It should come as no surprise that New York City – the home to hundreds of historic sites and art collections, and the birthplace of many major American cultural movements – is widely regarded as the cultural capital of the world. Never been to New York? Well, once you get there, it won’t take you long to realize that the “larger than life” city has earned its reputation for being the best place in the country for artists and is one of the coolest places to live. New York City offers students and art lovers a fascinating mix of venues catering to the arts, including a vast array of museums, galleries, music scenes, performing arts centers and culinary gems. If you are considering a career in art, it will be hard to find a more ideal location than the city that has more art offerings per square mile than anywhere in the country and is host to some of the finest art institutions anywhere across the globe.

New York City- # 2 Best City for Artists

  • Arts & Culture Index- 100
  • Recreation Index- 100
  • Diversity Index- 79.6
  • Number of Local Eateries- 26,040
  • Median Age- 37
  • Unemployment Rate- 9.2%
  • Cost of Living Index- 216.7
  • Average Salary for Arts, Design and Media Occupations- $79,230
  • Location Quotient- 2.12

New York City Art Scene

Where to begin with a city that has so much to offer?  An  art enthusiast’s dream come true, New York City has so many artistic works spilling out over its hundreds of museums and galleries that they are too numerous to detail in this section.  To give you a small taste of the New York art scene, we’ll start with a few of the cultural heavy hitters, and then introduce some of the lesser-known but intriguing spots around the city.

The first stop for anyone exploring New York’s art scene should be the “Museum Mile” bordering Central Park where you will find several of the world’s greatest museums concentrated in one area.  Here, you can visit the easily recognizable Guggenheim Museum, which is renowned for its continuous spiral design and its permanent collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Contemporary art.   Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the building itself is one of the most important architectural landmarks in the United States.  Nearby, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or more simply, “The Met”, is the largest museum in the United States.  Its vast collection of art, including paintings and sculptures from nearly all the European masters, is rivaled perhaps only by the Louvre in Paris.  With an astonishing two million works of art under one roof, there is more art to revere in one day than most can possibly take in.   Other significant museums (all in this area) include the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Frick Collection.

If the smaller gallery scene is more your style, then the neighborhood of Chelsea, located on the West Side of Manhattan, is where you will be spending your time.  Widely considered to be the center of the New York art world after hundreds of galleries and independent artist studios flocked to area in the mid 1990’s, Chelsea is perhaps the most exciting and transformative area of New York.  Formerly an ordinary, industrialized community with old brick buildings, abandoned warehouses and dusty streets, the neighborhood is now flourishing, with an estimated 350+ art galleries and studios occupying newly developed artist space (see the Chelsea Gallery Map).  A few of our favorite galleries include:

  • Yossi Milo (525 W 25th Street) – Consistently high quality exhibits, specializing in photography and works on paper.  Very friendly with top-notch service.
  • Andrea Rosen Gallery (525 W 24th Street) Beautiful, high-caliber arrangements of contemporary art, often featuring large installations from emerging artists.
  • Barbara Gladstone Gallery (515 W 24th Street) A 25+ year veteran of the art gallery world, Barbara Gladstone represents some of the most celebrated names in contemporary art today.
  • Matthew Marks Gallery (523 W 24th Street) – Features modern and contemporary art of virtually every variety, from sculpture to painting, photography, prints, and installation art.
  • Gagosian Gallery (522 W 21st Street) – A large cathedral-like warehouse space in Chelsea that has played host to extravagant shows and large installations. Influential and well-followed, the Gagosian galleries are on par with some museums in terms of scale and quality of its exhibits.

Looking past the visual arts as the centerpiece of the art scene in New York, students and art lovers will find an abundance of opportunity in the thriving entertainment and performance arts industry.   Next to Los Angeles, New York City is the second-largest center for the film industry, and the world’s largest producer of independent films.  Naturally, more than a third of all professional actors in the U.S. work out of New York City.  The city is also home to the largest concentration and most popular group of theaters in the country.   Commonly known as “Broadway”, the city’s collection of 40 large theaters (which have a minimum of 500 seats) hosted performances that were attended by over 12 million people in 2011.  Close by, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is a vast complex of buildings with 29 indoor and outdoor performance facilities. Highlighting this group are the Metropolitan Opera House, the New York City Opera, the New York Philharmonic, New York City Ballet, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and Vivan Beaumont Theatre.

New York City Artist Employment and Careers

Living in a city with a booming arts industry seems like an ideal situation for any artist, right?  The answer is likely yes, but let’s look first at some important statistics about employment, careers, cost of living and salaries in New York before we make a final decision.  If it makes sense that living and working in a community where other artists are currently having success, then great news!  According to a National Endowment for the Arts study on Artists in the Workforce, New York City has the fourth-highest percentage of professional working artists.  Coupled with a reasonable unemployment rate of 10 percent and the second-highest mean wage for artists in the arts, design, entertainment and media category ($76,420 as posted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics), it appears that New York is indeed a great place for you to build a career in art.   But wait, wages are just one part of the equation.  When the city’s cost of living (consumer prices, services, utilities, transportation costs and housing prices) is factored in, you may realize that the high level of pay is not enough to live and pay your bills.  In Manhattan, the average cost of living is more than twice the national average.  The neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens are also in the top ten highest areas of the country with the highest cost of living, so moving further out will not relieve you of high costs.  To put this in perspective, a person making $60,000 in Manhattan is equivalent to someone making $26,000 in the average city.

Understandably, there will be challenges for artists who choose New York City as a place to nurture their career – mainly financial.  The truth is, you may have to penny pinch to get by, but we can’t point to a city that provides more inspiration or more opportunity to budding artists than NYC.  You want our advice? If it doesn’t work there, check out our list of America’s best cities for artists… we’re sure you’ll find a place to make it work!

Featured New York Art Programs and Classes

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