- The New York metro area stands out as the top cultural hub in the country, followed by the San Francisco, Washington DC, Los Angeles, and Boston metro areas.
- Marketing managers make up the bulk of bohemian employees nationally, with San Jose standing out as a hub for this category of creative workers. Marketing managers make up 19% of San Jose bohemian workers.
- The New York metro area has the largest number of bohemians, while LA has the largest share of bohemians.
- Marketing managers are the highest-paid creatives, followed by advertising and promotion managers.
Creative professions have always held particular appeal for people, especially for young minds in search of flexibility, soul-enriching experiences, and a good work-life balance. There are currently more than 4M bohemian workers in the US, with 20% of them being self-employed, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With the recent pandemic-triggered popularity of remote work, bohemians’ ranks are bound to swell further as they work in fields that already have the infrastructure to support working remotely. Graphic designers, creative directors, marketing specialists, architects, interior designers and jewelers can all work their magic from anywhere. Moreover, according to our most recent research, bohemian professions also pay well, better than many other jobs.
Which are the best places for creatives? Where will a bohemian worker encounter the biggest community of like-minded people? Sure, NY and LA come to mind when thinking about outstanding metros that support artistic endeavors, but living there is not for everyone. We wanted to explore which other metros are suitable for bohemians that want to live the dream. To do that, we looked into the 100 biggest metros in the US and ranked them based on a series of metrics, including:
- The highest concentration of bohemians per location
- Bohemian-friendliness based on the arts vibrancy index
- How much creative professions pay in specific locations
- Housing affordability
- Self storage options considering creatives most often need extra space to store guitars, design supplies, props, paperwork and so on.
Make way, NY! Minneapolis and Denver work hard to claim a top spot among the best metros for bohemians
The New York Metro ticks enough boxes to land in first place when it comes to the most bohemian-friendly environments in the US. There are, however, other contenders — perhaps less famous but often more affordable — giving the best of both worlds: a stimulating local artistic scene and a high standard of living.
There are enough galleries, event venues, creative agencies, tech hubs, architecture firms and patrons of the arts to make NYC stand out as the creative capital of the world. The average pay for bohemian professions is good compared to other locations, and then there is the cosmopolitan feel and opportunity-infused vibe, which makes NYC a desirable city for bohemian workers, despite the high cost of living generally associated with life in the Big Apple. A bohemian worker in NYC earns approximately $85,627 per year, on average – 35% more than the national average wage for creative professions. For those looking for more affordable options, there are neighborhoods such as Williamsburg or Bushwick where housing is generally less expensive than in Chelsea or the East Village – although their recent popularity is bringing home prices up to par here as well.
When it comes to fostering artists, NYC doesn’t disappoint: The city is undoubtedly the place to be if you want to become one. Sei Smith, a New York-born artist, attests to the Big Apple’s creative energy: “Growing up in New York City, I never thought much about the art communities forming around me. Even as I got older, joining and creating some of these communities always felt natural, almost an extension of playing in the street like when we were kids. Being an artist in New York still feels playful, everyone seems to have a project they want to discuss or collaborate on, some are real and some are just a hustle, but it’s fun finding gold amidst the snake oil. Art itself can be a game of finding the genuine within the conceited.”
Smith also added that “as well as my own art practice, I work as an artist assistant and studio manager for three different artists in NYC. Working for other artists allows me the financial stability to live in NYC. It’s also a great privilege because other artists understand the freedom of time needed for making art and attending as many shows and art events as possible.”
An artist’s journey is all about discovery, and what better way to do that than by exploring the city? Smith’s creative process follows a similar course: “The more time you spend wandering the streets, the better you get at finding the hubs where all the strangers are friends . . . . When I was 22, I started an underground club/art gallery called Apostrophe NYC where I tried to capture this kind of energy. As Apostrophe NYC began to form its own community I found that here in NYC, communities are created through action rather than just by location.”
