SMU DataArts - Cultural Data Profile


Arts Flourish in America's Top Rural Counties: A Data-Driven Exploration

  • Posted Jun 27, 2024

3-minute read

As part of our ongoing series on data-driven insights into arts vibrancy, we are highlighting the top arts-vibrant rural counties across the country. These counties all score within the top 5 percent nationally, according to our Arts Vibrancy Index, and are classified as rural according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  More information on how we calculate arts vibrancy is available on our methodology page.

The Top 30 Most Arts-Vibrant Rural Counties

The counties are presented in order with the highest-ranked counties at the top. These counties are all located outside of an urban area, as defined by the U.S Census Bureau. To find out if you live in a rural area you can use this tool from the rural health information hub.

Ranking County State Arts Dollars Percentile Arts Providers Percentile Public Support Percentile
1 Nantucket MA 100 100 99
2 San Miguel CO 99 100 100
3 Tyrrell NC 100 80 98
4 Windham VT 98 98 99
5 Park WY 99 96 92
6 Fall River SD 99 95 72
7 Knox ME 98 98 97
8 Haines Borough AK 96 100 64
9 Shackelford TX 99 71 100
10 Woods OK 100 79 4
11 San Juan WA 99 93 74
12 Jefferson WA 99 88 95
13 Winneshiek IA 99 93 92
14 Park MT 90 99 77
15 Presidio TX 98 92 97
16 Howard AR 100 34 61
17 Door WI 99 90 90
18 Hemphill TX 98 93 92
19 Gunnison CO 98 93 94
20 Hinsdale CO 97 93 98
21 Kiowa KS 99 90 58
22 Clark KS 99 82 56
23 Addison VT 96 94 98
24 Polk NC 94 95 93
25 Lamoille VT 96 91 98
26 Kent MD 91 94 100
27 Lake CO 98 84 68
28 San Juan CO 84 98 95
29 Bath VA 97 89 95
30 Mineral CO 80 95 100

Characteristics of Arts-Vibrant Rural Areas

Our research team identified several characteristics among these top-ranked rural counties that seem to set them apart. While some characteristics reflect broader geographic or socioeconomic factors beyond the control of arts leaders, others are directly tied to the arts infrastructure that communities create and support.

Tourist Destinations – Many of the counties are popular travel destinations due to their natural beauty or significant landmarks. The influx of visitors supports a higher-than-average number of arts organizations and artists relative to the local population. Examples include Nantucket County in Massachusetts, Park County in Montana, Door County in Wisconsin, and San Juan County in Colorado.


Wealthy Community Members – Some counties boast higher-than-average household incomes and other indicators of community wealth. In rural areas, this local affluence can support an outsize number of arts institutions. Examples include Hinsdale County, Colorado.


Major Foundations – a few counties are home to major foundations. While these foundations may or may not contribute significantly to local arts, their presence may support a higher-than-average amount of arts activities. Examples include Clark County, Kansas.


Plethora of Small and Mid-Sized Organizations – These areas benefit from a large amount of small and medium-sized arts organizations relative to the local population. Examples include Windham County, VT (with more than a dozen arts and cultural organizations with budgets below $50,000), Addison County, VT, and Polk County, NC.


Anchor Institutions – Some areas have one particularly large institution that may attract visitors and participants from beyond the county limits. This might include arts centers or social service organizations that integrate arts into their programming. Examples include Howard County, Arkansas and Tyrell County, North Carolina.


What sets the arts apart in your county? Let us know in the comments below.

Arts Vibrancy in Rural Communities is Achieved through Collective Action

To further explore how rural communities foster arts vibrancy, we partnered with Geoffrey Kershner from Small Town Big Arts. Geoffrey spoke to arts leaders in some of the counties on the list and shared his discoveries in an article.

Read More

Arts Vibrancy Scores for Every County in the U.S.

What factors make up a community's arts vibrancy, and which cities possess them? We provide scores for every county across the nation on measures of Arts Dollars, Arts Providers, Government Support, Socio-economic and Other Leisure characteristics.

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