- The New York metro area stands out as the top cultural hub in the country, followed by the SF, Portland, LA, and Minneapolis metro areas.
- Graphic designers make up the bulk of bohemian employees nationally, with San Francisco standing out as graphic designer central. 15% of Bay Area bohemian workers are engaged in graphic design for a living.
- The New York metro area has the largest number of bohemians, while LA has the largest share of bohemians per total.
- Art directors are the highest-paid creatives, while floral designers earn the least of all creatives.
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 1.2M bohemian workers in the US, with 28% of them 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, Milwaukee and Albany work hard to claim a top spot among the best metros for bohemians
Metro New York 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 $88,136 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.”
The San Francisco metro area takes the second spot, with Portland hard on its tail. While both metros are well-known artistic hubs, San Francisco fares slightly better than Portland when it comes to the arts vibrancy index and the average bohemian wage. 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. Portland not only has a vibrant contemporary music scene, but it is also home to the Portland Youth Philarmonic, the first orchestra of its kind in the US. In terms of housing costs, Portland fares much better than San Francisco: rents are considerably lower than in the Bay Area, as are median home prices, which now range around $417,773. In San Francisco, the median home value is $956,725, according to US Census data. Self storage rates for a standard 10×10 storage unit also tip the balance in Portland’s favor ($140/month), as rates for the same type of unit tend to be higher in the Bay Area ($192/month), per Yardi Matrix.
The LA metropolitan area ranks fourth in our top 10. With its prestigious art schools and a welcoming attitude for creatives, LA boasts the largest number of artists in the US alongside an impressive number of art museums and collections.
Ranking fifth in our list, Minneapolis overtakes other popular bohemian hotspots, including Boston and Denver, mainly thanks to the more affordable cost of living. The median cost of a home here is $284,401, 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.”
Another reknowned cultural hotspot, Boston, landed sixth place in 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 sixth 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.
Another surprising find was Milwaukee, which ranks 12th in our list of the best metros for bohemian workers. The Wisconsin metro’s artistic and cultural vibe has been among its best-kept secrets, making it a great place to discover and explore. Milwaukee is the second city in the US to be on Google’s Arts & Culture platform and app, which showcases cultural hotspots around the world.
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 14th in our ranking. Creatives living in Nashville would end up paying $275,257 for a home here.
The Pittsburgh metropolitan area – the birthplace of the emoticon and home of the world’s first nickelodeon – ranked 15th, higher than other more hyped places such as Chicago and Las Vegas. The PA metro’s affordable housing market and high arts vibrancy index score pushed it ahead of Chicago, even though the Illinois metro fares better in terms of bohemian workers’ incomes. The Steel City boasts a rich cultural life steeped in history and supported by arts organizations – in addition, hundreds of major films were shot in the area. Pittsburgh is also home to the largest museum in North America, exclusively featuring the works of a single artist — the Andy Warhol Museum.
The thriving artistic environment of the city is the perfect backdrop for creatives. Maggie Lynn Negrete, a local illustrator, considers that “Pittsburgh is fortunate to have an extensive nonprofit and foundation network that supports artists across genres and experience. It is a lot easier to network in a smaller city and get your feet wet.”
While it is a historically affordable place compared to other large urban hubs, Pittsburgh’s increasing popularity is starting to drive up housing costs, with the median value of a home being $168,475. According to Negrete, “the housing market in Pittsburgh has changed drastically in the past 5-10 years where a lot of people are being priced out quickly. It’s really only affordable if you are moving from a more expensive city and have a good income already.”
Seattle wraps up our top 20 best metros, with a fascinating music and arts scene. Home of grunge music, but also to many jazz musicians, Seattle boasts a large number of bohemians and a thriving creative community.
Metro level: Metro Los Angeles racks up most bohemian workers, while the Stockton, CA, metro has the least bohemians
Of the 146,875,480 employees in the US today, 1,228,640 are considered bohemian, representing 0.84% of the entire workforce. 28% 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 1.9% of the total employment in the area and 119,920 employees working in a creative field. Producers and directors make up the largest number of creatives in the LA metro, with 26,410 of employees in this bohemian category.
After Metro LA , the New York-Newark-Jersey City metropolitan area comes in second place, with 1.5% of the area’s employees operating in a creative field (144,860 creative workers). The most common bohemians in NY are also producers and directors (25,900 employees). Since both LA and NYC are famous filmmaking hubs, it is no surprise that creatives operating in this field make up the bulk of creative workers in both metros.
The San Francisco metro took the third spot, with bohemians making up 1.46% of the metro’s employees (36,160 bohemians). The Atlanta (1.18%) and Portland (1.17%) metros follow close behind with 32,510 and 14,160 creative employees, respectively.
The Bridgeport and Providence metros tied for eighth place (1.04%) with 6,020 bohemian employees in Providence and 4,310 in Bridgeport.
