The US cities with the highest concentrations of working artists

Whither the arts?
Whither the arts?
Image: Reuters/Bruno Kelly
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Artists are what make cities great. They take us out of mundane mindsets and make us thoughtful, ecstatic, and critical. Without them, cities risk becoming sterile places only focused on getting by. Researchers have also suggested they can be important engines of economic growth for cities, by attracting the most educated and creative non-artists.

Only about 1.4% of employed adults in the US work as professional artists, as defined by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The NEA’s list of professions they designate as artistic include actors, musicians, photographers, designers, painters and authors, among others. A detailed explanation of their choices can be found here (pdf).

So where do they go to find work?

Artists have always flocked to cities, both for inspiration and for patronage, and the US today is no different. But not all US cities are equally blessed with these creative, often complicated, individuals.

The vast majority of working artists live in urban areas, and the places in the US with the highest concentration of artists are its wealthiest and densest. According to a Quartz analysis of 2011 to 2015 US Census data using the NEA’s definition of artists, the following 10 counties have the highest share of artists in their workforce. Manhattan and San Francisco, rich places with condensed populations, top the list.

Although the US Census’s sample size is too small to discern trends for most counties, the data suggests several places where the artist community is growing. No place has seen a bigger surge in their artist population than Kings County, New York (also known as the home of Brooklyn). The proportion of Brooklyn’s working population that are professional artists jumped from about 4.1% from 2011-2015 from about 2.2% in 2000. Other counties that have seen an uptick in their artist communities include Los Angeles County, Alameda County (aka Oakland) and Cobb County (a suburb of Atlanta).

Although Manhattan is the place with the largest share of artists, it is also the county that’s experienced the largest decrease in the proportion of working artists. The share of artists in Manhattan fell from about 8.3% in 2000 to 7.4% from 2011 to 2015. That supports reports of artists, who make well below average incomes compared to the employed population, fleeing Manhattan for the slightly less expensive Brooklyn.