Tips & Picks

Best Retirement Towns for the Arts

By popular request this article will provide information about America's best retirement towns for the arts.  We hope you will find it useful. Please add your own opinions and recommended towns in the Topretirements Discussion Forum.

Admittedly this is a very subjective topic.  For starters, what criteria should be used? Obviously America's largest cities have a huge head-start when it comes to culture.  It would take years and years to adequately explore the cultural treasures - museums, galleries, operas, symphonies  - of cities like New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Miami, Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, etc. So for this article we will acknowledge them as leaders, and instead move on to concentrate on smaller towns and cities that excel for one type or other of culture.  Our assumption is that retirees interested in the arts like all sorts of different types of arts - from music to visual arts to theater to weaving to the decorative arts. Since this is a list of retirement towns for the arts, factors like availability of housing, recreation, and cost of living will be taken into account.  Our apologies to the many fine towns arts and cities for the arts that we have omitted, either accidentally or due to lack of space.

Recommended retirement towns for the arts - by category:
Architecture - Columbus, Indiana.  Columbus has the greatest concentration of big-name designed buildings in the world, per-capita. Thanks to generosity from the founder of Cummins Engine, you will find buildings by Saarinen, Roche, Pei, Pelli, Venturi, Meier, etc. There are at least 66 buildings since 1942 that  make the town of 40,000 a showcase of modern architecture. Columbus also has many festivals, gardens, galleries, and musical events.

Music - Athens, Georgia.  This college town is renowned for its (modern) musical scene, among other cultural attractions. Athens is home to the University of Georgia; the B-52's and REM got their starts here. The city has music venues, restaurants, bars, and coffee shops that cater to its creative climate. Best musical cities runners up include Lawrence (KS), Austin (TX), Durango (CO), Helena (MT), Eureka Springs (AR), Santa Fe (NM), and Portland (OR). Note that most of the runners up have a less modern type of musical fame than Athens or Austin.

Fine Arts - Santa Fe, New Mexico.  High in the mountains, Santa Fe and Georgia O'Keefe are tied together in the art world. The town boasts over 300 galleries and a dozen museums including the Georgia O'Keefe Museum. It also has many other cultural attractions including its opera and the stunning beauty of the town and surrounding mountains. On the downside, Santa Fe is a very expensive place to live. Runners up include Key West (FL), Taos (NM), Sedona (AZ)Boulder (CO), Old Lyme (CT), and Naples (FL).

All-Around Arts Scene - Traverse City, Michigan. This fantastic town for the arts is located on the Grand Traverse Bay in Northern Michigan. The Interlochen Center for the Arts (13 miles south of Traverse City) offers 750 concerts, visual art exhibits and theater and dance productions annually. Some of the other busy cultural venues include the Music House Museum, Old Town Playhouse, Dennos Museum Center on the Northwestern Michigan College campus, Encore Society of Music, and the Traverse Symphony Orchestra. Many artists live and work here with over 21 galleries in the areas. Runners up for all around great art towns include Northhampton (MA), Aspen (CO), Asheville (NC), La Jolla (CA), Telluride (CO, and Portland (ME).

Most Big Cultural Institutions per Square Inch - Sarasota, FL.  Anyone who ever counted Florida as a cultural outback has not been to Sarasota.  Thanks to the largesse of the family of Ringling Brothers circus, Sarasota is brimming with large cultural institutions. Some of those include the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and the Asolo, a multi-theater complex. The Sarasota Opera, Sarasota Ballet, and the Sarasota Music Festival are top notch institutions. The Van Wesel Performing Arts Hall was designed by Taliesin Associates, Frank Lloyd Wright's successor firm. In addition Sarasota is just a great place to retire with loads of galleries, terrific restaurants, and interesting neighborhoods. The Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts is in Sarasota. One easy runner up to pick is New Haven CT and another is Greenwich, CT.

Contemporary Arts - Marfa, Texas. Marfa is the cultural linchpin of the Big Bend region of Texas, but it has only been so since 1986. That's when a local visionary and minimalist artist named Donald Judd transformed the 340 acres of former Ft. D.A. Russell into the Chinati Foundation, a huge canvas for contemporary art. The Lannon Foundation is a literary and visual arts funding foundation that has moved its headquarters to Marfa. The town's original claim to fame  was as the set for the James Dean/Rock Hudson movie "Giant" in 1955. The Marfa Theatre and Marfa Studio of the Arts are just 2 other important arts venues. The Big Bend area itself is an interesting retirement choice with many interesting little towns like Alpine and Marathon. The Chinati Foundation's annual Open House is a series of parties and exhibitions that is the highlight of the year.

Best Active Adult Community for Art - Fairhope, Alabama. Fairhope is blessed with many significant events throughout the year. There is the popular Alabama Coastal BirdFest, the Arts & Crafts Festival, the Fairhope Music Festival, just to name a few. The Eastern Shore Art Center is a vital resource with changing monthly exhibits. The Adult Recreation Center ($10 a year) has 1200 members and a daily roster of activities that range from exercise classes to bridge. The center’s Big Band dances attract folks from far away. For runners-up, a lot of people might sneer, but most of the really big active adult communities in the U.S. have an astounding array of cultural venues. In places like The Villages and the Sun Cities you can be part of the arts scene - taking part in theatrical and musical productions, book groups, continuing education, etc.

Best College Town. Oxford, Ohio. If you want to start a fight, picking the best college town is as good a category as any. Besides its cultural strengths, we like Oxford for its all-around charm and areas like its historic Mile Square. Like many other college towns you can take part in college classes. Miami University's Office of Continuing Education offers a variety of non-credit classes to the public, a nationally known Crafts Summer program focusing on crafts and fine arts, and a stellar Institute for Learning in Retirement. For runners up consult the Topretirements list of best college towns for retirement (and recognize even that list barely scratches the surface of great college retirement towns).

Shakespeare. Ashland, Oregon.  This town in Southern Oregon has an amazing theater scene.  The 9 month run of the Oregon Shakespear Festival attracts 400,000 people.

Working Artists Community - Tubac, Arizona. Tubac is a working artists community of less than 1,000 people. It has more than 30 art galleries and working studios. The Tubac Festival of the Arts is the big event of the year.

Best Outdoor Art - Madison, Connecticut. The Madison Sculpture Mile is a constantly changing display of contemporary art from some of the country's top sculptures. The exhibit changes twice a year; docents give friendly tours. Madison, although expensive, is a great retirement town with the best sandy beach in Connecticut and a perfect town green in front of the Congregational Church.

Your Favorite Arts Category? Whether it is textiles, opera, bluegrass music, fine arts, or whatever - give us your list of favorite retirement towns for the arts. Post them in the Discussion Forum under Favorite Arts Retirement Towns and we will update this article accordingly.

For Further Reference:
Best Retirement Towns for Gardens
Great Bookstores Make Great Retirement Towns
100 Best Art Towns in America (John Villani) - this book is a great resource


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