The Chicago metropolitan area tied with Metro Minneapolis, landing in 15th place, with 0.9% of workers represented by bohemians. The Chicago metro boasts 42,830 bohemians, while in the Minneapolis metro there are about 17,580 creatives.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Stockton metropolitan area in California took the last spot in our list of the top 100 metros, with bohemians making up 0.2% of the total workforce (510 employees).
Graphic designers make up the bulk of US bohemian workers
The largest number of bohemian jobs in the US is snagged by graphic designers with 215,930 employees in this category, representing 18% of the total number of bohemian workers. At the metro level, graphic designers are best paid in Seattle ($80,050/year), followed by San Francisco ($77,110/year) and Washington ($74,650/year).
Merchandise displayers and window trimmers (140,850 employees) and producers and directors (129,210 employees) are next in line, both representing 11% of the total number of creatives in the US. Making up 9% of the entire bohemian workforce, architects — excluding those working in landscape and naval domains — number 105,850 employees.
Actors (52,620 employees), technical writers (50,760 employees), photographers (50,620 employees) and writers and authors (45,860) each make up 4% of the bohemian workers in the US.
Craft artists (4,640 employees) and hand sewers (4,770 employees) are the least common bohemian professions, with 0.38% and 0.39% of the bohemians, respectively. The small number of these professions is not surprising as they both tap into a creative niche that is less prevalent. Less prevalence is especially true in the case of hand sewers as much of their trade has been automated. Artists and related workers (7,550 workers), dancers (9,690 employees) and etchers and engravers (10,310 employees) make up equally small cohorts among the bohemian workers, each category accounting for about 1% of the creative workforce.
Art directors and producers are by far the highest-paid bohemians nationally
While the national average bohemian wage is $65,059, art directors bring home the fattest paychecks, earning $109,600 per year at a national level. Producers and directors are next with an annual salary of $93,940. Architects (except landscape and naval) and fashion designers are also high-income bohemians as their annual compensation is $89,560 and $86,110, respectively.
Also in the higher-income tier, a range of bohemian workers earn comparable yearly incomes between $73,500 and $74,000. Landscape architects bring home $73,970 per year, closely followed by writers and authors ($73,860/year) and commercial and industrial designers ($73,820/year). Designers in other fields such as architecture, management and the motion picture and video industries, among others, earn the least in this income bracket, with an average of $73,510 per year.
On the other hand, merchandise displayers and window trimmers ($32,940/year) and hand sewers ($31,020/year) bring home a slim paycheck. The lowest earners are floral designers, earning the least of all creatives, roughly $29,760 per year.
Best-paying cities for art directors, landscape architects, singers, writers
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, art directors emerge as having the highest-paid bohemian profession in 37 out of the 100 metros we considered. As expected, they take the lead in the LA metro ($142,650/year), followed by the San Francisco metro area ($135,970/year). The New York metro snags the third spot, with art directors earning $134,810 per year. Art directors in the Portland metro are not far behind the New York metro in terms of annual income, as they get paid $127,970 per year. The same bohemians earn around $119,130 in the Californian Oxnard–Thousand Oaks–Ventura metropolitan area.
Architects, except landscape and naval, rank second, as they bring home the fattest paycheck in 34 out of the 100 metros. The San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metropolitan area is the best metro in which to be this kind of architect, as this category can earn an annual wage of $121,550 there, followed by the Atlanta metro, where architects, except landscape and naval, bring home $109,290. Architects in the Houston metro ranked third, with a yearly income of $104,860. Additionally, the Worcester metro made it into our ranking, closely following on the heels of the Texan metro, with architects bringing home $104,060 per year.
Surprisingly, Stockton, CA, which ranks second before last on our list of the best metros for bohemians, took the fifth spot for best-paid architects at the metro level. This category of bohemians earns $100,860 per year in this area.
Musicians and singers took the third spot in our list of bohemian professions that pay well and are widespread at the metro level. They earn the best wage in the Indianapolis metro ($107,786/year), followed by Chattanooga metro ($98,571/year). The Grand Rapids-Kentwood and Miami-Fort Lauderdale metros offer the next best incomes for musicians and singers, as they can earn $95,264 and $95,181 there, respectively, per year.
Technical writers also made an impression in our list, as they are best-paid bohemians in 3 out of the 100 metros. They earn the highest incomes in the Louisville metro ($85,980/year), followed by the Jacksonville ($84,470/year) and Winston-Salem ($79,920/year) metros.
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, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee 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). Self-employment data was obtained from the 2018 Employment Projections program conducted by BLS.
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.
When considering housing affordability by metro area, we took into account the median rent and median home value provided by the US Census. To compute the median rent, the 2018 median gross rent for each metro area was increased in proportion with the increase in the CPI-U Rent Index through May 2019. To compute the median home value, the 2018 median home value for each metro area was increased in proportion with the increase in the Home Price Index from Q4 2018 to Q4 2019.
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 US 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 37.5%, 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 22.5% weight. The two metrics related to housing are median gross rent and median home value, each weighted at 6.25%. The combined self storage score has a total weight of 5%, deriving from its two metrics (self storage cost and self storage square footage per capita).
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