Top 25 Big Cities

May 2010 | BY | Issue 72, Summer 2010

1. New York, N.Y.

Antony Gormley’s life-size, nude figures are an unexpected addition to New York’s skyline. Credit: © Antony Gormley. A Hayward Gallery Commission. Courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery, New York and White Cube, London. Presented by Madison Square Park Conservancy.

The Big Apple. The City that Never Sleeps. A new nickname for New York City could be “The Artists’ Mecca.” Voted into the number one spot for the seventh straight year, New York continues to impress. Art is simply a part of the city’s culture, found everywhere from high-end galleries to the sides of buildings. AmericanStyle readers continue to flock to the nation’s art headquarters for its hundreds of museums, galleries, foundations and artist resources. “New York has so many contemporary art resources … The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art are just the beginning,” says reader Laurie Henrichsen of Avon Lake, Ohio.

Visitors to New York might notice an interesting new addition to the iconic Manhattan skyline this summer. British sculptor Antony Gormley, sponsored by the Madison Square Park Conservancy, is presenting his new public art installation, “Event Horizon,” until Aug. 15. The project depicts 31 life-size, nude figures of the artist cast in iron and fiberglass. Twenty-seven of the figures will be placed at elevated heights on landmarks such as the Empire State Building and the New York Life Building to manipulate the skyline.

2. Chicago, Ill.

Chicago’s popular “Cloud Gate” sculpture is known to locals as “the Bean.” Credit: © City of Chicago/GRC

The Windy City has blown its way into the second spot once again this year. As the nation’s largest Midwestern city grows, so does its art scene. Wherever you go in Chi-Town, you are surrounded by public art. Take a walk in Millennium Park to see the famous “Cloud Gate” sculpture (aka “the Bean”) or Crown Fountain, featuring LED displays of Chicago residents spitting water from their mouths. Explore the city’s neighborhoods and check out the many murals by contemporary artists like native Jeff Zimmerman. Says reader Vicki Bennett of St. Petersburg, Fla., “Chicago … well, it’s Chicago, and even though it’s a nearly perfect city, it continues to get better.”

Running through October, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs presents Studio Chicago, a yearlong project focusing on artists’ studios. Through exhibitions, lectures, tours and publications, Studio Chicago will examine three important questions: “Why is the studio important to art and artists today? ,“ “What is the artist studio today?” and “What infrastructures are needed to support art practice and production?.” With the help of Columbia College Chicago, Gallery 400, Hyde Park Art Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Threewalls, this project will celebrate working artists and reveal their sites of creative production.

3. Washington, D.C.

This rendering shows what the New York Avenue Sculpture Project will look like upon its completion in 2015. Credit: Jaroslaw Bieda

Coming in at number three for the third consecutive year, Washington, D.C., is not only our nation’s capital, but is vying to be the art capital as well. The numerous (and free!) Smithsonian art galleries and museums are only the first stop. Private studios and galleries representing all mediums make sure that no art lover is left out. “The art scene in Washington, D.C., needs no explanation … it abounds,” says reader Patty Moran of Alexandria, Va.

This city of monuments has a new addition among its ranks—in the form of a trio of women in colorful bathing suits. It is just the beginning of a changing installation of sculptures by women artists presented by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. On April 28, the New York Avenue Sculpture Project cut the ribbon on the first phase of the project, featuring the artwork of French sculptor, Niki de Saint Phalle. Her three 12- to 15-foot-high fiberglass sculptures, encrusted with mirrors, colored stones and mosaic glass, celebrate women, children, heroes, cultural diversity and love. When the project is finished in 2015, it will have transformed the four major medians on New York Avenue into sculpture islands dedicated to women.

4. San Francisco, Calif.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art turns 75 this year. Credit: Richard Barnes

Coming in fourth for the third consecutive year, the City by the Bay represents the West Coast in our top five Big Cities category. Historic cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge and the colorful streets of Chinatown make San Francisco a city for artists and art lovers alike. Even the government pitches in, with $15.4 million allocated to arts and cultural events in 2008-2009. “In San Francisco, art and culture are one and the same,” says reader Bryan Stroud from Columbus, Ohio. “There is no better city when it comes to encouraging and rewarding the creative process.”