The creative variety and the artistic feel is what makes NYC unique and Smith knows it too: “I curated an exhibition called Binocular Show at Apostrophe NYC, where all the paintings were palm sized and hung by the ceiling so the viewers had to use binoculars to see the art. Some people told me there wasn’t an audience for strange curation like that but the fun thing about NYC is there’s always an audience. In New York City there’s always someone weirder than you, always someone smarter than you, always someone cooler than you, and if you’re lucky they might just be your friends.”
San Francisco & DC rank second and third for fostering the creative spirit, with Portland & Denver joining bohemian hotspots
The San Francisco metro takes the second spot, with DC hard on its tail. While both metros are well-known artistic hubs, San Francisco fares slightly better than Washington DC when it comes to the arts vibrancy index and the share of bohemian workers. From ballet, classical music and opera to museums – for example the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art – ample exhibition opportunities, murals and public artworks, there is little that bohemians are lacking in the way of a thriving cultural and artistic environment. DC also shines bright when it comes to the arts: The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts houses the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington National Opera and the Washington Ballet. Additionally, many of America’s official museums and galleries can also be found here, under the patronage of the Smithsonian Institution as it is home to several venues dedicated to the performing arts.
In terms of housing costs, DC fares much better than San Francisco: Rents are considerably lower than in the Bay Area, as are median home prices, which range around $446,300. In the San Francisco metro area, the median home value is $940,900, according to U.S. Census data. Self storage rates for a standard 10×10 storage unit also tip the balance in DC’s favor ($144/month), as rates for the same type of unit tend to be higher in the Bay Area ($192/month), per Yardi Matrix data.
The LA metropolitan area ranks fourth in our top. With its prestigious art schools and a welcoming attitude for creatives, LA boasts the largest share of artists in the US alongside an impressive number of art museums and collections. Bohemians earn on average, $76,132/year in the City of Angels, more than the national average. But housing is not cheap either. The median cost of a home can reach about $667,000, one of the highest price tags for homes across the US.
Large city hubs each have their own unique creative print and LA is no exception. The Hollywood glam in LA permeates the creatives’ environment like in no other part of the country. Justin Oberman, a native New Yorker now making a living as an advertising writer in LA was attracted by La La Land particularly because of its popularity among his peers and the varied job market. He acknowledges NYC’s appeal but thinks LA is a more relaxed and diverse place for creatives. “Being creative in LA is very much influenced by Hollywood. In New York, you’re reacting more to all the stimulations around you and in LA you’re there seems to be a lot more emphasis on the production side of the creative process. Whereas in New York, the emphasis seems to be on the persuasion side of things. That’s just my estimation as an advertising writer.”
Beyond the glitter and glam, LA is a city built on art and the variety of job prospects for creatives is hard to compete with. “LA is a city built on the backbone of one of the biggest creative industries in the world. Creativity is kinda baked into the entire infrastructure of the city and community. There’s always somebody creative doing something that needs something creative. So if you’re good, it’s really easy to always find creative work.”
Bohemians typically appreciate a diverse environment to help foster their craft and LA seems to shine in this respect. “The other thing that’s amazing about LA is diversity. New York is also a diverse city, but I actually think that Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in the world just in terms of ideas and demographics. I’ve been exposed to a lot more different ways of thinking here in LA than I have in New York. At the end of the day, that’s where creativity comes from, right? It comes from a combination of what you’re working on and your life experiences “, says Oberman.
Living in creative hubs like NYC or LA is most often associated with a high cost of living. But as Justin says, “it costs more to make more”. And the opportunities you get in these cities make all the difference, even in challenging times such as these when many people had to rearrange career paths and lifestyles. “It would have been much harder for me to either start my own thing or freelance or do anything in say Cleveland than it is in LA. I’ve lived in Cleveland and I can tell you it’s a big difference in terms of creative opportunities. The same applies to New York. It’s much easier to find things to do as a creative in New York, than in Cleveland.”
