SMU DataArts - Cultural Data Profile


State of the Arts 2023: Arts Vibrancy Insights into All 50 States

Published March 14, 2024

Driven by meticulous data analysis to identify the nation's Top 40 Arts-Vibrant Communities of 2023, this year's exploration has also yielded compelling insights that extend beyond city limits. In its inaugural release, we present arts-vibrancy rankings for all 50 states and reveal nuanced connections between arts vibrancy and rural/urban populations, poverty rates, and the presence of high-ranking cities. These connections tell one story, but equally intriguing are the exceptions that paint a richer portrait of arts vibrancy across the nation.

Key Insights

  • States with higher proportions of rural population tend to have lower levels of arts vibrancy – with some notable exceptions.
  • States ranking higher on arts vibrancy generally have lower poverty rates; but having low levels of poverty doesn’t guarantee a top arts vibrancy ranking.
  • The nine highest-ranking states in arts vibrancy all feature at least one city listed in the Top 40 Arts-Vibrant Communities of 2023. However, noteworthy exceptions include several states with high rankings despite lacking representation in the top 40 cities.


Analysis and rankings were determined by applying the same data and methodology used for our Arts Vibrancy Index (AVI) at the state level – this new perspective helps us understand relative arts vibrancy across the country. Our data-driven methodology incorporates 13 distinct measures encompassing facets of supply, demand, and public support for arts and culture. Rigorously adjusted for cost of living and population, our AVI Index offers unparalleled insights into the cultural pulse of each state.


Rural Populations

Generally, states with higher proportions of rural population tend to have lower levels of arts vibrancy. There are a few notable exceptions - Vermont and Maine have the two highest rural populations in the country and have arts vibrancy in the top half of all states. Among the top 5 most arts-vibrant states overall, Minnesota stands out with 28% rural population, more than double the percentage rural than any other states in the top five.

Source: "2020 Census Urban Areas Facts." United States Census Bureau, June 2023.


Poverty Levels

Generally, we see that states ranking higher for arts vibrancy also have lower poverty rates – with notable exceptions. The most arts-vibrant state in the country – New York – also has the 15th-highest poverty level. Three other states with poverty levels at or above the national average in 2022 appear in the top half of the arts vibrancy rankings: Missouri, Alaska, and Louisiana.

However, having low levels of state poverty doesn’t guarantee you a slot in the top of the arts vibrancy rankings. The table below shows the 10 states with the lowest poverty levels, along with their arts vibrancy rankings. Some of these low-poverty states also rank fairly low in terms of arts vibrancy.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2021 to 2023 Annual Social and Economic Supplements (CPS ASEC). 


The Role of Arts-Vibrant Cities

All but two of the top ten most arts-vibrant states have a city that ranked on the Top 40 Arts-Vibrant Communities of 2023 – and four states in the top ten (New York, Massachusetts, Colorado, and California) have three or more top ranked cities.

But a state doesn’t need a city with a top vibrancy score to rank well with respect to overall arts vibrancy. Just over half of the states have no cities that appear in the top 20 (for large cities) or the top 10 (for small or medium cities)and eight of these states fare better than average with respect to arts vibrancy (e.g., they’re in the top half of the list). It’s certainly possible to have high state arts vibrancy without a top scoring city. Although, a few of these states border high-ranking cities in another state and likely benefit from spillover effects (e.g., Virginia from DC, Washington from Portland, etc.).

Wyoming, South Dakota, and Idaho all score in the bottom ten on overall state arts vibrancy but each has a city that’s in the top ranking with respect to vibrancy (Jackson, WY, Brookings, SD, and Haley, ID). So the reverse is also possible – a really vibrant city can be located within a state with low arts vibrancy overall.

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