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Best Cities for Artists

What is it about a city that inspires the creative process? Is it the size? The museums? The eccentricities of the people and surroundings? Knox art alumni share what they love about the communities where they live and how it inspires their creative work.

David Chatfield '00Philadelphia, PA
David Chatfield '00
MFA Student, University of the Arts

Why Philly? I can't sell Philadelphia as a city to live in enough. It has all of the benefits of a large city, while being small enough that everything is within reach. Philly has a "Percent of Art" program, giving it the most public works of art of any U.S. city and the most murals of any U.S. city. I've lived in Chicago and visit New York often, and Philly has everything great like those cities while being affordable.

How has Philadelphia made a difference in your art? I've found that an urban environment helps in making art. The history, cultural, and economic diversity give one a lot to look at and respond to. The artist community here has challenged me to push my art while providing the support and feedback I need to advance my work. Philadelphia is an ideal city for artists.

Why is Philadelphia a great cities for artists? Philly is very affordable to live, while being close to New York and D.C. It has amazing museums and very strong collections, with the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside of Paris. I've been to Chicago, New York and London, and Philly holds it's own. Philly also has a long history of academics with an abundance of schools. There is my school, The University of The Arts, as well as the Moore College of Art, Studio Incamminati, the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, and the oldest art shcool in the country, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. Each school has it's own unique program, giving prospective art students a lot of options depending on what they are looking for. The community also extends to a thriving gallery scene in several of Philly's neighborhoods like Old City, the Northern Liberties, and Fishtown.

Are there any unique/quirky art-related things about Philadelphia that most people wouldn't know about? Philly has a "Percent of Art" program, giving Philly the most public works of art of any U.S. city, as exemplified by Clause Oldenburg's clothespin near City Hall, and the most murals of any U.S. city.


Jason Eisner '95New York, NY

Jason Eisner '95
Museum Educator, Tenement Museum

Why New York? There's a level of urgency in this town that I have yet to experience in any other city, and compares closest to that explosive anticipatory excitement of the promise of a first kiss or like the electrified air and wind prior to a thunderstorm. This is a hard city to live in, but it's really kind of a miraculous place. You get the sense that the whole place is just going to collapse, but it doesn't. All the people going to and fro, every sidewalk, every train car are full of stories! There are more museums than you can shake a stick at -- all full of truly great works from history -- and if you hunger for something avant garde, there's the expansive gallery scene. NYC has the feel of an international city and is looked upon world wide as a center for art and culture.

How does New York inspire you as an artist? I fell in love with and am ceaselessly amazed by the character of light in this city. Maybe because it's an island bombarded by the sun reflecting off of the rivers and buildings, I don't know, but everything seems to be dancing. I imagine it's what a Louis Armstrong tune would look like.

Do you network with other Knox alumni artists in New York? I am friends with a lot of alumni that moved with me here and have since, over time, moved away. We lived together in some cases and collaborated together in others. We were tight from our Knox times, and could easily talk over and be critical of one another's work. The alumni base was, for me, more of a community than a networking conduit.

Joseph Mohan '03Chicago, IL
Joseph Mohan '03
Photography Editor, Art Institute of Chicago; Freelance Photographer; Sculptor

Why Chicago? It's cheaper than New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco -- a lot cheaper. People say you have to be in New York or Los Angeles to have a real career and to some extent that's true, but Chicago has a lot going for it. It has thriving institutions, a versatile gallery scene, active collectors, and some good schools. It has a handful of blue chip contemporary art galleries, but the real energy is in the independent gallery scene. Humboldt Park and Bridgeport especially are packed with really interesting activity. You have to be there at the right time though, before the gallery changes back to someone's apartment.

How is the city reflected in your art? My photography depends completely on my environment, so Chicago has become my art -- the people and places. Chicago is a big flat grid, which is an aesthetic conceit I've always worked toward in photography.

Megan Williamson '82
Still Life and Landscape Painter

Why Chicago? Chicago is a habitable city for any kind of artist. You can live here and make work, and that's not true of every city. It's vibrant. There's a great airport so you can get anywhere. And people come here -- Chicago's really great that way. You can be a working artist here. In smaller cities the air can get a little thin in terms of creative juices, and for me, New York was too noisy, just really expensive and noisy. I thought I wanted to be somebody who drank black coffee, smoked filterless cigarettes and stayed up all night painting and drinking scotch or something, but I'm really a vegetarian Midwesterner. I taught in Italy and I lived in New York and that was great and I loved it, but when it came to the rest of my life, I needed some balance. And this is a great place for me to have that.

What's it like creating your art on the streets of Chicago? 99% of the time it's a pleasant interaction when someone finds me painting somewhere. I take my dog with me. A tattooed guy on the street one day asked me how long it took me to learn to paint like that and I said pretty much my whole life. He said "You're a bad ass" and I'm like "yeah, I am a bad ass." It's been a discovery.

Carrie Wild '92Indianapolis, IN
Carrie Wild '92
Independent Artist and Restorer of Antique Furniture

How has living in Indianapolis made a difference in your art? I grew up in a small town, so living in a large city with so many cultural opportunities has definitely been beneficial for my career development. Being able to experience different museums, performances, and other cultural events has provided me with inspiration and food for thought.

Why Indianapolis? While Indianapolis is well-known for its sports teams, it also works hard to develop the arts as attractions in their own right. The city has six distinct neighborhood cultural districts, each with a different feel and different events. A popular "First Friday" program occurs early each month, in which local shops and galleries in those districts are open during the evening for a "gallery crawl."

