When looking for U.S. cities with a bustling art scene, it's easy to jump to the most obvious ones. While New York and Los Angeles are certainly lovely, they aren't the only options. In fact, there are a whole host of U.S. cities that feature impressive art exhibitions, galleries, and museums. Here are four underrated cities that every art lover should visit.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
With a population of just 70,000, Santa Fe has a bit of a small town feel, so you wouldn't necessarily expect it to be an artistic mecca. In fact, it might surprise you to learn that an enormous amount of art is sold in Santa Fe every year — its numbers are surpassed only by New York and Los Angeles.
For decades, Santa Fe has built up a reputation as a city with a very distinctive Southwestern aesthetic. This has helped to draw in tourists, and has resulted in the city achieving an almost mythical air in pop culture. Santa Fe has upwards of 200 art galleries, a dozen museums, and numerous art fairs, festivals, and markets.
If you're in the neighborhood, try visiting the Center for Contemporary Arts, an exhibition space that features a rotating display of visual art and films. Or you might explore the gallery Form & Concept, which displays artwork, offers workshops and artist residencies.
If you want to explore the art scene but have no idea where to start, consider taking a stroll down Canyon Road. This street, which is just half a mile long, features work from established artists all across the U.S. — there are over 100 galleries and boutiques for you to peruse.
Greenville, South Carolina
Greenville is even less populous than Santa Fe, but the art scene here is booming. Southern Living calls Greenville "South Carolina's city of the arts." More and more artists are relocating to Greenville — between 2002 and 2018, the number of participating gallery artists in Open Studios spiked from 48 to 143.
This growth means that, for the art aficionado, there's no shortage of things to do — Greenville is now home to 31 art galleries and plenty of museums. Start with the Greenville County Museum of Art, which features the largest public collection of Andrew Wyeth watercolors in the world. This museum also often has exhibit tours and artist talks, and even features an Antiques, Fine Art, and Design Weekend every October.
If you'd like to get some face time with local artists, Art Crossing at RiverPlace is a great place to visit. This gallery and studio space lets you see artists at work in their own spaces. You can enter the studios and see the art on display, talk with the artists, and even commission a piece of custom artwork.
Cody is a small city that's filled with art. Art lovers will enjoy Big Horn Galleries, which feature paintings, sculptures, and other artwork from artists across the country. Or, if you're into sculptures, Mountain Valley Artistry might be up your alley. Owned and operated by sculptor Jim Marsico, this studio and gallery features a great deal of original work. Marsico's sculptures have won multiple fine arts awards, and have even been displayed in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C.
Cody is also home to Whitney Western Art Museum. This is one of several museums operating as part of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, and has become one of the country's leading Western art galleries. It features original sculptures, paintings, and prints that explore the history and culture of the American West. There are also plenty of contemporary artists featured.
With its collection of local galleries and the impressive Bellevue Arts Museum, this Washington city is well worth a trip for anyone looking for an artist's haven off the beaten path. The Bellevue Arts Museum is considered the Pacific Northwest's artistic center, featuring the works of influential regional artists and international collections. This museum grew out of an arts and crafts fair established in the 1940s. While the museum is now a permanent fixture of Bellevue, the BAM ARTSfair is an ongoing annual tradition featuring upwards of 300 artists each year. The museum itself is one of the only museums in the country focusing on craft and design as well as art.
Bellevue is also home to a number of art galleries, including the Gunnar Nordstrom Gallery. Open since 1991, this gallery focuses on work that is whimsical and expressionist. It features a host of artists who have been displaying there for decades, as well as newer local artists.
Another more modern gallery worth exploring is VUE. Only open since 2017, VUE is nestled right in the heart of Bellevue. It features a variety of local artists, displaying modern work that is bright, colorful, and completely unique.