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Top 25 Small Cities

May 2010 | BY | Issue 72, Summer 2010

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

1. Asheville, N.C.

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 “Art-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.

44 Responses to “Top 25 Small Cities”

  1. Haw Creek Forge is thrilled that Asheville is recgonized as the number 1 small city for the arts. Having spent the afternoon downtown in the new park, the feel of the space the views make this truly one of the most beautiful places in the country.

  2. Sabbath-Day Woods is excited that Asheville is recognized nationally for the great art city that we all enjoy. And the art here just keeps getting better. We would like to invite everyone to come here and see for your self. Thanks for the honor. Desmond

  3. Come out and see first hand! Asheville Art in the Park is held on 3 Saturdays each June and October in the new Pack Square Park. Come out and visit Haw Creek Forge and 59 other local and nationally known artists at Asheville’s new premier art market in the center of downtown. Organized by BMAC exhibitor Muddy Knees, this show is dressed to impress. June 12th 19th and 26th 2010. http://www.AshevilleArtinthePark.com

  4. Ovalbeach on May 20, 2010 @ 7:30 AM

    I leave work in East Lansing at 4:30 pm on Friday and I don’t return to work until 8:00 am on Monday and in between I can be found in and near the artist colony of Saugatuck, MI. A walk down the many quaint streets in Saugatuck and Douglas or a lovely drive all along the Lake Michigan shore line stretching from Saugatuck south to Glenn, you can’t help but find art, artists and many galleries to satisfy any artistic taste. The peace and tranquility of this community goes hand in hand with the creative artists attitude that permeates the air and leaves many out of town visitors longing to return.

  5. Tim McCann on May 20, 2010 @ 7:57 AM

    Good stuff on ranking Bradenton, Fla., in the Top 25! This is quite the accomplishment for us being that Bradenton wasn’t previously ranked and probably wouldn’t have been considered for such an honor just 10 years ago. With the Village of the Arts, ArtCenter Manatee (where the International Traveling Watercolor Show visited recently), a new home under construction for the Manatee Players Community Theater, the South Florida Museum/Aquarium/Planetarium and other growing arts, culture and heritage destinations, it’s now easy to see why Bradenton has cracked the Top 25! Check out http://www.realizebradenton.com for more on our wonderful city and thanks, readers, for voting Bradenton!

  6. Awesome! Lived in Key West for 5 years and am moving to Saugatuck! Just got back from a Key West vacation last week and plan on having a picnic Sunday at Wicks Park in Saugatuck with the family. The kids love to feed the ducks, get icecream and go to the playground that is located right downtown on the main street. My son will be attending Douglas Elemantary in the fall. Can’t wait to move!

  7. Dee from Swannanoa on May 20, 2010 @ 10:41 AM

    We’ve been very pleased with our decision to move to the Asheville area when we retired a few years ago. There is so much more they could have mentioned, not least of which is the wonderful selection of original & tasty restaurants and our location in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains & the famous Blue Ride Parkway running through our town. Asheville hosted The Obamas last month who took advantage of hiking & eating at some of our favorte places.

    We sure don’t miss New Jersey!!!

  8. My goodness what a wonderful week Saugatuck, Mi. is having!! They just finished 4th in a national vote-off to determine “The Coolest Small Town in America”; they were voted “best weekend getaway” by voters in Indiana; and now this prestigious designation as one of the ” Top 25 Art Destinations” in the USA. I guess that makes them ” The Coolest Small Art Town Weekend Getaway in America”

  9. One of Asheville’s many gems is the historic River Arts District, with over 120 artists (several are open to the public every day!), great eateries and a twice-annual Studio Stroll the second full weekends of June and November. Just down the hill from downtown, visitors are welcome to explore seven days a week, and for a broad overview of all the art, visit the Studio Stroll June 12 – 13, from 10 A – 6 P!

  10. Realize Bradenton, Inc. is proud to support the vitalization of downtown Bradenton working with its cultural partners ArtCenter Manatee, Manatee Players, Manatee Historical Village,South Florida Museum, the Village of the Arts, DeSoto Historical Society and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Arts, culture, heritage and our river front are contributing factors that helped to rank Bradenton #1 in citizen attachment in the 2009 Soul of the Community research by Gallup of 26 cities nation-wide. Check out more at http://www.realizebradenton.com on the cultural attractions that make Bradenton a great place to live, work, play, and stay.

  11. Congrats once more to Asheville being noted as a very special place to be. We’ve known that all along haven’t we? ;-)
    I’ve traveled throughout the nation and never found a place that surpassed Asheville for its creative spirit and freedom, personal warmth, lifestyle options and natural beauty. (Santa Fe and others comes pretty close.) It’s why I chose to join my native mountain kin here in 1979 and like they, have always called it home.

