News & Classical Music from Northern Michigan
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Traverse City area drops from list of top 40 arts cities, but still up there

State Theater
Pandemic related stressors, staff turnover across various arts organizations and a lack of federal grants for the arts contributed to the region barely missing the top 40 cut. (Photo: courtesy of the State Theater in Traverse City)

A list of the top 40 arts-vibrant communities in the country does not include the Traverse City area. The region has made the list every other year since 2016.

SMU DataArts looks at over 900 communities in the U.S each year, to help local arts communities track growth and apply for grants. It grades communities based on arts providers, non-profit dollars and state and federal arts funding.

Mary Gillett, executive director of the Northwest Michigan Arts & Culture Network, said most art entities — venues, studios, playhouses and organizations — exhausted their resources adapting to the pandemic and while most operations have returned to normal, there is still a need for more funding.

“The scars are there and the reserves have been depleted," Gillett said. "Our artists and culture bearers they’re important to our community. We need to keep investing into their sustainability.”

The research group also found that the Traverse City area scored lower compared to other areas in terms of federal grants for the arts.

But SMU DataArts reports that the Traverse City area is still considered strong. It ranked in the top 10% for arts vibrancy nationwide. It is among the top 2% in terms of revenue and compensation. That's higher than Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo-Portage, which made the list for the first time in 2022.

Find a link to the report here. Find the DataArts Index heat map here.


In the past year, arts organizations have also struggled with turnover at an administrative level. Gillett said at least 16 administrators have left between August and the end of 2022, across Grand Traverse, Leelanu, Benzie, Manistee and Emmet counties. Some moved for opportunities downstate, some retired or plan to, and others left the industry altogether.

"We are losing some institutional knowledge, it’s a passing of the baton," she said. "But also where’s our ecosystem that’s supporting those now coming up and moving in?”

On the plus side, Gillett is cautiously optimistic for the next generation of arts administrators in our region.

“I have no doubt that the next generation of arts administrators will come through and lead organizations well," she said. "That the new and emerging artists are going to create wonderful work and infuse our community with vibrancy. But these resources are fragile.”

Tyler Thompson is a reporter at Interlochen Public Radio.