Not Necessarily New York

| Arts Extra Special

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.

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