The 10 Most Inspiring Cities

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Movement, stillness. Light, darkness. People, places. History, present, future. Inspiration comes from a variety of sources and reveals itself in many forms. But conscious or not, place is a key part of any artist’s ritual. Whether it’s a city you’ve visited once in your life or a special hideaway you take off to every year to recharge your batteries, an artist’s surroundings dictate a number of things—inspiration and productivity chief among them.

That’s not to say that you can only have a single place of inspiration. Even within one’s own city, there might be hundreds of buildings, views, nooks and crannies that bring about an idea that forces itself onto your canvas of choice.

But if you speak with enough people, you’ll start to hear an echo. The same cities will come up time and time again as key sources of inspiration. So which cities have had the most influence on ABN readers? Well, we asked and lots of you answered. Lots of you. But coming up with just one city of choice wasn’t always an easy task.

“Choosing a favorite city is like choosing dinner from an over-large menu in a wonderful restaurant,” says figurative painter Ken Orton (, who makes his home in New York’s Catskills Mountains. “If I have the Pa amb Oli, I have to miss out on the Lamb Balti.”

When pressed to think about the places an artist has been, it’s not difficult to recount the many spots where he or she has felt creatively charged. “I have spent many months in Paris, Amsterdam and Barcelona,” continues Orton. “I have lived in the beautiful Palma de Mallorca and the sublime Venice. I am a frequent visitor to family and friends in majestic London and have been reduced to tears by the plaintive beauty of Havana de Cuba. They are all unique and have provided copious amounts of inspirational grist to my mill. But there is one city that surpasses them all, and indeed one city that has taken what the rest of the world has to offer and made of itself that dazzling and dark, mighty and poignant, bustling, slightly broken, often-patched but always monstrously magnificent New York.”
Orton’s right about more than just the “dazzling and dark” power of New York. Choosing just one city is difficult.
And there’s a clear difference in the energies that exist between American creative capitals and international ones. As such, we’ve decided to break this list into two parts—with this, the first part, offering your picks for the 10 most inspiring American cities. (Keep your eyes open for our March/April edition, where we’ll unveil the most inspiring international locales.)

In the meantime, here are your picks for the 10 most inspiring American cities…

 Jackson Hole, Wyoming
“Stunning, ruggedly enticing yet smooth, sophisticated and as natural as a baby’s behind,” is how photographer Linda Shinkle Rodney ( describes the gateway between the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. “I find sheer and utter inspiration from Jackson Hole, Wyoming.”

She’s not the only one. Ansel Adams created a picture of America in its purest state when he shot his famous 1942 image, The Tetons and the Snake River (which influenced that image you see to your left). In fact, Adams’ image was one of 115 recorded and brought aboard the Voyager spacecraft, as a way to explain life on Earth to any possibly-encountered alien civilizations.

A place where breathtaking views are the norm, though the area attracts artists of all types, it’s been a refuge for photographers and landscape artists for decades. It’s also a community where art is a collaborative—not competitive—endeavor.
The downtown area is speckled with unique galleries, including the Wilcox Gallery (, one of the area’s oldest and largest art retailers. The nearby Center for the Arts ( showcases art exhibitions from artists near and far, and offers classes to the public, making this a city with art for all.

New York, New York
No city seems to better define the “struggling artist,” or has the simultaneous ability to turn that same artist into an overnight sensation. It’s impossible to find a master of the craft who hasn’t exhibited his or her work at one of the Big Apple’s more than 500 galleries or 2,000 arts organizations. Simply put: New York would be nothing without its artists (and vice versa).

Though it would seem easy to draw a line between a city’s artistic community and its most wealthy denizens, to do so in New York City would be missing the point entirely. Because serving as patrons of the arts is one of the most important pastimes of the city’s well-heeled set.

“There is art of every kind on practically every corner of this city,” says Jordana Zeldin, director of ArtBridge (, a Chelsea-based nonprofit with the goal of connecting the public with the arts. “Unlimited access to art is what makes it possible for artists living and making work in New York City today to engage in an endless dialogue—be it with the great artists from the past or with each other.”