One of the most well-known museums in the city is celebrating a big birthday—the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art turns 75 this year. To celebrate, the museum will be holding a special series of exhibits entitled “75 Years Looking Forward.” The exhibitions will tell the stories of the artists, collectors and community leaders who helped make the museum what it is today.

SFMoMA is well on its way to becoming bigger and better than ever in its 75th year. With contributions of more than $250 million, the museum has begun planning an expansion project to triple the size of its galleries and public spaces. A portion of the money will be used to create a showcase for the world-renowned Fisher Collection, a private collection of modern and contemporary art that has been gifted to the museum.

5. Boston, Mass.

Boston’s new Harvard Art Museum will bring three museums to one central location. Credit: Harvard Art Museum

There is much more to Boston than its historical sites. With modern galleries, craft festivals, museums and the well-known Institute of Contemporary Art, Beantown is definitely in the 21st century. “From the idiosyncratic Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to the Diablo Glass School, Boston has a spirit broad enough to preserve the antiquities of our founding fathers and foster the cutting-edge designs of today’s artists,” says reader Barbara Ganschow of Sparks, Nev. Some Boston hotspots include the Fort Point Arts Community, South End Open Market (open every Sunday through October) and the Museum of Fine Arts.

The Harvard Art Museum at Harvard University is undergoing a makeover—bringing their three separate museums (the Fogg, the Busch-Reisinger and the Arthur M. Sackler) to one central location. The goal of the project is to create a new platform for teaching the arts and offer larger exhibitions spaces for the general public to enjoy. The museum plans to open in 2013, but until then, visitors will be able to visit “Re-View” at the Sackler. The exhibit focuses on 600 works from all three art museums, featuring Western, Islamic and Asian art.

6. Philadelphia, Pa.
7. Albuquerque, N.M.
8. Seattle, Wash.
9. Atlanta, Ga.
10. Baltimore, Md.
11. Portland, Ore.
12. Los Angeles, Calif.
13. Columbus, Ohio
14. Austin, Texas
15. Denver, Colo.
16. San Diego, Calif.
17. Tucson, Ariz.
18. Nashville, Tenn.
19. Phoenix, Ariz.
20. Charlotte, N.C.
21. San Antonio, Texas
22. Milwaukee, Wis.
23. Las Vegas, Nev.
24. Dallas, Texas
25. Jacksonville, Fla.

24 Responses to “Top 25 Big Cities”

  1. MPLS_LOVER on May 19, 2010 @ 10:46 AM

    Um, where is Minneapolis on this list? They have great art museums, awesome shows… not the mention the beautiful sculpture gardens and Uptown Art Fair. Far more of an artsy to-do list than half the cities on this list!

  2. Louisville, KY certainly has a lot more interesting artistic things going on than several of these on the list. I also agree with Minneapolis as well. Is this based mainly on votes – like who is most popular? If so, I can understand better.

  3. We’re so happy to see readers commenting online! Minneapolis actually came in at No. 15 in our Mid-Size Cities category. We rank cities in three separate categories, based on their populations. You can check it out here:

    The cities are ranked based on our readers’ online and ballot votes. Louisville didn’t make it on the list this year, but we’d encourage you to vote for it in next year’s competition! Ballots appear in the Winter issue of AmericanStyle, and can also be found on our website in the winter.

  4. Dune Tencer on May 20, 2010 @ 8:53 AM

    Where is Houston on your list. We have one of the most active art communities in the country. The MFAH is one of the top art museums, Contemporary Arts Museum, Contemporay Craft Museum, the Menil, the Orange Show, the Art Car Museum, the Children’s Museum, Holicost Museum and God knows how many galleries there are. The Bayou City Art Festival has been voted the #3 festival in your magazine. Houston certainly is a big city and has a heck of lot more art than Austin.

