What’s the Best City for Artists?

Nashville map 4A number of years ago when my husband and I were visiting the Boston area, we were invited to a casual dinner with new acquaintances. Early in the evening, as we were getting to know others at dinner, the “where are you from” question came up. The discussion evolved into a comparison of east and west coast living when someone turned to my husband and asked him, “Which coast are you from?” With a smile, he responded, “There is something in the middle you know.”

My husband grew up in Michigan.

Let’s face it; in this country we typically look to the coasts for new ideas and endeavors. It’s been that way for years, and will continue I’m sure.

The good news for artists and designers is that there’s a groundswell of creativity coming from the rest of the nation. From the Northwest to the Midwest to the South, creatives are discovering wonderful, welcoming, and less expensive communities in which to live and thrive. Even better news; many of these communities have first-rate art colleges nearby. Perhaps it’s a case of the chicken or the egg; I don’t know which came first but the outcome is beneficial either way.

15 Cities for Creative 20-Somethings is a great starting point for researching up-and-coming artistic havens. Read the post to see if any of them grab you. And while you’re at it, check out nearby art colleges and programs. I’ve listed a sampling of public and private art programs near some of these artistically-minded cities, but suggest you do your own homework to learn what each community and college has to offer.

University of Texas at Austin  – Austin, TX
Oregon College of Art & Craft, Pacific NW College of Art   –  Portland, OR
University of Louisville (excellent glass program)  –  Louisville, KY
College for Creative Studies  –  Detroit, MI
Carnegie Mellon University  –  Pittsburgh, PA

One more thing; I’d like to amend the list to 16 Cities, and add Columbus, Ohio. I know I’m biased, but this city does have a lot to offer all types of creatives. And, CCAD is a great career launching pad for future artists and designers.

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Consider The End: Art School Graduate

art school grad pillow - lesrubadesign dot comLife is pretty good. You’re working your way through the maze of portfolio days, applications, campus tours and interviews, but in reality you already know where you want to attend college. You even dream about it. All that’s really left is the waiting game and the email stating “we’d like to welcome you into the class of …” But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before you dream of your happily-ever-after college experience I hope you’ll consider reality for a minute; the reality of graduation.

Colleges and universities work very hard to attract the most talented and brightest students. They invest significant time and resources into recruiting, accepting and enrolling dedicated individuals. But once in the door, how much attention is paid to retention – and its cousin – graduation? Will the school make it easy for you to stay on course and graduate on time? And why should you care?

The answers are wrapped up in a multitude of tangibles and intangibles, often not easily measured. Cost and years to completion play a role. So do learned skills, experience gained, connections made, maturity, and confidence.

Let’s consider graduation rates. Collegereality.com, produced by The Chronicle of Higher Education with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, helps navigate some critical issues that should be considered when selecting a college. I used their data on pricing and graduation to compare the most fiscally fit schools, as defined by Forbes.

Average Net Price

Graduation Rate


Income Range


4 years

6 years

 national average for a BA




Cooper Union




Rhode Island School of Design




California  Institute of the Arts




Cleveland Institute of Art




Minneapolis College of Art & Design




Reading between the lines, here is what you need to know:

  • Collegereality.com comparisons are based on obtaining a BA, not a BFA.
  •  Most likely you won’t be responsible for the advertised price; you’ll pay the average net price which takes scholarships and grants into consideration.
  • Government graduation rate standards don’t accurately reflect the times we live in. Part-time students, students who take time off in the midst of their college years, and transfer students don’t count in these outdated graduation rates. However, students graduating within 150% of the time it should take to graduate are included, (i.e. students taking up to six years to graduate from a four year institution).

I believe graduation rates also reflect the effort that faculty, staff, and especially career services personnel put into getting students on the right track. That’s where retention plays a role. According to a US News & World Report study, as many as one in three first year students don’t return to the same school sophomore year. Reasons vary from financial to academic to family issues. One way schools fight back is with organized first year experiences that are fun and engaging, and that help freshmen adjust to college life. They teach time management, money management, healthy eating habits, how to live independently from mom and dad, and how to trust yourself as an artist. Professors and career services professionals also help by ensuring students remain focused on their major, understand career opportunities, gain exposure to real-world experiences, and connect to prospective employers.

My advice: keep asking questions. Find out what first year experiences exist at the colleges you’re considering. Ask about their retention and graduation rates. Inquire how they’ll engage you with others on campus and in your chosen career. Even if you’ve got your heart set on a specific school, you’ll be happier in the long run.

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