9 U.S. Towns You Never Knew Had Fantastic Art Districts

art districts

You’ll find the Norman Rockwell Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and more in these 9 art districts.

If you want to have an artsy vacation, the usual suspects have probably popped onto your travel list: New York City and, if you love jazz, New Orleans. But plenty of other towns and neighborhoods throughout the United States are brimming with quirky art museums, music festivals, art districts and more. These nine made our list of the best artsy places in the U.S. that you might not have known existed.

1. Brevard, North Carolina

art districtsKeith Lockhart conducts during the Brevard Music Festival.

This tiny Southern town (yes, you will be treated to “Y’all come back now, ya hear?” as you exit the local ice cream shop) hosts a major music festival every summer that’s been around for more than 80 years. This isn’t just a small gathering of amateur musicians. Keith Lockhart (conductor of the Boston Pops) is the artistic director, and they bring more than 400 students, 80 teachers and 40,000 attendees together for 80 concerts over 10 weeks, with big names including Garrick Ohlsson, Ricky Skaggs and Sarah Chang. The music festival isn’t the only big thing to do here. There’s also a Crystal Mountain Gem Mine to sift through, dozens of hiking trails to bike or walk, as well as waterfalls to explore.

2. Pasadena, California

art districtsThe Make Music Festival is free and attracts 50,000 people annually.

Pasadena is home to many art museums and galleries, including the Norton Simon Museum and the Pasadena Museum of California Arts. Every year there’s a massive music festival called Make Music Pasadena that attracts about 50,000 visitors who come to see more than 150 bands perform. The architecture is rich, too, with an entire neighborhood of 800 small Craftsman homes built between 1900 to 1930, forming Bungalow Heaven.

3. Oak Park, Illinois

art districtsThe Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio is open for visitors.

Just a 25-minute train ride from downtown Chicago, this city-like suburb is an architectural gem, especially if you’re a Frank Lloyd Wright fan. Wright, along with his students and followers, lived and worked here. You can see Wright’s influence on nearly every street in the entire village. Start your tour at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, where the late architect lived from 1889 to 1909. You can explore the home and even check out his original drawings, which became available to the public only recently. Famous architects designed many of the private residences in Oak Park as well, and the village does an annual fund-raising house walk so you can visit the houses and see how regular people modernized the homes (or didn’t). Oak Park has its very own art district, where you can pop into tiny galleries, take an art class yourself or just sit down to a cup of coffee at Buzz Café, which was decorated by local artists. The feel is definitely hippy.

4. Jackson, Mississippi

art districtsThe Fondren Art Gallery is one of many local galleries in Jackson.

This city is smack in the middle of New Orleans and Memphis — and it’s been a magnet for young artists because it’s got a relatively low cost of living but it’s close to the two artsy music cities. As a result, Jackson has been a haven for budding artists, who’ve formed a tight-knit community. When you visit, check out the Mississippi Museum of Art, the largest museum in Mississippi. It’s particularly strong in American art from the 19th and 20th centuries, including works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol and Radcliffe Bailey. At the Fondren Art Gallery you can view a large collection of local art and purchase some, too. The Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center shouldn’t be missed either, as it highlights the history of Black Mississippians. The museum is the site of Jackson’s first school for Black students, and it’s also the school that Richard Wright, author of Native Son, attended. Jackson also boasts the largest symphony in the state: the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, which performs more than 120 concerts annually.

5. Hudson Valley, New York

art districtsThe Wassaic Project is an artist-run arts organization consisting of a residency program and a summer festival.

About two hours north of New York City sits Hudson Valley, known for its wine (it’s the oldest wine-producing area in the U.S.), its woodsy landscape and its art district. Hudson Valley is dotted with art museums, and you can spend your entire visit hopping from one to another. The Neuberger Museum of Art features 20th-century modern and contemporary art, and more than 6,000 pieces are in their permanent collection. Since Realist painter Edward Hopper was born and raised in Hudson Valley, you can’t visit Hudson Valley without exploring the Edward Hopper House, which also features the works of emerging and established artists.

6. Detroit, Michigan

art districtsThe Detroit Institute of Arts Museum has been a cultural institution for more than a century.

The Motor City has made a name for itself for having an artsy underground scene, thanks in part to its inexpensive rent, which has lured many artists here. The hashtag #MovetoDetroit spurred by rocker Patti Smith in 2010 may have been a turning point for this city, after she determined that New York had closed itself off to artists. Now Detroit has become an art mecca. But the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum had already been here for ages, and it has one of the largest art collections in the U.S., with more than 100 galleries valued at about $8 billion. Many flock here to check out its large collection of American art, as well as its French pieces (they have some Monet, Degas and even van Gogh and Matisse). The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is also world renowned and has been on the scene for ages. To catch newer artists, check out the Detroit Artists Market, founded in 1932 to highlight up-and-coming artists.

7. Stockbridge, Massachusetts

art districtsThe Norman Rockwell Museum has the largest collection of original Rockwell art in the world.

It’s home to the Tanglewood music festival (the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), the Norman Rockwell Museum, the Berkshire Theatre Group, the Berkshire Botanical Garden and more. Stockbridge is a village in the hills of western Massachusetts, and it boasts a world-famous music center, historic mansions, and Jacob’s Pillow Dance, the longest-running international dance festival. Essentially the entire village is dedicated to the arts, so whether you’re visiting for the music, the theater, the visual arts or all of it, you’ll be face-to-face with the best.

8. Oakland, California

art districtsAt the Oakland Museum of California, visitors can learn about science, history and art.

Oakland has made a mark on the artistic world big-time. Where blue-collar manufacturing companies shut the door, vacant buildings transformed to art districts. Artists have discovered that they could find inexpensive studios in locations not far from San Francisco. Sculptors, musicians and punk artists moved in and created First Fridays festivals, local gallery showcases and graffiti art, which have put a new generation of Oakland artists on the international art scene map. The Oakland Museum of California is an interdisciplinary museum that blends art with history and natural sciences — and, at just over 40 years, it’s one of the older museums in the area.

9. Delray Beach, Florida

art districtsDowntown Delray is filled with art galleries, and they even offer a Delray art walk.

This town in south Florida used to be a farming community, but in the late 1900s it progressed into an adorable town with a thriving arts scene. In the winter it attracts artists and writers who can’t stand the cold weather in the East and Midwest, so they flock here to work. Delray Beach has an entire art district that’s packed with small art galleries, sculptures, pottery studios, jewelry shops, painting boutiques, design stores and restaurants. Delray also has more formalized art areas: the Cornell Museum of Art & History stands in the restored 1913 building, which houses four galleries and also holds a tea room. Downtown there’s the Delray Beach Center for the Arts, which is a museum and a theater in addition to an outdoor entertainment pavilion.

With all these thriving art districts to choose from, where will you go first? end


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