  5. How did Baltimore get on there? With a high homicide rate and a general “dirty” port feel to it – definitely not very charming these days…

  6. Hello could I use some of the material here in this post if I reference you with a link back to your site?

  7. AmericanStyle on May 22, 2010 @ 9:47 AM

    We value your opinions, Kristen. But AmericanStyle readers voted Baltimore into the #10 spot for this year.

    As our headquarters, we definitely feel that Baltimore has a lot of charm left!

  8. I think naming 25 cities in each category is too many !! That’s a total of 75!! After the top 7…. I got bored. Because there are so many, the pole sort of looses it’s credibility. Many people get confused, if not irritated about the results. Everyone has an opinion and I hope those spoke negatively voted.
    Maybe every year is too often. Face it. it’s really about which top 5 large cities makes it to #1. They all have fantastic arts communities and most of us know that.
    More concentration on the mid and small cities by means of articles instead of a poll might be more of a way to do it.

  9. Kristine Fisher on June 8, 2010 @ 2:25 PM

    Message for Jennifer Clary
    Thank you for the ” inspiring read” regarding America’s top 25 Arts Destinations.
    Makes me want to pack my bags for the ultimate US Arts adventure.

    I represent The Society for the Encouragement of the Arts (seARTS), Gloucester, MA. seARTS is a coalition of people passionate about art- artists of all disciplines and a community of supporting individuals and organizations that embrace art as essential to Cape Ann’s vitality and sustainability.

    Could you please share with me the survey used that capture’s the criteria ranked by American Style’s readers. It is our goal to make Cape Ann one of America’s premiere arts destinations and to get the word out!

    Cape Ann has inspired and nurtured artists from Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper to poets Charles Olson and Vincent Ferrini; from playwright Israel Horovitz to Oscar- nominated actress Lindsay Crouse; from singer Paula Cole to legendary jazz educator and trumpeter Herb Pomeroy. Artists come to Cape Ann from all over the world to create and study. Visual and performing arts and a deep connection to the area’s rich history and natural beauty all flourish here, offering enrichment to residents and visitors alike. Our thriving arts community includes 2,000 working artists; painters; sculptors; photographers; graphic, media and design artists; writers, craftsmen, musicians, dancers, actors, and filmmakers. We have it all!

    Your survey woud help us gleem insight into the top attributes that matter to your readers. I am proud to be among that group. Thanks very much for your support. I can be reached at my e-mail address above.

  10. As with most large cities, if you are not a drug dealer, out purchasing drugs, or in some way involved in a gang related warfare your chances of getting murdered in Baltimore are not much greater than your chances of getting murdered in some small town in the Midwest.

    Baltimore has a lot to offer.

  11. The top 4 here seem pretty accurate to me. And I can accept that Baltimore is actually pretty decent.

    But L.A. should be in 5th place, right after San Francisco at #4. Though expensive and clogged with traffic, the cultural offerings and dining options in L.A. beat the living tar out of every place from #6 (Philadelphia) down. The outdoor recreation possibilities in L.A. are also top-notch, which push it ahead of Boston in my opinion.

    I agree with the earlier comments about both Louisville and Minneapolis. If Jacksonville makes the list, they definitely should, too.

    And speaking of midwestern cities: Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Indianapolis are all MUCH nicer than Columbus. Pittsburgh is also much better than Columbus. Hell, Detroit and Cleveland are probably nicer than Colombus — at least they are not clearly worse. Did anyone at this magazine ever actually LIVE in the Midwest?

    Finally, the notion that Albuquerque is even a decent place to live is patently absurd. Perhaps you have confused Albuquerque with Santa Fe (which actually is very nice)? Albuquerque is a filthy, sweltering cess pool with one of the highest murder rates in the country and a thriving drug trade to boot. Virtually no local stores or dining, except for budget Mexican. Seriously, Albuquerque would be on my list of the top 10 WORST cities in the U.S.

  12. What about Detroit, The Motor City? It is bigger in both size and name then about half of the cities on that list!


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