Bohemian workers also experienced the ripples of the pandemic as in many cases, businesses employing creatives saw much of their workflow reduced. According to Justin, “the advertising industry was hit really hard because the natural reaction of brands is to cut their advertising budgets, even though they shouldn’t. Studies proved that during recessions and depressions brands that maintain their advertising or even increase it do 10 times better when the challenging times are over.”
After losing his job in advertising, Oberman turned this event into a positive experience as he saw this as an opportunity to reinvent himself once more. “After losing my job, I could have just gone back to freelancing. I was very successful at that in the past. But freelancing can be very stressful. And new laws in LA make it even harder to be a freelancer. So instead I decided to take the leap and actually start my own ad agency. So yeah, I’m starting an ad agency in the middle of a global pandemic. And probably a global recession or depression. Leo Burnett started his agency during the Great Depression. That worked out pretty well for him. So I’m scared, but not worried.”
Another renowned cultural hotspot, Boston, grabbed the fifth place on our list. While it may not be the cheapest place to live, with both home prices and rents above national averages, the local bohemian landscape in Boston is unparalleled in many respects. It is home to one of the top venues for classical music in the world and countless other performing arts organizations, major annual events and multimedia production studios. Earnings are also substantial here, with the average pay for bohemian professions placing Boston fifth among the 100 biggest US metros.
In a surprising move, Connecticut’s Bridgeport metro area found its way among the best metro areas for creatives, ranking ahead of San Diego and Seattle. Lower housing costs than those in the Californian and Washington State metros, a solid artistic community and the overall friendlier self storage picture gave the Bridgeport metro an edge over the other more famous bohemian hubs. Many movies were filmed in Bridgeport, including Iron Man and one of the Indiana Jones series, as well as plenty of TV shows and digital shoots.
Ranking ahead of other popular bohemian hotspots such as Denver and Chicago, Minneapolis made our top 10, mainly thanks to the more affordable cost of living. The median cost of a home here is $284,500, making it an affordable metro for bohemian workers. But more than that, the artistic community is also strong in Minneapolis and benefits from significant support from local art organizations.
Overall, the Mill City offers a little bit of everything for creatives. “Minneapolis has been a great place for me as an artist, it’s a vibrant community with creatives of all types,” says John Vogl, a local illustrator. He also adds that “unlike many cities of this size, I’m able to afford living and studio space that’s actually in the city. I’m fortunate to live in a place with many contemporaries, and plenty of places to find the resources and supplies I need, Wet Paint is a local gem.” According to Vogl, “there are several organizations helping artists, including Springboard for the Arts, Art Space, and Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association, which have been especially helpful during the pandemic. I’ve lived and worked in many places, but none have felt as welcoming as Minneapolis.”
Lisa Pemrick is another local artist who chose to stay in Minneapolis even after she’d traveled the world. “Minneapolis is a genuinely creative and inspiring place to live and work, with a deep commitment to supporting and promoting the arts, numerous arts organizations, a friendly and thriving artist community, and affordable studio space. The city itself is an interesting mix of diverse people and lifestyles with an openness to the unconventional. And as a quirky, unconventional person myself, I’ve found it easy to find other like-minded creatives.”
“I can personally attest to the supportive environment for artists,” she adds. “After a career in advertising writing (Minneapolis is also a hot spot for advertising and graphic design), I switched my focus to painting and was immediately able to tap into the many resources available here for artists, from annual art events and opportunities for gallery shows, to local art fairs, classes and access to grants.
Minneapolis is a city that fosters an artistic environment through its many organizations supporting the arts. “I currently belong to two artists’ organizations… Women’s Art Resources of Minnesota (known affectionately as WARM) where I spent two years in their fabulous mentorship program working alongside a veteran woman artist; and NEMAA, the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association with over 1,000 members and sponsor of Art-A-Whirl – the largest annual open artist studio tour in the U.S.
