10 Great Towns for Working Artists
Are you looking for a change of scenery, a community filled with artists selling their wares in a quaint main street district, a place where you could affordably live just a few steps away from lively art festivals, cultural attractions and theater? Then there’s good news for you.
Dozens of small towns and cities across the country have instituted artist relocation programs to encourage professional artists to move and open businesses. Many offer low-interest loans, grants, reasonably-priced mixed-use properties (meaning you could live, work and open a gallery in the same building), tax benefits, marketing assistance or other incentives specifically tailored for working artists. These places recognize that professional artists are small business owners who can help restore once-thriving communities, sometimes by creating jobs for other locals, sometimes by just adding to the cultural flavor of their revitalization plans and events.
Before you pick up your business and family, and head to the land of milk and honey, though, be sure to do your research. It’s likely you’ll still need to market your work outside of your new home to make a living. And cheaper properties are going to need some renovation work, probably more than what will be covered by the financial incentives the communities are offering.
Here are some of our favorite places, from communities just starting their programs, to a few that have been flourishing for years and are still seeking newcomers. Many of the Web sites listed below will show you which properties are available for sale. Otherwise, a quick trip to Realtor.com can help you get a better idea of the cost of properties available in a particular community:
1. Millville, New Jersey, Glasstown Arts District
What makes it special: Designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a Main Street Community in 2004, the Glasstown Arts District has been thriving for more than eight years. With affordable, mixed-use properties featuring period architecture, monthly art walks, a large public art center with gallery and studio spaces, and lots of cultural activities, this river town of 26,000 is an energetic place to call home.
What it offers: The town’s annual marketing budget clocks in at just over $300,000, bringing in a lot of tourists. Plus, if you purchase a mixed-use property in the Glasstown Arts District, you can get a facade grant of up to $10,000 (1:1 match) to improve the front of your home. While many Main Street Communities offer such grants for businesses in their districts, it’s the mixed-use designation that makes Millville unique among grant programs.
Contact: Marianne Lods, Executive Director, Millville Development Corporation, 1-800-887-4957, [email protected]
2. Evansville, Indiana, Haynie’s Corner
What makes it special: More than a century old and once a focal point of Evansville, Haynie’s Corner plays host to the largest arts festival in the tri-state area, drawing 5,000 to 6,000 tourists annually. While Evansville is home to more than 120,000 residents, Haynie’s Corner is an artistic treasure in the region. The artist relocation program, which began in 2006, is already attracting writers, artists and musicians. One of the most exciting neighborhood projects today is the restoration of the c. 1913 Alhambra Movie Theater, which will become a mixed-use community center where, in addition to movies, visitors can see plays, musical performances, piano and dance recitals, and more. With an organic foods grocery store, coffee house, award-winning public library, museum and a quiet street filled with trees and mixed-use property featuring Victorian architecture, Haynie’s Corner appeals to contemporary artists looking to live in a place where they can turn back the clock.
What it offers: Evansville is offering what are known as forgivable mortgages, up to $5,000 for exterior renovations of properties, or up to $25,000 subsidy for building a new home in the area. A forgivable mortgage is basically a loan you don’t have to pay back, as long as you stay in the property you buy as a primary residence for a certain number of years, in this case, five. Properties in the neighborhood are affordable, with many in need of TLC between $10,000
Contact: Lana Abel, 812-436-7823 ext. 4, [email protected]
3. Rising Sun, Indiana
What makes it special: Rising Sun wants its artists to succeed, so it hosts a number of art business workshops in the town regularly, including one March 14 through 16 by Art Calendar’s own Contributing Writer Eric Maisel. A naturally beautiful river town with the kind of scenery anyone would want to paint, Rising Sun has been attracting artists and other creative people since the relocation program began six years ago. And with a cozy population of 2,500 and a location less than an hour from big cities like Cincinnati, Ohio, this is the perfect small town with a passion for professional art training, and close connections to great markets.
What it offers: Rising Sun is of the few places offering a monthly artists’ stipend ($100 a month, offered through a juried process).
Contact: Sherry Timms, 1-888-776-4786
4. Berea, Kentucky
What makes it special: Known as “The Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky,” Berea has a rich folk arts heritage dating all the way back to the 1800s. Founded around a college that admitted African-Americans and women into the school as early as 1855, this forward-thinking community boasts more than 40 craftspersons and gallery owners. From glass blowers, to weavers, to furniture-makers and more, many of whom offer demonstrations or workshops regularly, artists from this Appalachian community attract lots of tourists on a regular basis.
What it offers: In addition to aggressive marketing efforts, Berea also offers a renowned reputation as an art community, a location just off I-75 (one the major north-south routes in the country), and a history of diversity, as well as a future focused on sustainability. Further, students who are accepted to Berea College pay no tuition. Instead, they have work programs, about 10 percent of which involve learning the folk art trades popular in the town. The liberal arts college does not accept top-tier students who would be able to get scholarship and financial aid to attend other colleges, but rather good students who can’t afford to go to another school.
Contact: Berea Tourism Center, 800-598-5263, [email protected]
5. Bradenton, Florida, Village of the Arts
What makes it special: Celebrating its seventh birthday, the Village of the Arts, with help of the city, a handful of artists and the Village’s nonprofit organization, the Artists’ Guild of Manatee, set out to create a community where artists of all disciplines could live and work. Forty artists later, the Village is well on its way. With monthly art walks that fill the streets with art lovers, loads of special events, outdoor movie nights, gourmet food and a location just minutes from the beach, this is the Gulf Coast’s largest artist community in one of Florida’s most culturally-rich areas. Attracting a variety of artists, including those middle agers in the midst of career changes to fine arts, this focused arts district is full of burgeoning and established artists who passionately support each other’s careers.
