Today, artistic friends, my question is are there more affordable cities in America where writers, musicians, poets and artists can thrive? Do we always have to pay most of our income to rent and food and work multiple part-time jobs that pay little just so we can have the flexibility to write or play music?
I currently live in the Bay Area. I’ve been here my whole life, aside from the year my parents were attending the University of Texas in Austin after I was born. I love the abundance of hiking trails and the proximity to the ocean. I like that people are interesting and educated and into books, art and music. I love the historic houses. San Francisco will always be my one true home.
What I don’t like is how expensive it’s gotten here, how everything feels tooth and nail, and many people around Berkeley/Oakland/San Francisco drive like assholes, treat each other like crap and don’t even smile.
We moved out of San Francisco for the same reasons. Too competitive, too overcrowded, too expensive. You had to fight to get anywhere or do anything. To live here, you need to be a type A++ personality. Bigger, better, faster, more competitive than everyone else. I love that people are multi-faceted and interested in a million different things. What I wonder about is where they find the time and how they got all of this money. The working class is slowly being pushed out of the Bay Area.
The economy tanking in 2008 didn’t help matters. Since then, I’ve picked up freelance work and part-time gigs, but each time I’ve worked for someone else (albeit once, when my friend worked at the place I applied and told me they were desperate for staff) I’ve had to persist at trying to get the job for up to a year. And this is for COFFEE SHOPS. On top of that, I’m allergic to the oaks and the cedar and the grass and the pollen. As a writer who is figuring out what I want to write about and how to make enough money doing it without getting burnt out, I don’t barely break even and to live here, you need a two-power-couple income, no car and inherited real estate. IMHO.
Because of the rough times of the past few years across the board, we all seem afraid to move. “Last year, the Census Bureau’s national mover rate—which represents the percentage of Americans 1 year and older who moved within the past year—hit its lowest level since 1948, when the bureau began tracking the data.” Wow.
Where could we go? I used my experience here to elaborate on an issue facing many, many people in this day and age. So are there any places left that might afford a better cost of living and ability to spend time on creative pursuits?
Here are some ideas I’ve come up with so far:
- One could move to Paducah, Kentucky, as detailed on The Abundant Artist here. The city decided to experiment by offering help to established artists wishing to relocate. The experiment appears to be successful so far. You can find out more about Paducah here. $1 subsidized living? Tell me more!
- One could also move to Austin, which boasts a vibrant music scene: over 1,900 performing artists and bands live near or in the city. Move To Austin is a blog detailing all you would want to know about moving to this sunny, humid, hot bed for artistic people, good eats and culture. Unlike other parts of Texas, Austin has an abundance of outdoor activities including rivers and hiking. I do hear that the allergy season is worse there than other places, which might be a deal killer for me.
One of my college buddies blogs about her recent move to Austin here. I’d be lying if I didn’t say she almost has me convinced. To play the devil’s advocate here though, not all places other people like are great for me. Some people express on a forum discussing the city the problems living in a hip place come with. They are the same problems I am facing here in the Bay Area. I am sick of the cooler-than-thou attitude, the competitiveness and the cliques. Be yourself people! Don’t be a snot!Let’s explore a few other places.
- Boulder, Colorado was always a great place to visit in my traveling days. Interesting people flocked there to drink good beer, hike in the mountains, see live music and go to college. On the city website is an extensive list of articles describing it as being the best city to retire in, the best artistic destination, the best food, etc. Check it out yourself here.
In addition, the links listed there led me to a great article on the top 25 small cities written by American Style Magazine.
- I’ve often fantasized about moving to Taos, New Mexico. Taosis.com offers an artists guide to Taos, and professes that not only does Toas have great rafting, hiking and skiing, it is a mecca for the artistic.
