SMU DataArts - Cultural Data Profile


Salt Lake City, Utah Debuts on the List of Top 40 Most Arts Vibrant Communities in the U.S.

  • Posted Oct 24, 2023

3-minute read

In 2022, Salt Lake City secured its place among the most arts-vibrant communities in the United States, signaling a delightful surprise for those who primarily associate this Utah gem with national parks, climbing spots, and world-class winter sports. Alongside its outdoor allure, the city boasts a thriving community of artists, arts organizations, and creative entrepreneurs.

Image courtesy of Utah Arts Alliance, Salt Lake City, UT. Image courtesy of Utah Arts Alliance, Salt Lake City, UT.

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According to the 2022 Arts Vibrancy Index published by SMU DataArts, Salt Lake City scores in the top 3% of communities nationwide for its number of arts, culture, and entertainment firms per capita. This community has found a harmonious balance between large and small arts organizations including ballet, opera, symphony, modern dance, theatre as well as renowned visual arts and independent cinema. 

Since its inception in the 1970s, the Sundance Film Festival has become one of the largest annual independent film festivals in the country, attracting nearly 50,000 visitors to the state of Utah in its record-breaking year of 2021. Not only has this festival helped to jumpstart the careers of many and provided exposure for Utah, but this event also drives significant annual economic activity for the state through its admission price, travel, hotel bookings, and dining in the nearby areas.  

Another, more budget-friendly festival that Salt Lake City has become known for is The Living Traditions Festival. Held in the third week of every May, this event celebrates the more than 90 cultures that make up the fabric of Utah with a showcase of diverse artistic traditions and perspectives through both historical and contemporary customs, including performing artists, culinarily arts, crafts, and independent film.   

While the city's artistic prowess soars, so does its support system. Salt Lake City has witnessed a recent surge in funding from state legislature, resulting in high levels of state art dollars and grants per capita compared to its western counterparts. Playing an instrumental role in the distribution of funding, the Utah Division of Arts and Museums has recently embarked on new levels of collaboration with the Salt Lake City Arts Council to better align application processes and created fresh avenues of funding for individual artists, which became increasingly critical throughout the pandemic. 

In 2022, the city's cultural sector benefited from a $500,000 award from the National Endowment for the Arts as part of the American Rescue Plan. This was the only award of its type distributed in Utah and an important bolster for an artistic community still recovering from a pandemic-related financial difficulties.

Image courtesy of South Salt Lake Arts Council, Mural Fest Artist Meet & Greet. Photo credit: Stan Clawson (2022). Image courtesy of South Salt Lake Arts Council, Mural Fest Artist Meet & Greet. Photo credit: Stan Clawson (2022).

Even prior to the pandemic, Salt Lake City metro area has recognized the arts as a critical element to the health of its community. Enhancing cultural experiences, resourcefulness, and community connection has been a focus of THE BLOCKS since 2018. The countywide initiative aims to advance inclusivity and access to cultural experiences through the promotion of its creative community, facilitation of partnerships and collaborations, and activation of underutilized spaces within downtown. Other recent revitalization initiatives have come in the form of mural work across the city. Salt Lake City’s annual Mural Fest, held in South Salt lake, celebrates the ever-growing collection of mural art in the area. In response to COVID-19 the festival transformed from a centralized street festival to a walking tour of artist meet-and-greets, which centered the festival on accessibility and individual artists. 

Salt Lake City's arts and culture scene is not merely an amenity; it's a testament to the city's dedication to creativity, diversity, and community involvement. It seamlessly weaves old traditions with contemporary expressions, offering an enriching and dynamic experiences for its residents and a thriving hub for artists, performers, and art enthusiasts.



Thank you to Alyssa Hickman Grove of the Utah Division of Arts and Museums and Lesly Allen of the South Salt Lake Arts Council for their thoughtful contributions to the making of this article.


The Arts Vibrancy Index examines the level of supply, demand, and government support of the arts in more than 900 communities across the country. Accompanied by an interactive Arts Vibrancy Map that reveals the arts-vibrancy score of every county in the U.S., the Index lists, in alphabetical order, the 20 most arts-vibrant large cities, the 10 most arts-vibrant medium cities, and the 10 most arts-vibrant small cities. In this year’s Index, the first since 2020, four communities debut on the lists, and an additional five return after an absence of at least three years.

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