A story we tell about the artistic life is the one about a bright young kid who escapes her hopelessly dull and philistine hometown for New York or San Francisco, where at last she can breathe freely, be herself, and join with others in the bohemian bliss of true creativity.
Well, a great international city will always be a magnet for
artists, and for the foreseeable future nowhere else in North
America will equal New York or Toronto for sheer artistic density
and excitement, or San Francisco for bohemian savoir-faire, or Los
Angeles for stylish pop-cultural energy. But the old stark choice
between Nowheresville and the metropolis is breaking down.
American arts institutions in important regional cities have long
histories and great reputations?the Cleveland Orchestra,
Charleston?s Dock Street Theatre, the Nelson-Atkins art museum in
Kansas City?and Canada?s federal and provincial governments have
long nurtured art, helping towns like Halifax and Winnipeg grow as
cultural centers. More recently, pop-music scenes have put smaller
cities from Memphis to Seattle on the cultural map, with Omaha now
making a bid as the new indie-rock hot spot.
Meanwhile, some regional centers have sprouted respectable
multi-art scenes where galleries, music, dance, theater, and
literature thrive together. Many young artists who might have
jumped from small-town North Dakota or Alabama to New York are
instead choosing Minneapolis or Atlanta. In cities like these they
find flourishing art communities connected to international
currents via ambitious local art centers, theaters, universities,
galleries, and clubs?along with support systems like coffeehouses,
GLBT organizations, and artists? co-ops?with the Internet helping,
of course. In a more supportive atmosphere than they might find in
the biggest cities, they can try their wings and explore their own
roots. Some stay, many move on?and, increasingly, many return to
these regional artistic centers after time on the coasts, or become
permanently biregional. In short, a new, dynamic sense of flow
among artistic centers large and small is replacing the old
paradigm of get-out-of-Podunk-for-the-Big Apple.
One of the most exciting aspects of this phenomenon is digging into
these new art towns and cities and seeing the riches they have to
offer. Here are snapshots of four towns that are, at first glance,
unlikely art hot spots. A fusion of sophistication, creative
energy, and human-scale living makes all of them good places for
artists and for art?and puts them in the vanguard of what may
become a truly decentralized artistic culture on our continent.