According to Pemrick, “for its size, Minneapolis has an enormous number of working creatives, and the Twin Cities are ranked #4 in the SMU DataArts list of most arts-vibrant art communities in the US. For anyone who wants to pursue their passion in an environment that’s both beautiful and welcoming, I highly recommend Minneapolis as a uniquely great place to make art, make friends and make your next home.”
With a fascinating music and arts scene, Seattle was bound to make our list. Home of grunge music, and also many jazz musicians, Seattle boasts a large number of bohemians and a thriving creative community. Additionally, Seattle launched the careers of many jazz musicians like Ray Charles and Quincy Jones. The Emerald City captured the imagination of many songwriters, so much so that a number of songs are about Seattle itself. Bohemians here might pay a higher price tag on a home here ($503,000), but the metro area offers so much in the way of arts and creative opportunities.
The artsy Nashville metropolitan area, well known for the largest community of songwriters in the world, which earned it the Music City moniker, came in 16th in our ranking. Creatives living in the Nashville metro area would end up paying $285,100 for a home here.
Urban Honolulu wraps up our top 20 best metro areas, with a rich performing arts history. The city is home to Honolulu Symphony, the second oldest symphony orchestra west of the Rocky Mountains. Honolulu boasts quite a few bohemians and a thriving creative community.
Metro level: Metro Los Angeles racks up most bohemian workers, while the El Paso, TX metro has the least bohemians
Of the 162,795,600 workers in the US today, 4,416,811 are considered bohemian, representing 2.7% of the entire workforce. 20% of all those in bohemian occupations are self-employed, according to data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But where do most creatives live and work? We have ranked the largest 100 metros in the US to determine which metro areas have the greatest share of bohemian workers. Home to Hollywood and its iconic movie-making history, the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metro ranks first, with 5.3% of the total employment in the area and 384,490 workers operating in a creative field. Producers and directors make up the largest number of creatives in the LA metro, with about 41,530 of workers in this bohemian category.
After Metro LA , the New York-Newark-Jersey City metropolitan area comes in second place, with 4.4% of the area’s employees operating in a creative field (468,276 creative workers). The most common bohemians in NY are marketing managers, with about 57,500 employees.
The San Francisco and Durham-Chapel Hill metro areas took the third spot with the same share of bohemians — 4.3%. Despite having the same concentration of creatives, the Bay Area surpasses the North Carolina metro area when it comes to the actual number of creatives working in the area. There are 118,622 bohemians in the San Francisco metro area, while the Durham-Chapel Hill metro area claims only 14,786 workers in a creative field.
The Portland metro area claims the sixth-highest share of bohemians (3.5%), with about 48,000 creatives in the area. Austin, Bridgeport, Nashville and Atlanta metro areas closely follow the Oregon metro area. All four areas tied for the same share of bohemians (3.4%). However, the Atlanta metro area stands out among this group, with about 104,000 bohemians, followed by Austin and Nashville, with about 42,000 and 37,700 creatives, respectively. Bridgeport claims only about 16,400 bohemians.
The Chicago and San Jose metro areas both are both vying for the same spot, with 2.9% of workers represented by bohemians. The Chicago metro area boasts almost 150,000 bohemians. In the San Jose metro area, there is only a fraction of that number (about 35,500 creatives).
At the other end of the spectrum, the El Paso metropolitan area in Texas took the last spot in our list of the top 100 metros, with bohemians making up about 1% of the total workforce (3,863 employees).
Marketing managers make up the bulk of US bohemian workers, followed by graphic designers
The largest number of bohemian jobs in the US is snagged by marketing managers with about 309,000 workers in this category, representing 7% of the total number of bohemian workers. At the metro level, marketing managers are best paid in San Jose ($196,794/year), followed by San Francisco ($192,329/year) and NYC ($180,783/year).
Graphic designers (6.9%) (303,714) and artists and related workers (6.3%) (279,440) are next in line. There are about 303,700 graphic designers and 279,440 artists and related workers in the US.
