NCAR, SMU’s National Center for Arts Research, creates index to measure arts vibrancy of U.S. Metropolitan Areas

NCAR, SMU’s National Center for Arts Research, today released its first annual Arts Vibrancy Index.

The index ranks more than 900 communities across the country. Vibrancy is measured as the level of supply, demand and government support for arts and culture on a per capita basis. The report highlights the top 20 large markets and top 20 medium and small markets. NCAR provides rank scores on all measures for every U.S. county on the interactive heat map.

“The numbers are only the start of the story, not the end. Each city in our report is unique in what makes it a vibrant community for the arts,” said Zannie Giraud Voss, director of NCAR and chair and professor of arts management and arts entrepreneurship in SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business. “Our intention in developing this report is to stimulate conversation about what makes a city vibrant in the arts and how arts vibrancy varies across cities.”

The overall index is composed of three dimensions.

Supply is assessed by the total number of arts providers in the community, including the number of independent artists, arts, culture and entertainment employees, and arts organizations.

Demand is gauged by the total nonprofit arts dollars in the community, including program revenue, contributed revenue, total expenses and total compensation.

Level of government support is based on state arts dollars and grants and federal arts dollars and grants.

Geographically, the rankings utilize Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), which are delineated geographic areas consisting of one or more counties that have high social and economic integration with an urban core as defined by the Office of Management and Budget. By focusing on MSAs, the index captures the network of suburbs that rise up around a city or town rather than considering them separately.

Among cities with populations of 1 million or more, the five most vibrant arts communities are as follows:

Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-Virginia-Maryland-West Virginia
Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, Tennessee
New York-Jersey City-White Plains, New York-New Jersey
Boston, Massachusetts
San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, California

For medium and small cities, with population under 1 million, the top five cities are all in the West:

Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Jackson, Wyoming-Idaho
Breckenridge, Colorado
Edwards, Colorado

The full top-20 lists are available on the NCAR Arts Vibrancy Index, including scores on each of the three dimensions of supply, demand and government support.

Beyond the specific rankings, select key findings in the Arts Vibrancy Index include:

No region has cornered the market on arts vibrancy. Cities large and small from every region appear in the top 40 cities, although there is high representation from Western communities in the set of Medium-Small cities.

Arts vibrancy takes many shapes and forms. Some cities have impressive financial resources invested in nonprofit arts and cultural institutions, others are filled with many smaller organizations and venues, some are tourist destinations and still others are artist colonies. Some cities are strong in numerous arts sectors while others are capitals of a particular art form.

There are interesting differences across very large Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). Those that made the list tend either to have a strong concentration of arts vibrancy in an urban core and less going on in surrounding communities, or they are vibrant throughout the greater metropolitan area, and less so in the city center.

The majority of arts vibrant cities have a population either under 300,000 or between 1,000,000 and 3,000,000.

In 2012, Meadows and Cox launched NCAR, the first of its kind in the nation. NCAR analyzes the largest database of arts research ever assembled, investigates important issues in arts management and patronage, and makes its findings available to arts leaders, funders, policymakers, researchers and the general public.

With data from the Cultural Data Project (CDP) and other national and government sources such as the Theatre Communications Group, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Census Bureau and the National Center for Charitable Statistics, NCAR is creating the most complete picture of the health of the arts sector in the U.S.

The project’s indices and dashboard were created in partnership with IBM, TRG Arts and Nonprofit Finance Fund. The Center also partnered with the Boston Consulting Group to develop its mission, vision and long-term strategies.

NCAR is led by Zannie Voss and Glenn Voss, Endowed Professor of Marketing at Cox.

Meadows, one of the foremost arts education institutions in the United States, offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in advertising, art, art history, arts management and arts entrepreneurship, communication studies, creative computation, dance, film and media arts, journalism, music and theatre.

Cox offers a full range of undergraduate and graduate business education programs.

Follow on twitter at @smuresearch.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.