State-run organizations like the New York Foundation for the Arts, established in 1971, highlight the importance of culture to the greater well-being of the city. In fact, the city’s arts funding is larger than the annual budget of the National Endowment for the Arts. With its first-class art schools and premier trade shows and art events, New York’s art scene is constantly being reinvented.

People-watching, overheard conversations or a simple walk to the closest coffee shop can unleash a number of “only in New York” moments, all of which ignite the creative spirit.

New Orleans, Louisiana
In New Orleans, it’s simple: “Art is our language,” says Barrister’s Gallery ( owner Andy Antippas.

He’s not kidding. From its music to its food, artistry is in the DNA of The Big Easy. With its inimitable mix of French, Spanish and Southern influences, New Orleans is often—and rightfully—referred to as the “most unique” city in America.
“The mix of many cultures over the past 200 years continues the diversity within art, music, architecture and food in New Orleans,” says artist George Rodrigue ( “Local artists as well as artists from around the country are continually inspired by this unique city.”

Also distinct to the city’s art scene is that many of its galleries are actually artist-owned. The city’s revitalized Arts District (formerly known as the Warehouse District) is once again thriving, with dozens of first-class galleries, restaurants and museums to keep visitors and locals alike occupied. On Saturday nights, the area hosts something akin to a block party, where galleries stay open late—and keep the creative energy lasting well into the night with wine and appetizers as your fuel.
The French Quarter has its own art district, too—mostly along Royal Street, where artists perfect everything from animation to body art.

“New Orleans has a soul that is palpable when you enter the city,” says Angela King, director of the Angela King Gallery ( “It’s moist and verdant, and from such an environment creativity steams out of every crack, every pore, every body living here. We have a rich history of cultures and creativity blended to make incredible music, food, architecture, performance, street and visual art. Artists not  only thrive in New Orleans, they grow and blossom, spread roots underground and lushness above ground to everyone they come in contact with. It’s inevitable.”

San Francisco, California
San Francisco has been one of America’s artistic hotspots for well over a half-century now, dating back to the poets of the San Francisco Renaissance and the Beat Generation of writers who migrated here from New York in the 1950s. Staunchly liberal, the city’s come-as-your-are attitude has made it an attractive locale for those seeking freedom of expression, many of whom are using art to do just that.

Art is a way of life in San Francisco, as evidenced by the city-run San Francisco Arts Commission. Established in 1932, the SFAC sees art as a right, not a privilege, and has always sought to “make the arts available to each and every person in San Francisco.”

This is a city that understands that art and revitalization go hand-in-hand. The SFAC’s Community Arts and Education program, founded in 1967, was established as a way to provide funding to individual artists and arts programs to work in neighborhood and community settings. Some of the group’s projects have included Art in Storefronts, where temporary installations are created in the windows of vacant establishments; an Arts Education program that, in conjunction with the San Francisco Unified School District, provides every student with access to art every day; and StreetSmARTS, a public works program that replaces graffiti with murals.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that there’s a stunning view to be had at seemingly every turn in the City by the Bay.

“As a native of San Francisco, I’m inspired by the unlimited vistas available to paint,” says cityscape painter Michael Rodman ( “From [the] Nob Hill area, you can paint the Financial District, North Beach, Coit Tower, the Transamerica Building, the Bay Bridge and Alcatraz, all within a few minutes walk. Each intersection you stop at is yet another stunning composition to paint. Crissy Field Overlook, Fort Mason and the Presidio offer sweeping views of the bay, with its bridges that are almost too large to capture on one canvas. The painting opportunities in San Francisco are endless. Parking, well… that’s another issue.”

Santa Fe, New Mexico
Founded in 1607, New Mexico’s capital city has long served as its creative capital as well and, to a large degree, that of the American Southwest. Its mix of one-of-a-kind vistas and cultural diversity have made the city a mecca for generations of artists, including Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz in the early part of the 20th century.

“In addition to the amazing beauty that is Santa Fe, it is an amazing creative community,” says abstract artist and gallery owner Aleta Pippin ( “That means whenever I need an idea, help with a project or a class, it’s available.”
But Santa Fe is not a city stuck in its past. “Since moving here in 1991, the art that is now presented in Santa Fe has grown to encompass contemporary, abstract, cutting-edge [and] avant-garde, which blends well with the Native American, Southwesten and cowboy,” adds Pippin.

