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Dallas Not Even A Top 20 ‘Arts Vibrant’ City, Says New SMU Study

by Jerome Weeks 22 Jan 2015 1:11 PM

A video tour of America’s large “arts vibrant” cities, according to the National Center for Arts Research.

SMU’s National Center for Arts Research has released its first annual “Arts Vibrancy Index.” The new study measures the cultural vitality of some 900 communities across the U.S. based on several factors including: the number of artists, arts groups and arts employees in an area, the level of government support (state, federal and local) and the total number of nonprofit dollars in the community (including ticket sales, contributed revenue, expenses).

The report ranks the top 20 American cities — large and small — and Texas doesn’t rank well at all. That’s probably not exactly a shock to the system, given the cliff-droppingly dramatic lack of state and local government support here. But consider the staggering amount of private dollars that have poured into cultural institutions in Dallas, Houston and Fort Worth, and consider the ‘live music capital’ reputation of Austin (as well as the presence of a certain, very large, richly-endowed university there).

So it is surprising that no Texas city — large or small — is anywhere near the top 20 of either list. Dallas is 85th, Houston 82nd, Fort Worth is 230th  and Austin tops them all  … by being only 62nd.

Beyond bragging rights, the index is significant because a) its data breakouts can help arts leaders see specifically where their county or MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) is weakest. And b) cultural activity directly contributes to a city’s “livability” (people are not drawn to an area solely by low property taxes or decent public schools). Somewhere to go at nights other than sports bars, something culturally stimulating — these seem to be factors in people’s choice of home turf.

The Arts Vibrancy Index report’s conclusions also cast a light on just what a lively arts scene requires. For example, the leading ‘vibrant areas’ tend to have a strong urban arts core (with less going on in surrounding communities) or they’re vibrant throughout the entire metropolitan area. And oddly enough, the majority of those metro areas have populations that are under 300,000 or between 1 and 3 million.

I take one, small exception to a conclusion in the report. To quote the press release: “No region has cornered the market on arts vibrancy. cities large and small from every region appear in the top 40 cities, although there is high representation from Western communities in the set of medium-to-small cities.”

True  — so far as it goes. But it’s a little rosy. Actually, much of the Deep South is weakly represented — if we subtract New Orleans (16th), Nashville (2nd!), Richmond, Virginia (19th) and Charlotte, NC (18th) from the large city list. That sounds like a hefty subtraction, but only one Southern city appears at all in the small list, Easton, Maryland — but like the other Southern city that appears in the large-city list (Silver Spring, Maryland) — it’s basically from a border state.

In other words, there’s a large swath from Georgia, Florida and Mississippi all the way across to Texas  — no Atlanta, no Memphis or Miami, no Charleston or Montgomery, no Houston, Austin or Dallas — a large swath not represented among these lists at all. That should tell us something.

Of course, if one burrows down, there may well be a lot burbling away just below the top 20 lists, so much so that all that cultural burbling may elevate the Deep South in terms of ‘arts vibrancy.’ But my eyes have gone bleary squinting at NCAR’s interactive arts vibrancy map trying to figure out whether that’s true, so I’ll let someone else figure it out.

Here’s the full release:


Data-driven Assessment Ranks Cities by Arts and Cultural Assets

Dallas (SMU), January 22, 2015 – SMU’s National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) today released its first annual Arts Vibrancy Index ( The index ranks more than 900 communities across the country. Vibrancy is measured as the level of supply, demand and government support for arts and culture on a per capita basis. The report highlights the top 20 large markets and top 20 medium and small markets. NCAR provides rank scores on all measures for every U.S. county on its website (

“The numbers are only the start of the story, not the end. Each city in our report is unique in what makes it a vibrant community for the arts,” said Dr. Zannie Giraud Voss, Ph.D., director of NCAR and chair and professor of arts management and arts entrepreneurship in SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business. “Our intention in developing this report is to stimulate conversation about what makes a city vibrant in the arts and how arts vibrancy varies across cities.”

