SMU Releases “Arts Vibrancy Index” and Texas Doesn’t Fare as Well as it Thought it Would

SMU Releases “Arts Vibrancy Index” and Texas Doesn’t Fare as Well as it Thought it Would

The National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) at Dallas’ Southern Methodist University (SMU) released its fourth annual Arts Vibrancy Index, which ranks more than 900 communities across the country, examining the level of supply, demand, and government support for the arts in each city.

These rankings change quite a bit each year, mainly dependent on whether a major arts organization opens up or shuts down. And the shut downs are, unfortunately, more frequent as the study also shows that the public and private support has generally declined. “Arts vibrancy is dynamic, not static,” said Dr. Zannie Voss, director of NCAR. “New communities made the list, and there is some reshuffling among communities that made the list in previous years.”

The study looked at large, medium, and small “arts-vibrant” communities. Fredericksburg, TX (pop. 26,521) made #10 in the small communities category. The only other Texas community to make any of the categories is Austin-Round Rock, in the large communities, ranked at #18. Below is the NCAR description (long but thorough):

While Austin-Round Rock, TX, may be well known for its music and filmmaking scenes, it also has a robust, multifaceted arts scene marked by a collaborative “DIY ethos” that includes a cutting- edge theatre community, a burgeoning visual arts scene, and emerging art/tech intersections. Billed as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin has more than 250 live venues that fill the city with music every night of the week and is a magnet for young musicians and audiences. Austin is also a festival town with long-running annual events such as Austin City Limits, South by Southwest, Austin Film Festival, Fusebox Festival, Texas Book Festival, and cultural celebrations like Dia de los Muertos. Austin’s experimental theatre may be in While Austin – Round Rock, TX, may be well known for its music and filmmaking scenes, it also has a robust, multifaceted arts scene marked by a collaborative “DIY ethos” that includes a cutting- edge theatre community, a burgeoning visual arts scene, and emerging art/tech intersections. Billed as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin has more than 250 live venues that fill the city with music every night of the week and is a magnet for young musicians and audiences. Austin is also a festival town with long-running annual events such as Austin City Limits, South by Southwest, Austin Film Festival, Fusebox Festival, Texas Book Festival, and cultural celebrations like Dia de los Muertos. Austin’s experimental theatre may be in part due to the widely regarded Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas (UT) with its focus on playwriting and screenwriting, as well as innovative productions by the Rude Mechs collective, The Vortex theater, and Spanish-speaking Proyecto Teatro. Museums like UT’s Blanton Museum of Art, one of the largest university art museums in the U.S., and The Contemporary Austin, Mexic-Arte Museum (the Official Mexican and Mexican American Museum in the Southwest), and the East Austin Studio Tour (E.A.S.T.), amongst others, have nurtured the rising visual arts scene. The Long Center for the Performing Arts is home to resident companies Austin Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Austin, and Austin Lyric Opera. Austin’s cultural facilities also serve as gathering spaces for African American, Latinx, and Asian communities. Despite Austin being the 11th largest city in the nation, the majority of arts organizations are small — only 20 or so have budgets exceeding $1 million — but the dynamism of the city’s arts organizations is reflected in the attraction of high numbers of state and federal government grants. The Cultural Arts Division of the City’s Economic Development Department provides leadership and management for Austin’s cultural arts programs and for the economic development of arts and cultural industries. They regularly partner with various organizations and communities on creative placemaking grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additionally, the large number of arts, culture, and entertainment firms and independent artists per capita leads to an Arts Providers score in the top 4% of all cities. With Austin’s strength also in technology, it is not surprising to learn Austin has achieved the distinction of being the first (and only) city in the U.S. to receive a “City of Media Arts” designation within UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network.

Other Texas cities may beg to differ and get on next year’s list.