Photographers make up about 4% of the entire bohemian workforce (180,028 workers), followed by producers and directors (3.8%), with 167,733 creatives working in this field. Media and communication equipment workers and architects, except landscape and naval both represent 3.6% of bohemians in the country, with 159,490 of them in the first category and about 157,000 of them in the latter.
Musical instrument repairers and tuners and desktop publishers are the least common bohemian professions, with 0.2% of creatives dedicated to these kinds of professions. The small number of these professions is not surprising as they both tap into a creative niche that is less prevalent. Proofreaders and copy markers (11,152 workers) etchers and engravers (11,928 employees) and other personal appearance workers (15,284 workers) make up equally small cohorts among the bohemian workers, each category accounting for about 0.3% of the creative workforce.
Photographers (64%) and writers and authors (63%) make up the bulk of self-employed bohemians, followed by artists and related workers (55%). DJs, entertainers and performers (51%) also prefer the self-employed life.
Marketing managers are the highest-paid bohemians nationally
While the national average bohemian wage is $63,254, marketing managers bring home the fattest paychecks, earning $138,716 per year at a national level. Advertising and promotions managers are next with an annual salary of $135,081. Architects (except landscape and naval) and producers and designers are also high-income bohemians as their annual compensation is $89,841 and $87,702, respectively.
Also in the higher-income tier, a range of bohemian workers earn comparable yearly incomes between $70,000 and over $80,000. Art, drama and music postsecondary teachers bring home $83,220 per year, closely followed by fashion designers ($79,547/year) and technical writers ($74,091/year). Public relations specialists earn the least in this income bracket, with an average of $70,846 per year.
On the other hand, floral designers ($28,405) and tailors, dressmakers, custom sewers ($26,883) bring home a slim paycheck.
Best-paying cities for marketing managers, graphic designers and actors
We also looked into common bohemian professions that bring creatives the highest earnings at the metro level. To come up with this list, we started by selecting the highest-paid professions by each metro area, which we then narrowed down according to how common they are there.
As it turns out, marketing managers emerge as being the highest-paid bohemian profession in 49 out of the 100 metros we considered. Surprisingly, they take the lead in the San Jose metro ($196,794/year), followed by the San Francisco metro area ($192,329/year). The New York metro snags the third spot, with marketing managers earning $180,783 per year. Marketing managers in the Seattle metro are also high earners as they get paid $164,565 per year. The same category of bohemians earn around $161,891 in the Charleston-North Charleston metropolitan area.
Wondering where else you can earn most as a bohemian? To find out, we looked at some of the most popular bohemian jobs by metro, as pay rates can vary depending on location.
For instance, graphic designers are best paid in the Virginia Beach metro area, earning about $75,700/year. They also earn a decent pay in the Boston ($67,429/year) and San Francisco ($66,924/year) metro areas. It’s equally good to be a professional in graphic design if you live in the Bridgeport (about $66,000/year) or Seattle (about $63,980/year) metro areas, where you can get a similar salary for this type of work.
Interior designers earn the most in the Denver metro area, where they bring home 70,735/year. Surprisingly, being an interior designer in the Oxnard metro area (about $64,700/year) means you get a slightly fatter paycheck than in the New York metro area ($63,600). It also pays to be an interior designer in metros like Boston and San Francisco metro area, where incomes for creatives in this category can reach about 59,300/year and 58,470/year, respectively.
Actors bring home the fattest paycheck in New York ($72,219/year) followed by Los Angeles ($71,993). Albany (about $59,130/year) might not be known as the nation’s moviemaking hub, but the many actors working there might be its best-kept secret. Additionally, performers such as Reid Scott and Brooke Mueller are Albany natives.
