CVSuite and its team of editors, designers, and data analysts have come together to introduce The Creative Vitality List, a series of data-driven profiles that chronicle the economic impact of arts and culture on the local economy. We begin this list with The Top 30 Creative Small Cities, which looks beyond well-known creative hotspots like New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Austin to showcase the vitality of smaller, perhaps lesser-known, creative communities. 

After identifying 392 MSAs (Metropolitan Statistical Areas) with populations under 500,000, our creative economy experts developed a method of analyzing creative occupation and industry earnings, nonprofit arts and culture revenue, and the population of the MSA. Based on these factors, each MSA is given a value that is benchmarked against the United States. This value is the MSA’s Creative Vitality Index.  

In addition to featuring well-known creative communities like Santa Fe, New Mexico, the list also includes some MSAs that may surprise you, such as Medford, Oregon; Kingston, New York; and Iowa City, Iowa. While compiling this list of small cities, we discovered a wide array of creative industries that are thriving in these communities, as well as impressive concentrations of artistic and cultural nonprofits fueling the local economy through the support of their community members. 

We are excited to celebrate the creative vitality of the communities featured in this list and, hopefully, inspire you to share stories of how the arts and culture sector enriches the economic and creative health of your community. View the full list from Creative Vitality HERE!

#10 Missoula, MT

Photo: Fetch, Matt Babcock, City of Missoula Public Art Committee

With $26 million in creative industry earnings and an impressive CVI value of 1.38, Missoula, Montana has a strong and active creative community. Missoula’s population of 70,000 is just as likely to attend the symphony or theater as it is to engage in outdoor recreation.

By location quotient, Missoula has a significantly higher concentration of independent artists, writers, and performers, theater companies, dinner theaters, art dealers, and bookstores than the rest of the United States. Sixty-three percent of the town’s $672 million in arts-related revenues come from its theaters. Cultural organizations generate a sizable 8.5% of the town’s nonprofit revenue. Missoula’s CVI value has risen over the last three years due to a 35% increase in the number of art directors, film, and video editors in the area.

Tom Bensen is the executive director of Arts Missoula, the town’s local arts agency. Bensen notes the numerous film, literary, cultural, theater, dance, and music festivals that take place in Missoula throughout the year, along with monthly gallery walks encompassing 12 private downtown galleries. Benson notes that  Missoula is home to the University of Montana, which serves as a strong partner in many of the community’s cultural activities and helps attract and retain the city’s numerous visual artists, writers, and musicians. 

Missoula is home to more than 60 arts nonprofits, including the nationally recognized Missoula Children’s Theater and some impressive museums, including the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History, the Montana Museum of Art & Culture, and the Missoula Art Museum. The performing arts also thrive in Missoula, thanks in part to Missoula Symphony Orchestra, Chorale, String Orchestra of the Rockies, Montana Repertory TheatreMissoula Community Theatre, and more. Regular art classes are offered at the Zootown Arts Community Center, the Downtown Dance Collective, and the Clay Studio of Missoula. Benson reports that Missoula’s entertainment industry has grown dramatically, noting that performers like the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, and Pearl Jam had all played at the University of Montana’s Washington-Grizzly Stadium in recent years. Two distinct 4,000+ outdoor amphitheaters have also opened recently in Missoula, with full summer schedules featuring national acts. Renovated in 2015, the historic Wilma Theatre also presents national touring acts throughout the year. 

Missoula residents regularly come together to enjoy the wide array of activities that make the culture and economy of this city more vibrant. CVSuite data shows us that creative communities can make a big impact—even in cities with small populations.


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