The overall index is composed of three dimensions. Supply is assessed by the total number of arts providers in the community, including the number of independent artists, arts, culture and entertainment employees, and arts organizations; demand is gauged by the total nonprofit arts dollars in the community, including program revenue, contributed revenue, total expenses and total compensation; and level of government support is based on state arts dollars and grants and federal arts dollars and grants.

Geographically, the rankings utilize Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), which are delineated geographic areas consisting of one or more counties that have high social and economic integration with an urban core as defined by the Office of Management and Budget. By focusing on MSAs, the index captures the network of suburbs that rise up around a city or town rather than considering them separately.

Among cities with populations of 1 million or more, the five most vibrant arts communities are as follows:

1. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
2. Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN
3. New York-Jersey City-White Plains, NY-NJ
4. Boston, MA
5. San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, CA
For medium and small cities, with population under 1 million, the top five cities are all in the West:

1. Glenwood Springs, CO
2. Santa Fe, NM
3. Jackson, WY-ID
4. Breckenridge, CO
5. Edwards, CO
The full top-20 lists are available on the NCAR website, including scores on each of the three dimensions (supply, demand and government support).

Beyond the specific rankings, select key findings in the Arts Vibrancy Index include:

• No region has cornered the market on arts vibrancy. Cities large and small from every region appear in the top 40 cities, although there is high representation from Western communities in the set of Medium-Small cities.

• Arts vibrancy takes many shapes and forms. Some cities have impressive financial resources invested in nonprofit arts and cultural institutions, others are filled with many smaller organizations and venues, some are tourist destinations and still others are artist colonies. Some cities are strong in numerous arts sectors while others are capitals of a particular art form.

• There are interesting differences across very large Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). Those that made the list tend either to have a strong concentration of arts vibrancy in an urban core and less going on in surrounding communities, or they are vibrant throughout the greater metropolitan area, and less so in the city center.

• The majority of arts vibrant cities have a population either under 300,000 or between 1,000,000 and 3,000,000.

About NCAR

In 2012, the Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University launched the National Center for Arts Research (NCAR). The Center, the first of its kind in the nation, analyzes the largest database of arts research ever assembled, investigates important issues in arts management and patronage, and makes its findings available to arts leaders, funders, policymakers, researchers and the general public. The vision of NCAR is to act as a catalyst for the transformation and sustainability of the national arts and cultural community.

With data from the Cultural Data Project (CDP) and other national and government sources such as the Theatre Communications Group, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Census Bureau and the National Center for Charitable Statistics, the National Center for Arts Research is creating the most complete picture of the health of the arts sector in the U.S. The goal of the Center is to become the nation’s leading source of expertise on: 1) arts attendance and patronage, 2) understanding how managerial decisions, arts attendance and patronage affect one another, and 3) the fiscal trends and fiscal stability of the arts in the U.S., and to create an in-depth assessment of the industry that allows arts and cultural leaders to make more informed decisions and improve the health of their organizations.
The project’s indices and dashboard were created in partnership with IBM, TRG Arts and Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF). The Center also partnered with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to develop its mission, vision and long-term strategies.

NCAR is led by Dr. Zannie Voss, chair and professor of arts management and arts entrepreneurship in the Meadows School of the Arts and SMU Cox School of Business, and Dr. Glenn Voss, Endowed Professor of Marketing at Cox School of Business. Through this leadership, NCAR sources its cross-disciplinary academic expertise in the fields of arts management, marketing and statistics from Meadows and Cox faculty.’

More than a dozen visionary foundations and individual arts patrons have supported NCAR with financial investments, including the Communities Foundation of Texas, M. R. & Evelyn Hudson Foundation, Carl B. & Florence E. King Foundation, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Jennifer and Peter Altabef, Marilyn Augur, Molly Byrne, Bess and Ted Enloe, Melissa and Trevor Fetter, Carol and Don Glendenning, Jeanne R. Johnson, Nancy Nasher, David Haemisegger, Nancy Perot, Bonnie Pitman, Caren Prothro and Donna Wilhelm.
For more information, please visit the NCAR website at