Why is it a great city for artists? As an artist who's always looking for exhibit opportunities, I've been surprised by the number of small groups and businesses who are actively seeking artists to exhibit work in their spaces. Earlier this year I had some paintings in a spring show hosted by The Athenaeum Foundation, which is located in the historic Athenaeum building downtown. It was a really unique and beautiful space, though still in the developmental stages of hosting artwork. I've also exhibited work in a small bank branch not far from my home.

Natalie Mault '01Baton Rouge, LA
Natalie Mault '01
Assistant Curator, LSU Museum of Art

What do your do? Ever wonder how an exhibition gets put together or who decides what gets hung on the wall or displayed on the gallery floor? That's where I come in. My primary responsibility in curating exhibitions starts with a great story. As a curator, you don't simply put pretty works of art on display -- you tell a story or display a concept or ask a question with the works you choose. Since 2005, I have curated or assisted with close to 50 exhibitions ranging from works by local artists and former LSU professors to world renowned sculptures by Auguste Rodin and silkscreens by Andy Warhol.

Why Baton Rouge? Baton Rouge is an exciting and challenging place for anyone in the arts, whether you are an artist, musician, or work in museums, for the simple fact that the arts have only recently grown into a community priority.

How does your work contribute to the community? The Louisiana State University Museum of Art moved to its current location in the downtown area (about five miles from the LSU campus) in March 2005, to become the largest art museum in Baton Rouge. It joined several science and historical museums to become the center of the downtown arts block. Certainly with any new establishment, growth is both exciting and challenging, and it's incredible to think that I am a part of this new growth.

Howard Partner '68Durham, NC
Howard Partner '68
Landscape Architect

Why Durham? Durham is kind of a quirky town, tolerant of eccentricities. It also has a lower cost of living, (housing) compared to other triangle communities of Raleigh, Cary, and Chapel Hill; it is actually possible to live here without a car, if one chooses. The area has a fairly high per capita income, providing support for the arts.

How has living in Durham made a difference in your art? Due to local environmental concerns, I have become more focused on environmental issues, such as water quality, low impact design, and soil and erosion control.

Jenny Hager '93Los Angeles, CA
Jenny Hager '93
Professor, Santa Monica College

Why Los Angeles? Having lived in St. Louis, New York City, and Philadelphia, I find Los Angeles to be an enigma. It is a vast sprawl of multiple cities forced into constructed, artificial green spaces surrounded by rugged desert and ocean. It is a city of juxtapositions, having simultaneously an ugliness and profound beauty, urban grittiness and suburban surrealism. It has a strong international gallery and museum arts culture, historically based in conceptualism, yet revels in celebrity culture and the trite. And there is the weather. The constant sunshine creates an outdoor lifestyle and drugged stupor that is wonderful.

How has the city affected your art? My palette has lightened over the years, taking on an artificial glow. I have a strong education in more of a New York City and East Coast traditional painting practice (this is not to say that there is not experimentation happening on the East Coast, but the schools I attended tended to be rooted in abstract expressionism), and I have found that the street culture and rich graffiti tradition of Los Angeles has infiltrated my work, florescent spray paint being a favorite at the moment. I have a strong dialogue with like-minded artists that I have encountered through shared studio spaces, gallery openings, teaching, and my neighborhood.

Dale Patton '90Flagstaff, AZ
Dale Patton '90
Home Designer and Artist

Why Flagstaff? The revival of the historic downtown has resulted in numerous new galleries and the year-round "artwalks" bring the local art to the forefront on the first Friday of each month. Living in this environment really encourages me to develop my art and the beauty of Flagstaff, Grand Canyon, and Sedona are always inspiring.

What type of art do you create in Flagstaff? Under normal economic conditions, I design homes for a living. However, the downturn in the economy has given me the opportunity to focus on my art. I have developed a style that combines my architectural skills with my art. It has been very well received and I recently completed 14 pieces of art for a new children's hospital in Mesa, Arizona, that opened this past November. The art consultant for the hospital was attracted to my style of art because she felt it reached out to children of all ages. I also enjoy painting landscapes. I am currently working on a series of ‘Grand Canyon' themed pieces that are being painted in the spirit of the ‘art deco' travel posters of the 1930's.

Why is Flagstaff a great cities for artists? Flagstaff is centrally located near several great art scenes -- the closest being it's own downtown area. 90 minutes north of Flagstaff is the Grand Canyon, my hometown, where the scenery is some of the best in the world and 5 million potential buyers pass through this park every year. 45 minutes south of Flagstaff is Sedona; one of the hottest art cultures in the country and, once again, some of the best scenery for artists who enjoy landscapes. And, 2 ½ hours south of Flagstaff is Scottsdale, perhaps the premier art scene of Arizona.

Minneapolis, MN
Sally Sand '79

Institutional Giving Director for the North Division of the Trust for Public Land

Why Minneapolis? The Twin Cities is a wonderful environment for artists because of our strong cultural institutions and our culture of philanthropy. As a state, Minnesota recently passed a historic dedicated funding amendment to the constitution called the Minnesota Clean Water, Land, and Legacy amendment.

How have you stayed involved in the arts? I recently joined the board of Springboard for the Arts, which is a non-profit organization established to support working artists through career guidance and other services.