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BY ALISSA MILLER
6 cities with an unexpectedly active arts scene.
There are many cities in the U.S. beloved by enthusiasts of the arts — think New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, just to name a few. But amazing art does exist outside those places, and sometimes you’ll find it in very unexpected locations.
Some of the cities below are very well-known for things other than the arts, and some of them aren’t well-known at all. Each of them has a surprisingly awesome arts scene that makes them well worth visiting for art muses, aficionados, enthusiasts, devotees, connoisseurs, and fanatics, one and all.
San Antonio, Texas
When it comes to the arts, the city of San Antonio has long been overshadowed by its siblings — Houston is larger and more influential, and Austin is smaller and quirkier. But San Antonio’s arts scene is quickly gaining on them — it’s up and coming, bold, and utterly uncompromising. Located just south of downtown, the aptly named Southtown District is the epicenter for contemporary art in San Antonio. It’s the spot where artists showcase the art and culture of the city, and it’s a healthy mix of art museums and galleries, boutiques, coffee shops, and bars.
The easiest way to get a taste of what the art district has to offer is the Southtown Art Walk, which happens twice each month on the first Friday and second Saturday of the month. This free family event showcases local artists and galleries, plus live music, street food, vendors, and more. In terms of art displays, the Blue Star Arts Complex is the city’s longest-running contemporary arts space and home to a 160,000-square-foot exhibition of art studios, galleries, and shops, plus bars, restaurants, and a microbrewery.
Long eclipsed by its glamorous neighbor on the other side of the bridge, Oakland’s thriving art scene flies under the radar, and many believe it hasn’t received the creative recognition it deserves. The Oakland Art Murmur is working hard to change that. Formed as a coalition of local artists, the Art Murmur is dedicated to bringing awareness to the city’s art district — an area of the city known as Jingletown — by connecting the public with the local art.
Featuring 40 galleries, give or take, the Art Murmur’s monthly First Friday Art Walk and the weekly Saturday Stroll are two options for browsing Jingletown’s world-class art galleries. For a local mainstay in the arts community, Jingletown Art Studios is decorated with mosaic art, both inside and out, and home to a 4,500-square-foot community garden known as Enchanted Garden that is full of whimsical wall mosaics and sculptures.
When you think of Park City, Utah, you probably think of one thing — skiing. Park City is not to be overlooked when it comes to arts and culture. The city is home to more than 40 art galleries, many of them on Historic Main Street, and more keep coming. The arts scene has grown so much over the years that the city council is in the process of breaking ground on a new, 5-acre Arts and Culture District. When complete, it will be a large-scale, multi-disciplinary space for visual, media, and performing arts. For now, you’ll have to be content with just visiting the local galleries on your own or joining the Park City Gallery Stroll on the last Friday of each month.
Additionally, the Trove Gallery is a popular spot, featuring work from over 50 Utah artists that specialize in a wide range of mediums, including recycled sculpture, acrylic collages, paintings, and wind sculptures. And let’s not forget about the Sundance Film Festival. Held annually in January, the festival showcases artistic and independent films as a celebrated visual art form.
Not to be outdone by its southern neighbor, Miami, which is known as one of the top arts and culture destinations in the U.S., Orlando has its own bustling scene. The Downtown Arts District is a local artists’ collective that focuses on a variety of visual and performing arts. It promotes local art events and exhibits in the area to serve the community. In the city’s Lake Eola neighborhood, you’ll find many independent art galleries and venues.
Join the Third Thursday Gallery Hop to get a taste of what the area has to offer, and see work by hundreds of local artists, plus a makers market, live performances, food trucks, drink specials, and more. CityArts Orlando is the city’s main downtown hub for arts and culture and is home to numerous art studios, galleries, and performance spaces. Additionally, the Downtown Arts Collective is a pillar of the local art scene and features a vast collection of contemporary art from both local and worldwide artists.
As lofty as its nickname implies, “America’s Finest City” has long had a burgeoning arts scene. It’s a bit hard to pinpoint the exact “scene” because San Diego hasn’t limited itself to just one art district — you’ll find clusters of galleries, studios, and street art in the Balboa Park, La Jolla, and Point Loma neighborhoods, among others. With vibrant painted murals from North Park to Chicano Park and oversized sculptures from East Village to Little Italy, there is artistic eye candy everywhere you turn. Liberty Station is the city’s planned art district, a converted naval station with a promenade of historic buildings converted into a sector for the arts, science, culture, and technology.
San Diego doesn’t have your typical art walks either — it has four separate art walks that take place at various locations, one weekend each, throughout the year. For a unique experience, visit Balboa Park’s MOPA, the Museum of Photographic Arts — it’s one of only three photography museums in the nation, and its exhibition of more than 9,000 photographs has earned an impressive international reputation in its nearly 40-year history.
The arts probably aren’t the first thing that come to mind when you think of New Orleans. NOLA’s arts scene is eclipsed by its Creole cuisine and its Mardi Gras celebrations (both of which are awesome). But in the heart of New Orleans lies the city’s historic Warehouse District, now the upscale Warehouse Arts District, which is the city’s most up and coming area for on-trend art. Nicknamed "Gallery Row," Julia Street lies in the heart of the Warehouse Arts District and is home to a plethora of studios and galleries.
A great way to explore the area’s art scene is the First Saturday Gallery Openings, New Orleans’ version of a monthly art walk where galleries open their doors to premiere new exhibits. For a one-stop-shop art experience, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, a Smithsonian affiliate, houses an impressive collection of more than 4,000 works of art from the American South from the 18th century through the present. Lastly, it’d be remiss not to mention the Big Easy’s musical culture — known as the birthplace of jazz, the city remains a cultural icon of the genre and is home to a thriving jazz community.