    If you’re looking for a place to stay with an awesome mountain view near Asheville in Black Mountain please visit Awesome View vacation home: http://www.awesomeviewlodge.com.

    Enjoy your visit!
    Tom
    SunSpots Productions Voice Talent & Creative Audio Production
    Asheville
    Orlando

  12. How about West Hartford, CT??

  13. Thank you American Style for putting Asheville at the top of your small cities list! I’ve been in business in a small neighboring town to the west of Asheville for 18 years. Our gallery, Earthworks in located in Beautiful Downtown Waynesville, NC. It’s an easy 30 minutes drive west of I-40, and worth the trip from everywhere! Waynesville doesn’t ride on Asheville’s coat tails, but rather compliments the Smoky Mountian art experience. Asheville is a truly beautiful city and happily for all of the surrounding communities, offers many events and experiences for any age. Next time you come to the mountains, come to Waynesville too!

  14. I guess I had no other way to grow up but artistically as I was born in Key West (#4) and grew up in Brattleboro! (#24)
    Cheers to beautiful work coming from small and interesting places.

  15. Go Bradenton! Thanks for putting us under the top 25! If you ever come to Bradenton do not miss our beaches on Anna Maria Island. Please find the perfect vacation rental with Island Real Estate http://www.islandreal.com

  16. Great to see Cumberland in the Top 25. Lots of fun to be had in the Arts and Entertainment District in Cumberland. Every weekend start with Friday After Five on the downtown mall during the summer. Great music and arts events!

  17. I have been to many of the places on your list and I must say, you’ve done a magnificent and accurate job. My two favorite places are Saugatuck MI and Taos MN. Two of the quirky capitals of the art world (beautiful too). For those of you in Chicago who haven’t been to Saugatuck make the short trip. I love it.

    http://teliczan.files.wordpress.com/2007/07/saugatuck6mss2.jpg
    http://www.saugatuck.com/maps/images/aerial.jpg
    http://www.saugatuck.com/mellow/images/mellow.jpg

  18. Jayne Kocher on May 30, 2010 @ 8:19 AM

    So glad to see recognition for the hard work that our Bradenton, Florida community has put forth to embrace our arts!! Hope you will all come visit … we’ll show you a great time!!!!

  19. Thanks for making Sarasota,FL #5 on your list.
    So deserving and glad you noticed ! Arts & Culture are very important to us indeed.
    In fact we plan some day to have artists design their very own section of the sidewalk on Main Street. Speaking of Sidewalks…. The 3rd Annual Avenida de Colores Chalk Festival in Burns Square is scheduled for October 30 & 31, 2010. This years theme… Halloween!
    Over four blocks of Pineapple Avenue between Orange Avenue and Ringling Boulevard will be used for this weekend of magnificent street painting as well as stage performances, crafts, food and fun!
    And don’t forget about Sarasota for it’s beautiful beaches. Siesta Key is # 2 on Dr. Beach’s best beach list announced this past week.
    We also have magnificant sunsets, great boating and Golf !!

    PS Always appreciate new volunteers, sponsors and just general HELP! Contact: chalkfestival@me.com

  20. I wish you had a category for the best tiny art towns! Mineral Point Wi. would fit it to a tee. Nestled in the hills of southwestern Wi. , Mineral Point,estb. in 1826,filled with great stone buildings in a hilly terraine, has been an artists hot spot since the 1930′s.Check it out at —-mineralpoint.com

  21. Shuan Butcher on June 8, 2010 @ 1:00 PM

    It is great to see Frederick, Maryland be ranked in the Top 25 Small Art Cities. This town has an abundance of art opportunities from a nationally-juried fine arts festival, award-winning public art, three theaters within fifty feet of each other, a regional visual arts center and numerous art galleries. For a town our size, I am amazed at how much is here every day!

  22. C.Stickney on July 17, 2010 @ 7:37 AM

    Way to go FREDERICK, MD!!! nice to see we are recognized!

  23. I love American style.

  24. i love to visit art galleries both home and abroad, art has been my life,~;

  25. I live in Sarasota, FL…It’s great to see my city on the TOP 25 Small Cities even though the population keeps growing and growing. It’s a beautiful place with one of the best beaches according to the DISCOVERY TRAVEL CHANNEL. It’s def a place worth visiting if you ever get a chance to.

  26. We’ve been living in Sedona for about a year, and I have to tell you that it is an amazing and beautiful place to live. It’s a VERY small town, but being surrounded by red rocks is just beautiful.

  27. I love that both Sarasota and Key West made the top 5! Both are such gorgeous little towns in Florida

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