You can’t take more than a few steps in this immensely walkable City Different without stumbling upon one of its more than 250 art museums or galleries. Off Santa Fe Plaza, a main gathering place for more than 400 years, are the New Mexico Museum of Art ( and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum ( Fifteen minutes away is Museum Hill (, a collection of four world-class museums, including the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Museum of International Folk Art and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.

But back near the Plaza is where you’ll find the art aficionados, among the cluster of Native American and folk art galleries in the area surrounding the Palace of the Governors, the country’s oldest public building. Toward Canyon Road—an easy walk from downtown—you’ll find dozens of more contemporary and unique offerings, including the animated Chuck Jones Gallery (, the material-based Jane Sauer Gallery ( and Axle Contemporary (, a mobile gallery based out of an aluminum stepvan.

“Santa Fe is a city filled with chance surprises waiting to be discovered throughout its many intersections of nature and culture,” say Axle Contemporary co-founders Jerry Wellman and Matthew Chase-Daniel.

Chicago, Illinois
Forget sweeping mountain vistas—Chicago’s artists love their city for all of its metropolitan charms. The clean lines and shapes of its architecture and skyline inspire the area’s vast number of artists.

“For me, the great variety of architectural styles is vastly inspiring,” says Brooke Dinda, senior project manager at Chicago Art Source (, a corporate and residential art services company. “The juxtaposition of traditional and modern architecture work in perfect harmony and fuel my creative energy. The differing styles find their way into the artwork I create and how I furnish my home; it truly is a constant source of inspiration in my everyday life.”

Like New York City, it’s the fast-moving pace of city life that fuels Windy City artists. It’s probably no coincidence that the area is home to some of the world’s most competitive art schools, including the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Or that its River North neighborhood houses the country’s largest concentration of contemporary art galleries outside of New York City.

“Chicago is a supportive environment for artists because it balances its urban gifts of architecture, the performing arts, museums and universities (and firs- rate art schools) with open, natural spaces (the lakefront, beaches and parks) in a really unique way,” says Chicago Art Source gallery manager Jackie Pernot. “It’s a highly livable city that is passionate about the critical role that art and artists play in our lives.”

“Chicago is possibility,” concludes contemporary minimalist Alan Salabert ( “Through its diversity of culture and architecture, it consistently surprises, challenges and inspires. Possibility feeds creativity.”

Palm Springs, California
There are few places in the world where deserts, mountains and canyons collide with coastlines and palm trees. Which would explain why Palm Springs has been calling to artists since the late 1800s. In addition to its near-perfect weather—making for fantastic en plein conditions—Palm Springs’ varied landscape offers an unlimited supply of inspiration and creative energy.

Though it was originally established as a haven for Impressionists, the Palm Springs of today offers refuge to a diverse slate of artists, who are creating everything from contemporary and traditional paintings to pop art and cutting-edge photography.
“Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley are alive with creativity, allowing art to play a huge part in community with benefits and artists making a difference to many important local charities,” says founder Rick Pantele. “Palm Springs enjoys an idyllic desert scenery and weather, which help make it the ideal destination for major events such as the Indian Wells Arts Festival, the La Quinta Arts Festival and many other venues, which draw record crowds.”

Palm Canyon Drive, in the heart of Palm Springs, is a hub for the art world. Every Thursday, thousands of visitors come to VillageFest, where a diverse range of local artists and artisans have their work on display and for sale. Many of the galleries stay open late, too, making for a great post-dinner opportunity for browsing and buying.

“What is most noticeable is that public art can be seen everywhere in the Palm Springs area via the support of the community and local governments, which has always been strong,” says Pantele. “This ensures that art and artisans alike remain at the forefront of our culture. If you love art, you’ll love Palm Springs.”

