Mar 5, 2023 - News

Study ranks Chicago as best U.S. city for creatives

Illustration of a paint tube with money coming out.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Chicago tops U.S. cities as the most livable for those in creative industries, according to a new study.

Why it matters: The city's vibrant creative community makes it a world-class destination for tourists and art lovers.

The big picture: Chicago ranks fourth globally, following Tokyo, London and Paris.

  • Among U.S. cities, Chicago narrowly beat out San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles.

Methodology: The study looks at factors including salaries and expenses for artists, graphic artists, performers and musicians. Other categories include:

  • The number of creative jobs available
  • The number of museums and art galleries
  • The amount of green space and parks
  • The availability of creative classes and workshops

State of play: Chicago has spent considerable resources to highlight our creative and cultural communities in recent decades, including dedicating yearlong city programming to music, theater, art and, in 2022, dance.

  • The city also recently announced the Chicago Arts Recovery Program, which will distribute $11 million to arts nonprofits and $4.5 million more for aiding arts organizations still recovering from the pandemic in 2023.
  • The city's cultural affairs department will continue its grants program for individual artists in 2024. This year, the annual program anticipates giving up to $6,000 each to 250 artists.

Reality check: Though Chicago may be No. 1 in the country for creatives, we rank sixth when it comes to salaries.

  • We average $68,632. San Francisco has the highest salary for creatives, at an average of $86,300, but the cost of living there is higher.
  • Plus, the study cites the number of green spaces and art galleries in how it determined its rankings, but neither element factors into how artists and creative people can survive amid rising rents and inflation.

What they're saying: "Inflation is making basic needs difficult for artists," printmaker Megan Sterling tells Axios.

  • "Art supplies and materials have gone up drastically. Costs are going up, but the wages aren't."

Of note: Although rent increases are slowing, they're still averaging more than $2,000 per month.

Most expensive Chicago neighborhoods
Data:; Chart: Axios Visuals

Between the lines: Local artists know this. It's why artists work full-time jobs outside their creative pursuits or are choosing to leave Chicago for the coasts, which boast better pay and more professional opportunities.

What's next: Coming up this week, we'll talk to some Chicago artists about what they think of the study.


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