Top 25 Small Cities

May 2010 |  by Jennifer Clary  |  Issue 72, Summer 2010

1. Asheville, N.C.

Asheville, N.C.’s new signage program features work by city artists—more than 300 signs were produced with the help of local glass and metal artists. Credit: Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau

Readers flew “the Land of the Sky” into the top spot in the Small Cities category for the first time this year. A walk along the streets of Asheville will prove why it deserves this honor, from the Art Deco buildings seen all over the city (including the town’s city hall) to the more than 50 galleries representing every medium. Reader Mark Flowers, of Alexander, N.C., explains, “Asheville’s creative scene runs from the visual art, the handmade craft arts, the music arts, down to the amazing small brewery arts. It’s a total package that brings me downtown whenever I am near.”

With two new public arts programs, Asheville is undergoing a downtown renaissance. In the city’s historical center, known as Pack Square, a new park opened this spring. Along with lush green space, Pack Square Park features an interactive water fountain (aptly named “Splashville”), an amphitheater decorated with handmade tiles, and original works of art by local artists.

Local artists also inspired the new Asheville signage program. More than 300 signs direct visitors and residents to almost 90 attractions, but what makes these signs special is in the details. The city’s artists were commissioned to create unique sign elements in the form of blown glass, bronze and wrought iron.

2. Santa Fe, N.M.

Santa Fe, N.M., has been globally recognized for its craft and folk art. Credit: Richard Khanlian

The landscape of Santa Fe is its own work of art—which explains why, for years, this city has inspired artists from across the country. Recognized globally for its folk art, this town, nicknamed “The City Different,” has been home to greats like painter Georgia O’Keeffe and photographer Eliot Porter. An art lover’s paradise, Santa Fe’s Canyon Road features the city’s largest concentration of art galleries, and the city’s art market is considered to be one of the largest in the United States. “Santa Fe remains remarkably active in contemporary visual and performing arts for a city its size,” admires reader Dan Kushel of Buffalo, N.Y.

ART Santa Fe, held July 15-18 this year at the new Santa Fe Convention Center, is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Returning to its original downtown location, this international contemporary art fair will feature a huge number of galleries, amazing installations and numerous workshops. Don’t miss popular events, including the new “How Things Are Made” exposition, which allows visitors to see the “nitty-gritty” of the production process through artist demonstrations.

3. Saugatuck, Mich.

Ox-Bow is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a retrospective of the school’s history.

A newcomer to the top three, Saugatuck, also known as “The Art Coast of Michigan,” may be a small town (with a population of just over 1,000), but it certainly has a large art scene. First becoming an arts destination during the 19th-century Arts and Crafts Movement, this artists’ colony continues to inspire with its beautiful beaches, harbors, unique shops and more than a dozen galleries. “Saugatuck has unique artists gathered together in a wonderful small-town atmosphere,” says reader Sharon Tilley from Monroe, Mich. Saugatuck also continues to be a peaceful retreat for residents of major cities like Chicago and Detroit who are looking to get in touch with their inner artist.

One of the more notable places in Saugatuck is the Ox-Bow school and artists’ residency, affiliated with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Established in 1910, it is celebrating its 100th anniversary in a big way. In collaboration with the Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Society, the school will be presenting the exhibit “A Place Called Ox-Bow, 100 Years of Connecting Art, Nature and People,” opening Memorial Day weekend and running the entire summer. It will include historical and contemporary photographs, an installation of architectural remnants and memorabilia, and information on alumni exhibitions.

4. Key West, Fla.

Artists install glass planes at Key West, Fla.’s International “Air-port.”

Up two spots from 2009, Key West has a buzzing arts scene. Visual artists are beginning to flock to the home of literary greats Tennessee Williams, Shel Silverstein and Ernest Hemingway. “Surprising nuggets of non-Florida-themed artwork dot Duval Street and surrounds,” notes AmericanStyle reader Carla Kestner of Amherst, N.Y. The area is a popular tourist attraction with bars, beer and dozens of art galleries.

A few blocks off of Duval Street, you will find a new gallery with a twist—The Key West Art Bar. Created by Barbara Grob, an artist turned entrepreneur, the bar offers workshops and classes, handmade jewelry, gifts, fine art, a performance space and, yes, booze.

Key West also offers art in unexpected places. The Florida Keys Council of the Arts and the county’s Art in Public Places program have recently commissioned an installation of paintings and sculpture by local artists for the newly renovated terminals of the Key West International Airport. The pieces include large sculptures, indoor and outdoor murals, collages and oil paintings.

5. Sarasota, Fla.

Sarasota, Fla., has long been known as a cultural destination. Credit: Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau

Coming in at number 11 last year, Sarasota climbed into the top five with the help of AmericanStyle readers. Home of numerous art museums—including the popular John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, galleries, art centers and festivals, this Florida city has long been known as a cultural destination. “Sarasota is just without parallel in its uniqueness and commitment to the arts,” says reader Debra Mixon of Homosassa, Fla. A walk along Palm Avenue, one of the city’s centers for art, will show you how right she is.

Along with Manatee County, Sarasota will be debuting a brand-new art festival, Festival sARTée, to present the area’s best cultural assets—its local and regional artists. Held Oct. 8-24, Festival sARTée will feature a truly unique mix of visual arts, food art, circus art and more in venues throughout Sarasota and Manatee Counties. It will be running concurrently with the second annual Ringling International Arts Festival.

6. Sedona, Ariz.
7. Taos, N.M.
8. Berkeley Springs, W.Va.
9. Boulder, Colo.
10. Eureka Springs, Ark.
11. Corning, N.Y.
12. Northampton, Mass.
13. Annapolis, Md.
14. Naples, Fla.
15. Burlington, Vt.
16. Carmel, Calif.
17. Chapel Hill, N.C.
18. Frederick, Md.
19. New Hope, Pa.
20. Laguna Beach, Calif.
21. Aspen, Colo.
22. Bradenton, Fla.
23. Cumberland, Md.
24. Brattleboro, Vt.
25. Beaufort, S.C.