What it offers: The city is providing artists who purchase property in specific areas of the district with up to $10,000 in matching renovation grants (1:1 match). There are also a variety of properties available with designated
6. Chattanooga, Tennessee
What makes it special: Chattanooga invites artists of all disciplines, from graphic artists and interior designers, to sculptors, writers and musicians, to relocate to the “Scenic City,” a place that was flourishing with the arts well before the Arts Move program was instituted just two years ago. The program has already welcomed 25 new artists into permanent residences in Phases I and II, and has just announced a call for Phase III. Featuring internationally recognized artists as well as up-and-comers, Chattanooga has a thriving art scene in a great location, just two hours from Atlanta, Georgia and two hours from Nashville. Add to that mixed-use zoning, industrial property at an affordable price and more than 30 art and culture organizations, including symphonies, museums and theater, and this is one waterfront community where a passionate working artist can really plant his feet.
What it offers: Artists purchasing property in qualifying neighborhoods can receive a $15,000, five-year forgivable mortgage.
Contact: ArtsMove, c/o CreateHere, [email protected], or 423-648-2195
7. Paducah, Kentucky
What makes it special: Think about artist towns, and one of the first ones that comes to mind is Paducah. With more than 50 artists living, working and selling their creations, this small town features a fantastic cost of living, mixed-use properties, lots of art events, a performing arts theater, an art center, a community theater and the charm of the south. It’s not just about the business, but the camaraderie of Paducah, with its pot luck dinners, study groups and artsy atmosphere, that makes it a special
place to live.
What it offers: Besides a central location and the support of other professional artists, Paducah offers a $2,500 reimbursement for any design or renovation costs involved with the purchase of one of their charming properties, plus 100 percent financing for the purchase and rehabilitation of an existing structure or the building of a new structure. If you’re building, there are even free lots available for new construction.
Contact: City of Paducah Planning Department, 270-444-8690, [email protected]
8. Clarksville, Missouri
What makes it special: With just 490 residents, this quiet Mississippi-river town features 11 working artists, including furniture- and cabinet-makers, potters, iron workers and glassblowers, many of whom offer demonstrations and workshops to tourists coming in from St. Louis, just 75 miles away. The last Missouri town with a business district right on the Mississippi, Clarksville is almost out of property, as all of the storefronts have filled up with renters, but a few properties are still for sale.
What it offers: Low cost of living, a good tourist market and a generally comfortable, quiet pace of life makes Clarksville a special place for an artist trying to escape from the big city.
Contact: Submit a query online, or call the mayor’s office, 573-242-3336
9. City of Pawtucket, Rhode Island
What makes it special: A blue-collar, gritty mill town that needed a way to revitalize itself a decade ago, Pawtucket might just be God’s Mecca for Working Artists. In fact, the city has been so successful in attracting and maintaining artists that it serves as an official model for other communities planning to institute artist relocation programs of their own. Focused on helping artists make a living, city representatives walk new artists through the process of purchasing, permitting and renovating a new property, and they maintain a database of new properties on the market that would be suitable for artists. This includes old mill space (for as little as $6 to $7 per square foot) and commercial properties, suitable for artists’ studios. Plus, the city has an annual fund of $25,000 to fund arts groups, and host and advertise art events. With a local government that supports the artists, a convenient location just off I-95 and hundreds of working artists already established in the city of 72,000, Pawtucket is a great location for an artist who wants a solid career footing.
What it offers: One of nine communities in Rhode Island with state tax exemptions for working artists, Pawtucket certifies eligible artists or galleries who get state tax sales exemptions for original art or limited production works of art sold within the 307-acre arts and entertainment district. The law (Rhode Island General Law 44-30-1.1) also exempts artists in the district from state income tax on income generated from their work. Additionally, the city sometimes offers annual grants of up to $2,000 (more than $10,000 budgeted) for an artist or art organization who creates a piece of work, or organizes an artistic or musical event, that primarily benefits the City of Pawtucket and its residents.
Contact: Herb Weiss, Arts and Cultural Activities, 401-728-0500 ext. 437, or [email protected], or cell at 401-742-HERB.
10. Oil City, Pennsylvania
What makes it special: The birthplace of the oil industry and former headquarters of Standard Oil, Quaker State and Pennzoil, this northwestern Pennsylvania town is reinventing itself into a lively, committed arts community. With affordable Victorian homes and mixed-use properties (many under $50,000), theater, music, a branch campus of Clarion University, easy accessibility to art markets from Cleveland to Buffalo, and dozens of artists who have already claimed this small town as home, Oil City is one of the best deals on the market.
What it offers: 100 percent fixed-rate financing up to $150,000 on live-work space (when using First National Bank). This includes rehab costs, and mortgage insurance is waived. $7,500 toward down payment and closing costs on a residence through Venango County Affordable Housing (income guidelines apply). Plus there are opportunities for facade grants and loans, tax abatements for commercial properties and tax breaks for certain properties in the Historic District. Downtown studio space is available at $0.49 per square foot, with the first three months rent free.
Contact: Arts Oil City, [email protected] or 814-676-5303
An artist and writer, Kim Hall is the Editor of Art Calendar. After earning her B.A. in Art from the University of Central Florida, she went on to study residential design, and completed graduate work in arts management. She worked as an independent artist and freelance writer before coming to Art Calendar. She is currently pursuing her M.A. in Arts Administration through Savannah College of Art and Design. Kim can be reached at [email protected].