find out more about local artists and events, check out the artist roster from Georgia’s Council for the Arts. The Department of Cultural Affairs routinely hosts free festivals throughout the year, including the annual Music Festival in March, the Jazz Festival in September and the Folk Music Festival in October.
Asheville, a small city in western North Carolina, nestled near the Appalachian Mountains, seems to be an unlikely place for art lovers. However, those in the know realize the gems that this town is hiding. The Asheville community is active in promoting its artistic heritage, starting from its public art collection. Try the Asheville Urban Trail Walking Tour to see the start attractions like the Energy Loop, the Deco Gecko, the City Hall murals and a life-size sculpture of Martin Luther King, Jr. at MLK Park.
One of the most popular events in the summer is the Shindig on the Green, with live performances in Pack Square Park in downtown Asheville. Be sure to stop by the Asheville Art Museum to see the Black Mountain College Collection, with art from Black Mountain College students. Wander around downtown Asheville to see the 30+ art galleries lining the streets with exhibitions on American folk art, crafts from the Appalachian and the Asheville Gallery of Art. Check out the events calendar at the North Carolina Arts Council to find more events held in Asheville throughout the year.
Jackson Hole, WY
While Jackson Hole is famous for its powder, art lovers should also travel to the town to see its bustling art scene. Start at the Center for the Arts to see performance art, film premiers and more. You can even catch world-class workshops held by institutions like the New York City Ballet. Also be sure to check out the National Museum of Wildlife Art, featuring exhibits like the National Geographic Greatest Photographs of the American West and animal drawings by artists like John James Audubon and Andy Warhol.
In the summer, Jackson Hole hosts the Art Fair Jackson Hole, which hosts live music, over 170 artists from around the world, food booths and hands-on art activities. Walk around downtown to find the art galleries featuring antique Navajo weavings, Plains Indian beadwork and even antique cowboy gear. Check out more information on Folk Art from the Wyoming Arts Council.
Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod, is a popular summer vacation spot known for its beaches, harbor and artist community. Every summer, they host the Provincetown International Film Festival, complete with A-listers like director Quentin Tarantino and actress Tilda Swinton. Also be sure to stop by the Fine Arts Work Center to hear readings and attend events by up-and-coming young artists.
Theater-lovers should stop by The Art House for screenings of independent films and live performances by artists like Joanna Gleason and Patti Lupone. Be sure to head to the Provincetown History Preservation Project to see the town art collection to see art inspired by the coast and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, featuring locally-made arts and crafts.
Summer on the Gulf Coast in Sarasota, with warm beaches, white sand and plenty of activities for art lovers. Sarasota welcomes art lovers into their community with plenty of events like the monthly Art Walk on the third Friday of each month. Walk down Adams Lane to see art galleries, boutiques and studios showing painting, sculptures and crafts from local artists. Head to Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall to see the Fine Arts Society’s collection and a behind-the-scenes tour of the play house.
The most famous attraction in Sarasota is The Ringling, which includes a Museum of Art (including pieces by El Greco and Titian), Circus Museum, Bayfront Gardens and performances at the Historic Asolo Theater. John Ringling, the most famous of the Ringling Brothers, dedicated his property to create a circus and arts attraction. Last, but not least, the Art Center Sarasota hosts free galleries on a rotating schedule as well as a sculpture garden. Check out more activities and events at the Arts and Cultural Alliance center.
While the Red Rocks of Sedona may be the most popular attraction, it’s no surprise artists flock to the picturesque town of Sedona, with its famous southwestern natural beauty. Join the artistic community by participating in events hosted by the Sedona Artists Coalition, including artists’ salons. In October, Sedona hosts an annual Arts Festival that features works from local artists. While tickets are $10, all proceeds go towards funding art education in Sedona.
Head into the banks of Oak Creek to Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village to find fine art galleries and beautiful shops. You can often find the artists working on their craft right there in the store. Also be sure to check out all the art galleries around Sedona, many of which feature uniquely southwestern-inspired pieces. Be sure to especially stop by the Sedona Arts Center to see local artists and try some art workshops.
Alexandria is a mere six miles outside of downtown Washington DC, perfect for a getaway from the capital. Head to the Torpedo Factory, the largest art center in Alexandria, in Old Town Alexandria. It’s free admission, and visitors can see all forms of artwork from ceramics and painting to fiber and glasswork. Walk around Old Town to see the public art, including art in the City Hall and the Charles Houston Memorial Public Art Project.
In October, Alexandria hosts Art on the Avenue, an arts and music festival with live music and stalls of local artists, including handmade jewelry, woodworks, soaps and pottery. Be sure to look for more events on the arts calendar compiled by the Alexandria Arts Forum.
Santa Fe, NM
Santa Fe attracts many artists due to the cultural richness of the city and the beauty of the natural landscape. With multitudes of museums, galleries and other artist organizations, Santa Fe is one of the most exciting art communities in the nation. Start at the New Mexico Museum of Art, dedicated to art from New Mexico, like an exhibit on the 14,000 years of art in New Mexico, starting from the Clovis culture. Also see the Museum of International Folk Art, where there are is a current exhibition on the history of chocolate. If you’re heading to Santa Fe this summer, be sure to check out the Santa Fe International Folk Art Festival, the largest such market in the world, and the Santa Fe Show, a summer exhibit of furniture, books, jewelry and textiles from over 65 galleries.
In the downtown area, galleries line the streets featuring exhibitions of locally-made art from rising artists. Visitors will wee antiques, folk art, jewelry and Native American art works. The Center for Contemporary Arts has a great line up of films as well as excellent exhibitions, like a current one of orientation and space in two dimensions. Those a little more hands on should head over to the Santa Fe Art Institute for workshops and lectures on prominent artistic figures like Martha Russo and Rick Lowe. The Santa Fe Arts Commission lists upcoming events and exhibitions coming into town.
Bozeman, on the western side of Montana, may be a surprising choice for an art lover. Situated near Yellowstone National Parks, Bozeman’s magnificent natural scenery has been an inspiration for many artists, which is reflected in its many art galleries and art centers. Emerson Center for the Arts & Culture has fantastic exhibits of student and professional work as well as hosting fun events like film screenings and music festivals.
Additionally, look at local artists’ work on Art Bozeman’s website, and find their work in art galleries all around downtown Bozeman. In August, the Sweet Pea Festival provides a place for visitors to attend dance workshops, art sales and exhibits, concerts and even Shakespearean performances.