Oklahoma City, Tulsa provide the most affordable self storage options
While living in some metropolitan areas costs bohemian workers a pretty penny, renting a smaller apartment and turning to self storage for extra space can do the trick. Whether needing additional space to store their musical instruments, art supplies, set props or furniture, a self storage unit is indeed an invaluable asset for bohemians looking for more space without shelling out more rent on bigger homes.
We looked into the costs of self storage for a standard 10×10 non-climate-controlled unit in the top 100 metro areas using data provided by Yardi Matrix. As it turns out, the Oklahoma City metro captured the first spot for the most affordable self storage unit ($63/month), followed by the Tulsa and Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway metros, which tie for the second spot, with $71 per month. Bohemian workers looking to rent a standard self storage unit in the Cincinnati, OH, Durham-Chapel Hill, NC, and Raleigh, NC, metro areas would pay $88/month.
As for the most expensive metros for a standard 10×10 non-climate-controlled unit, Urban Honolulu takes the cake, with $241/month. The San Francisco metro is the second-most expensive metro for self storage, as bohemians spend 192/month to cover the costs of a standard storage unit. The Los Angeles and New York metro areas are not far behind, with self storage monthly rates of $185 and $174, respectively. Bohemians in the Washington and Boston metros are also paying a premium for self storage, with monthly rates reaching $144 and $143, respectively.
While expected contenders such as the New York, LA and San Francisco metros didn’t fail to make it to the top of our ranking, other metropolitan areas that are less renowned for their artistic scenes also found their places in the list of hubs that cater to the creatives. The Minneapolis and Bridgeport metros, among others, took us by surprise, offering both vibrant arts scenes and affordable housing options.
To come up with our report, we analyzed 100 of the most populated metro areas in the US. The ranking of the 100 best metros for bohemians reflects the combined score for a series of factors including bohemian workers’ wages, allocation of bohemian jobs, housing costs, self storage inventory and costs and the arts vibrancy index. These factors serve as indicators of each metro’s bohemian-friendliness.
Data concerning employment and wage for the bohemian occupations, both at the national and metro level, was derived from the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This article obtained self-employment data from the 2019 Employment Projections program conducted by BLS and from the U.S. Census Public Use Microdata.
Using the weighted mean of the annual wages for each bohemian job, with the weights represented by the percentage of each job out of the total bohemian jobs, we came up with the average bohemian wage for each metro area.
For a group of bohemian occupations, including actors, dancers, musicians and singers, miscellaneous entertainers and performers, sports and related workers, the OES provides only hourly rates as they work fewer than 2,080 hours per year. For our report, we assumed a full-time schedule of 2,080 hours per year.
To account for sample size when looking at the best-paying jobs bohemian per metro areas, we only took into account metros where the share of workers in a specific creative profession was at least 25% of the corresponding share at the national level. Additionally, we considered metros for high-paying bohemians if a profession’s percentage of all local bohemian jobs fell within a 50% range of the national share for the same type of job. For the purpose of our report, we define “employees” as non-self-employed workers.
When considering housing affordability by metro area, we took into account the 2019 median rent and the 2019 median home value provided by the U.S. Census.
The average self storage rental rates are calculated for the standard 10×10 non-climate-controlled units using Yardi Matrix data.
To compute the 2019 rentable self storage square footage per capita, the inventory of rentable self storage at the end of 2019 was divided by the U.S. Census population estimates for each metro area using data from July 2019 (the most recent estimation at the time the research was conducted).
The arts vibrancy index was kindly provided by SMU DataArts, as reflected in their 2019 Arts Vibrancy Index report and the 2019 SMU Arts Vibrancy Map.
The metrics used in our evaluation are weighted as follows: The arts vibrancy index has a total weight of 30%, deriving from its four metrics included in the Arts Vibrancy Index report, the percentage of bohemian jobs out of all jobs and the average wage for all bohemian jobs each have a 30% weight. The two metrics related to housing are median gross rent and median home value, each weighted at 3.75%. The combined self storage score has a total weight of 2.5%, deriving from its two metrics (self storage cost and self storage square footage per capita).
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