When I visited Taos a number of years ago I found it to be beautiful, with an enchanting spirit that pulled me in. It was very warm, and beautiful orange sand stretched on for miles outside the city limits. I found hidden nooks and adobe-style buildings.I really do love Victorian and Art Deco architecture as well, though, and have found that it is important to me to live in buildings that inspire and motivate me, or at least be around them. Which is one reason why I wish the San Francisco Bay Area were not at such a high (almost double) cost of living index compared to many other places in the U.S. And a reason why I’ve often considered Portland, Oregon.
- Portland, Oregon is a hotbed for artistic people, including writers, yet it does rain many months out of the year. I always found it lush, green and inspiring when I traveled through the state and I wanted to explore Mt. Hood and bunk down in an old Victorian somewhere to collect books and write. My friend lives there, and has enjoyed being around similar-minded people, reading books, driving a cab, going to school, enjoying good music, and has been experiencing all the good and bad of being young, free and awesome in her twenties. Bike trails and healthy local food abounds. And c’mon. Powell’s Books and bacon donuts?
- Seattle would almost be an option, if it wasn’t so damn rainy all of the time there, too. I remember my aunt moving there for a while when I was growing up and how depressed she got living in the downpour all of the time. But the music scene is booming. There are jobs. I have friends there, even. Arts, culture, food? Check. Just wet. Very, very wet.
- Ashland, Oregon is one of my favorite places for food. It’s a small college town, but I love the hiking trails and good eats that abound virtually everywhere. While visiting I went white water rafting, had great fish and chips at an English pub and amazing scrambled eggs at a local diner. It’s a big tourist destination with plenty of small businesses and boutiques. The Shakespeare Festival contributes largely to the bohemian and theatrical crowds visiting on and off throughout the year, and it is also a college town at heart, with Southern Oregon University offering undergraduate programs in many liberal studies. The unemployment rate there is comparable to California’s, though, hovering at around 11% as of 2010.
- Lexington, Kentucky was listed by Kiplinger as a great place for single artistic people (I would include people who are married but still act single to that category). The area, according to this article, has 15 colleges and universities, a young crowd, horse and bourbon scenes, affordable housing, a large gay community, a nude art scene, ($650 for a two-bedroom!), an underground art and music scene and jobs. Hmmm.
- Knoxville, Tennessee is another place I visited while traveling that just felt different. It had a thriving culture, beautiful buildings, young people everywhere, a music scene, art and good food. It felt like a creative place to be and had a good energy. It wasn’t as overwhelming as Nashville and seemed like a place where you could grow. The living expenses are lower than the average, and the unemployment rate is below average, though the job growth has stopped, according to the data I could find. It’s a pretty place, big enough to get lost in, but warm as well. I found the state of Tennessee to be absolutely gorgeous, with green trees, subtle fog and rolling hills.
- Funny, reflecting on this article I wrote about Oakland in 2007: In the last couple of years, Oakland has become a mecca for people looking for an artistic bohemian lifestyle. I’m over it. I don’t think I ever want to live in West Oakland again. If I can’t walk my dog at night, what’s the point? Beautiful Victorian flats abound for OK prices, but not near parks or walking distance to stores. When I lived near West Oakland, one neighbor got mugged by kids and another with a brick over his head. Not something I want to calculate into my already mounting stress of living in an area I cannot afford. To play devil’s advocate though, most of the creative people I associate with live in Oakland, and I often consider moving back there because of the rents, the shops and the potential.
I’ve stayed here in the Bay Area for this long because I love the ocean, the mountains and the people. My immediate family lives here and my extended family is close by. I’m kind of a type A personality, so I do OK with competition, I just don’t like it very much. And living on top of so many people just isn’t ideal. I like to spend lots of time alone where no one can see in my window or hear me practicing guitar through the walls. Still, there are still many opportunities and resource available if you are energetic enough and willing to fight for them, so I remain. As do many others.
If I had it my way, I would pack everything up and spend a year traveling in a van across the country until I found a viable list of meccas. Funding that project is going to take some more brainstorming, though. Any observations from your travels to different locales are much welcomed here.