Art in the Bluegrass! Lexington Ranks 6th Most Inspiring City for Young Artists

WorldWideLearn recently sought to identify cities that inspire, support, and encourage young artists, and ranked Lexington 6th Most Inspiring City for Young Artists.

The report looked at cities with populations over 300,000 (for the record, there are 64) and used seven metrics to determine city rankings: college or graduate school enrollment, percentage of the population between the ages of 18 and 34, art dealers, performing arts companies, museums, fine arts schools, and creative industries businesses. In every area, Lexington performs better than the national average.

Inspiring City Criteria

What exactly is a “creative industries” business? According to Americans for the Arts: “The creative industries are composed of arts businesses that range from nonprofit museums, symphonies, and theaters to for-profit film, architecture, and design companies.”

In other words, these cities have a culture of art, with supportive resources to help artists develop and express their creativity, and to receive feedback from other creators in an environment that welcomes and encourages them.

According to Americans for the Arts, there are 825 arts-related businesses in Lexington employing 3,930 people. The largest share is design and publishing, with 306 businesses and 1,249 employees in advertising, architecture, and design. Visual arts and photography is the second largest creative industry category with 260 businesses, while the performing arts is third with 128 businesses that include music, opera, and theaters. There are also many organizations to support young and aspiring artists, such as LexArts and the Lexington Arts League.

Other than direct jobs, why is art important for a local economy? The answer boils down to two reasons: (1) tourist and consumer spending and (2) quality of life that attracts and supports development.

Tourist and consumer spending on the arts contributes to local economies. Americans for the Arts studied how arts and cultural organizations contribute to local economies and found that the national economic impact of art and cultural organizations and their audiences totaled $248.34 billion in 2010.


People attending an art event not only pay for admission, but also spend money on related items and experiences, such as parking, local restaurants, local ground transportation, lodging, shops, souvenirs, and other local crafts. The Americans for the Arts study found that, in addition to admission costs, the average art attendee spends $24.60 per event. Even more profitable for local economies, about 30% of attendees are from out of town (of which 60% visited solely to attend the art event) and spent twice as much as local attendees. In many cases, this represents money that would not have entered the local economy without the art event that attracted the attendee.

Art/cultural organizations themselves also contribute to the local economy because they employ citizens, pay wages and federal, state, and local taxes, and spend on supplies, buildings, and services. In addition, arts organizations are entirely local and offer unique consumer goods and volunteer experiences that cannot be generically replicated or imported.

The arts industry and culture also contribute to a community’s quality of life and its ability to attract and retain businesses. The American Planning Association stresses the importance of the arts as a community asset as companies are increasingly considerate of the kind of environment that attracts the high-tech, high-education workforce. And that isn’t just a neat theory. When companies ask Commerce Lexington about locating here, they request information about quality of life factors, such as schools, colleges, outdoor recreation, youth sports leagues, nightlife, museums, art and entertainment, theaters, and festivals. And, as WorldWideLearn has acknowledged, Lexington has a lot to offer.

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