Miami, Florida
During the first week of December, Miami becomes the global center of the art world, as thousands of the best-known galleries and artists (not to mention some seriously discerning collectors) descend upon the city for what has become known as Miami Art Week. Though Art Basel’s stateside edition is the main event, dozens other art events—including Pulse, SCOPE, Art Miami, Red Dot and Miami [SOLO]—have helped to increase the cultural headcount. But it’s no coincidence that Florida’s sexiest city has become ground zero for what is arguably one of the country’s most important art events.

Miami’s year-round arts community is as diverse as the city’s population itself. With an electric, eclectic and international vibe, local artists find inspiration in the city’s one-of-a-kind energy.
“Miami is bright and reflects the energy it has in every corner,” says photographer Malena Assing ( “The city is full of different colors, textures and the ever-changing light on the beach that surrounds the entire state creates a special feeling of freedom.”

“I will say, as a photographer artist, it’s the light in Miami that makes for a great image,” concurs Geoffrey Baris ( “Beautiful sunrises over the ocean and exotic fauna. The large white beaches, soft blue ocean and sky keep the light from ever being too contrasty. It’s the perfect light and climate to create amazing images.”

From architecture to art, Miami has always been a forward-thinking locale (look no further than the historic Art Deco buildings that line South Beach’s Ocean Drive or the growing number of “starchitect”-designed parking garages). And today it’s in the midst of an artistic renaissance similar to what New York City’s East Village and SoHo neighborhoods experienced in the 1970s and ’80s, in the Wynwood Arts District.

This formerly forgotten neighborhood—which runs from 20th Street to 36th Street, and is bounded by I-95 to the west and Biscayne Boulevard to the east—has become the city’s artistic epicenter, and is now home to more than 50 galleries, four museums and many individual artist studios. The area even has its own advocacy group, the Wynwood Arts District Association ( to help foster its growth and development.
Artistry is alive and well in the Magic City.

Los Angeles, California
Though it’s best-known as the center of the motion picture industry, L.A.’s creativity definitely extends beyond film. When it comes to living the artist’s life in Los Angeles, the numbers don’t lie: Approximately 850 museumes and galleries, 2,800 arts organizations and 150,000 self-described “artists” call the City of Angels home.

In fact, according to a recent report by the University of Southern California’s Stevens Institute for Innovation, “there are more artists, writers, filmmakers, actors, dancers and musicians living and working in Los Angeles than any other city at any time in the history of civilization.”

A center point of this artist takeover is the Downtown Arts District, a 60-block area formerly known as the Warehouse District, which began attracting artists in the 1970s. Though high-end developers have moved into the area—attracting wealthy young professionals who are interested in living the “artist” lifestyle, too—relics of the neighborhood’s industrial past remain, including a rail yard, cold storage facilities, food processing plants and working warehouses.

But the city as a whole has plenty to offer creative types. The Los Angeles County Arts Commission promotes understanding and accessibility to the arts by providing information and resources for artists, educators, arts organizations and the public. Major museums—including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Getty Center and the Museum of Contemporary Art—are some of the country’s biggest and wealthiest art institutions. Downtown’s Gallery Row, home to 45 galleries, attracts tens of thousands of visitors to its monthly Downtown Art Walk.

What else would you expect from “The Creative Capital of the World?”

Austin, Texas
It may be known as The Live Musical Capital of the World, but Austin, Texas makes room for arists of all mediums. Photographers, painters, sculptors, designers, moviemakers and musicians are just a handful of the creative types you’ll find roaming around Texas’ state—and artistic—capital.

From the University of Texas at Austin’s Blanton Art Museum to the Austin Museum of Art, Austin is a city where art finds you. It’s also a place that promotes diversity amongst its artist, as seen with the popularity of the Mexic-Arte Museum, the official Mexican and Mexican-American fine art museum of Texas, as well as DiverseArts Culture Works, a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing the area’s African American Cultural Heritage District.

“Austin is a town that fosters the entrepreneurial spirit, whatever the venture, and because of that it’s a great place for artists,” says Rachel Haggerty assistant director of the Wally Workman Gallery ( “When everyone around you is following their dream, it encourages you to do the same. Here, I believe the term ‘artist’ applies to those creating tech startups to restaurateurs to oil painters. We are lucky to have a community that supports and rewards individuality.”


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