America's Best Cities for Artists - California

By Tammi Edwards on May 6th, 2019

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You may be asking yourself why you would want to go to art school in California. What does it have to offer you? It should come as no surprise that California, which is commonly known for its sunny beaches and mild climate, is also home to several of the best American cities for artists as well as world-renowned art schools and colleges.

The Golden State, which is the country’s most populated and third largest state in terms of size, offers students and working artists an abundance of opportunity amidst vibrant art and design scenes. Whether you are focusing on film or video arts near Hollywood or studying fashion or graphic design in San Francisco, the friendly weather and immense variety of artist-friendly spaces will provide a great setting for your personal and professional development.

#1 Best City for Artists – Los Angeles, CA

The Los Angeles Art Scene

Students in Los Angeles will find an impressive array of unique art offerings and communities at every turn. Altogether, Los Angeles has an astounding 56 artistic establishments for every 100,000 people. To start, the city has always been considered one of the more fashion-forward cities in the country. On a typical day in Los Angeles, students might draw inspiration from any number of LA’s fashion hot spots such as Hollywood Boulevard, Rodeo Drive, Melrose Avenue, the Sunset Strip or the lesser-known but trendy La Brea Avenue. If you’re not a fan of trend-obsessed boutiques and gawking at celebrities, its time to drive to Venice, Santa Monica, or Abbot Kinney Boulevard, where you can stroll through eclectic, hip shops and explore refreshingly anti-establishment stretches of street with diverse galleries. There is also the world-famous Fashion District, which serves as the west coast hub of the apparel industry, spanning over 100 blocks of design, accessory, and textile shops.

Adding to the appeal of LA as an artist-friendly city is its transformation into a world-class contemporary art center. While the city is still behind the likes of New York, Paris, and London when it comes to extensive collections of older art, LA has, in many ways, become one of the predominant centers for modern art across the United States. Students can easily visit some of the top national art collections, with big names like the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and the J. Paul Getty Trust (The Getty), all of which are just a short drive from the heart of LA. These mainstays of the art world lead a rapidly growing number of new art buildings and galleries that are springing up around the city. See: Exciting Developments Continue at LA Museums

While the city provides an abundance of opportunity for fashion designers and artists alike, there are equally rich prospects for musicians, dancers, and writers. Because LA is at the center of the entertainment industry, the area attracts a wide variety of national and international acts from virtually every genre of music. Whether it’s jazz, world music, rock, pop, undiscovered bands or Opera, LA offers an extremely diverse music scene. On any given night, one can find an act for any musical taste, including large stadium shows at the Staples Center or Nokia Theatre, or slightly more intimate and comfortable performances at venues like the Greek Theatre, Gibson Amphitheatre or Hollywood Bowl. There is also the popular and critically recognized LA Philharmonic, which offers over 300 concerts a year to more than one million listeners.

Art Careers & Employment in Los Angeles

In spite of it’s ranking as one of the most expensive cities in the country, Los Angeles remains one of the most attractive and best-paid cities for artists and designers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, artists- including fashion designers, animators and multi-media designers- make more here than 98 percent of cities across the nation. Not surprisingly, the percentage of creative professionals in the workforce is one of the highest in the nation, reaching 3.26% percent. This is especially impressive considering its large population, which was last estimated at 12,872,056. For students concerned about employability and salary after college, LA also boasts one of the highest average salaries for arts, design and media occupations, coming in at $86,580.

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#6 Best City for Artists – San Francisco, CA

The San Francisco Art Scene

If you were to ask a recent graduate of art school about where their future is taking them, it’s likely that most would say, “Los Angeles is the best city for what I am doing”, or “I’ll be moving to New York”. Remarkably, San Francisco, which boasts one of the most robust and thriving art cultures in the country, has long been thought of as a great incubator of emerging art talent but has often suffered from a reputation as a second-tier city for artists who want to make their mark in the industry.

The truth is, San Francisco is one of the best cities across the United States for artists and students to hone their craft and skills while avoiding the distractions that come with some of the more competitive art scenes. Not only does San Francisco have the highest percentage of artists in the workforce of any city in the country, but it also has one of the highest concentrations of colleges and art schools per capita in the country. Although San Francisco is “big” in terms of attractions, amenities, and population, it is geographically small – only 49 square miles. Perhaps it’s this compact nature that helps highlight the city’s cultural innovations, institutions of learning, and burgeoning art scene. Whether it’s the sophisticated galleries in the downtown art district, the world-class art museums and theatres, or the abundance of street art scattered across the city, San Francisco is literally jam-packed with art venues and opportunity.

While San Francisco has a reputation for its large number of local galleries, and its world-renowned museums like the de Young MuseumLegion of Honor, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SF MOMA), what is really promising and deserving of attention is San Francisco’s growing street art and small exhibition scene. Amongst the chic eateries, warehouses, and high-tech lofts of San Francisco’s many neighborhoods are a growing number of alternative spaces and small commercial galleries that bring greater visibility to visual arts talent. The most notable rise has come within the sometimes gritty yet hipster streets of the Mission District, which has a rich network of artist friendly projects and spaces that has become a nexus of community-engaging arts activity. See: Mission Arts & Performance Project- MAPP

In addition to the established and still growing visual arts scene, is the incredible collection of big-name eateries, ethnic cuisine, farmer’s markets and neighborhood café’s that make up the San Francisco culinary scene. Students in culinary arts programs will be hard-pressed to find a city with more to offer in all facets of dining. You can find everything from hearty comfort food, to sustainable ethnic fare and Michelin-rated fine dining in restaurants in every corner of the city. Consistently rated in the Top Five Best Cities in the Country for Foodies, San Francisco is an ideal place to learn and enjoy the art of food.

Not to be outdone by the art and culinary industries, the workforce support and demand for individuals in design is incredible in the Bay Area. Ever since the early 1990’s when the Internet and technology boom brought white-collar workers from all over the world to San Francisco and the Silicon Valley, individuals with multi-media, illustration and graphic design skills have been in high demand. Students who come to the Bay Area will find an abundance of companies that will help them increase their knowledge of widespread design applications and programs through targeted internships and full-time opportunities.

Art Careers & Employment in San Francisco

It’s no secret that living in San Francisco is expensive. This is one of the unfortunate downsides of living in a major metro area that is dotted with cultural and entertainment options, as well as lucrative employment opportunities. The good news is that San Francisco is consistently rated in the top five U.S. cities for the highest quality of living and has a reasonable unemployment rate that hovers around seven percent. Salaries for artists in the arts, design, fashion and multimedia are high as well, estimated at $71,390 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As we noted earlier, San Francisco also has the highest percentage of artists in the workforce, which speaks to the abundance of opportunity and supportive community available to students coming out of art and design school.

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