Garfield, Pitkin combine for No. 1 in Arts Vibrancy Index |

Garfield, Pitkin combine for No. 1 in Arts Vibrancy Index

Glenwood Springs has been named the No. 1 small city in the nation in the first-ever “Arts Vibrancy Index” compiled by Southern Methodist University’s National Center for Arts Research.

“Glenwood Springs” — which in this study represents all of Garfield and Pitkin counties — topped such locations as Santa Fe and Jackson, Wyoming. Overall, western Colorado fared well, with Edwards and Breckenridge rounding out the top five.

The index analyzes the largest database of arts research ever assembled and uses that data to draw conclusions about the state of the arts in America.

“The numbers are only the start of the story, not the end,” said Zannie Voss, director of the SMU center and chair 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 rankings are based on three criteria: supply, demand and level of government support for the arts per capita. Supply factors are assessed by the total number of arts providers in the community, including independent artists; arts and culture employees; arts, culture and entertainment employees (which includes those working in festivals and concerts as well as booking agents, promoters, agents and managers); and arts organizations.

Demand is based on total nonprofit arts dollars in the community, including program revenue, contributed revenue, total expenses and total compensation. The level of government support is assessed based on state and federal arts appropriations and grants.

All of the cities named on the index are actually Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. MSAs consist of one or more counties and are named for the city with the largest population. Glenwood Springs, for the purposes of this index, includes all the communities in Garfield and Pitkin counties.

The researchers used MSAs rather than specific, separate cities and towns because it captures the network of suburbs that rise up around a central location, painting a more accurate picture of how vibrant the arts scene is in a community. This makes especially good sense with Glenwood Springs, whose residents can easily travel as far as Aspen to consume art, and vice versa.

“It’s hard to say what exactly is a city and what suburbs are included in that city, so that’s why we go to the Census Bureau for help,” said Glenn Voss, center research director at the National Center for Arts Research and professor of marketing at the Cox School of Business at SMU.

The report highlights the top 20 large cities (with populations of 1 million or more) and the top 20 medium and small cities (with populations of 1 million or less) with descriptions of some of their outstanding arts organizations or events.

“Glenwood Springs, CO, is a small community nestled in the Rocky Mountains with a vibrant arts and culture scene that encompasses visual arts, dance, fine art, theatre, classical and popular music, arts classes, and outdoor entertainment,” the report says.


Each community in Garfield and Pitkin counties has something special to offer the art consumer. Colorado Mountain College’s Rifle campus has one of the best pottery programs in the state. Silt is home to some of the area’s most talented visual artists, like Lanny Grant, Dan Young and Dean Bowlby.

Glenwood Springs has the Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts, a nonprofit organization with a wide reach into the city’s schools and the community at large. The center offers classes in visual and performing arts for children and adults alike, after-school programs, yoga classes and more. It also organizes events like the Summer of Music and annual Wine and Brewfest, and it hosts art exhibits.

Christina Brusig, executive director for the Center for the Arts, said she’s not surprised Glenwood ranked No. 1.

“Glenwood Springs is so unique that the town itself is artful,” she said. “We have a well-rounded approach to arts here, and the Center for the Arts brought Glenwood Springs major public appeal through the Summer of Music series at Two Rivers Park. On top of contributing, we collaborate with all the other major arts organizations in Glenwood.”

Glenwood is also home to a number of galleries, dance studios, Defiance Community Players, the Vaudeville Revue and more.

Carbondale received recognition from the state when it was chosen to participate in Colorado’s Creative District Program last summer. The Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities (CCAH) is one of the most active purveyors of art in the town, offering classes and workshops, organizing events like Mountain Fair and hosting exhibits in its gallery.

“The CCAH is 41 years old, and I think this is a real testament to the work that we’ve done in Garfield County,” said Executive Director Amy Kimberly. “And we’ve inspired other communities as well to invest in the arts because they can see how well it worked in Carbondale.”

Carbondale is also home to galleries, dance studios, live music venues and theater. In 2012, Thunder River Theatre Company won the Colorado Theatre Guild’s Special Henry Award for the Outstanding Regional Theatre of the Year, and just last year the company’s production of “The Lion in Winter” was named a finalist in three “Best Of” categories for Colorado theater critic Bill Wheeler’s end of the year list.

“I actually think that more recognition needs to be given to the valley because I think we are vibrant when it comes to the arts,” said Thunder River Executive Director Lon Winston. “I travel a lot, and I don’t see anything that equals the arts vibrancy of our valley. [Our ranking] is pretty amazing, and that makes me even more proud of Thunder River. I do think it contributes to that.”

Basalt’s Wyly Community Art Center offers art classes for adults and children, art talks and exhibitions, partnerships with schools, internships and mentorships and plans community events.

And, of course, Aspen is a huge supporter of the arts. The city is full of art galleries, home to the professional ballet company Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and the setting for the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS), one of the most prestigious classical music festivals in the world.

“Certainly in the summer, when the arts organizations are in full swing, we’ve had people tell us there are too many great options,” said Alan Fletcher, president and CEO of the AMFS. “One of my favorite aspects [of the AMFS] is that the 630 students who come to study with us flood the town with their talented and youthful energy. Often there will be two or three different groups of students playing along the mall in downtown Aspen within a stone’s throw from each other. At the restaurant nearby, violinist Joshua Bell could be eating, or cellist Yo-Yo Ma.”

Anyone who lives in or travels to the valley likely realizes what a supportive community it is for the arts, but the Arts Vibrancy Index uses quantified data to prove that this region has the strongest art scene among the country’s small and medium cities.


In addition to Glenwood Springs topping the list, Breckenridge (Summit County) came in at No. 4 and Edwards (Eagle and Lake counties) at No. 5, and every MSA in the top five for small and medium cities is in the western part of the country.

“Steeped in culture and heritage, Breckenridge, CO … provides a distinctive mix of arts and cultural activities for people of all ages and interests. Through music, film, theatre, visual arts, galleries, museums, historical sites, and educational programs, the community offers a robust mountain experience,” the report says.

One thing that makes Breckenridge special is its Arts District.

“The Arts District is alive year round, offering live music, performance, film and a wide variety of visual arts opportunities,” its website says. “Come and play with clay at the Quandary Antiques Cabin, create a hand-painted silk scarf or learn the basics of printmaking at the Fuqua Livery Stable. You can also stop by and see what our guest artists are working on at the Tin Shop. The creative opportunities are endless from hands-on art workshops for children, teens and adults to demonstrations and cultural events.”

Edwards and Eagle County also are strong on arts vibrancy.

“Notable cultural organizations in Vail include the Vail Film Festival, the Vail Valley Theatre Company and Vail International Dance Festival, a summer dance festival featuring major ballet and contemporary dance companies,” the report says. “Each summer, The Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic are among the major orchestras in residence through BRAVO! Vail Valley Music Festival. In addition, there are summer art festivals in Vail and Beaver Creek and the Vail Jazz Festival, as well as the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Avon/Beaver Creek and the Vail Performing Arts Academy in Edwards.”

To read the full Arts Vibrancy Index, visit

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