SMU DataArts - Cultural Data Profile


Nashville, Tennessee Holds the Highest Concentration of Artists in the South

  • Posted Jul 27, 2023
4-minute read

Often referred to as “Music City,” data confirms Nashville holds the highest concentration of independent artists among all large sized communities in the south, scoring within the top 2% nationally.

Lower Broadway, Nashville, TN, USA Lower Broadway, Nashville, TN, USA

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Combining history, music, and modern city life, Nashville has been uniquely shaped by a diverse range of artists including Tina Turner, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and Ray Charles among many more, and continues to inspire new generations of musicians near and far.

One stand-out characteristic of this local arts community is the mutually supportive relationship between artists, the city, and its residents as a whole. Iconic Nashville figures have remained heavily involved in the local community for decades. As co-founder of the Farm Aid benefit concert series, Willie Nelson has helped raise millions of dollars to support family farmers across in the United States since 1985 and recently received the LBJ Liberty and Justice for All Award in recognition of his long-time advocacy work. Dolly Parton, another beloved and iconic Nashville figure has also given back to the community in remarkable ways, including founding the Imagination Library which has grown into a worldwide initiative distributing over 150 million books to date, The Dollywood Foundation, My People Fund, and making large-scale donations to the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital and the Nashville flood relief. 


The city's commitment to supporting the arts and artists has made it an attractive destination for creatives and art lovers alike. To help nurture the many emerging artists in the area, Nashville Arts & Business Council has partnered with local agencies throughout the last decade to offer Periscope, a year-long intensive training opportunity that empowers working artists to see their creative practice through an entrepreneurial lens via training sessions, mentorship, and networking events. 

Recently, the city has seen a boom in population with a 9.3 percent growth between 2016 and 2021. As a result, local arts organizations have also experienced expansion in staff, earned revenue, and philanthropy as they meet the higher demands. Our analysis shows particular strength in local employment provided by the arts sector, as evidenced by its score in the top 1% nationally. 

Additionally, the city has made concerted effort to incorporate public art into its infrastructure, including commissioned murals, sculptures, and other installations. Metro Arts, the city’s arts and cultural division supports this growing sector by providing over $2.7 million in annual grant funding to organizations and projects aimed to strengthen the creative workforce, increase creative and cultural participation, and establish vibrant, creative neighborhoods.

Image courtesy of Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department, Murfreesboro, TN. Photo credit: Jim Davis (2022). Image courtesy of Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department, Murfreesboro, TN. Photo credit: Jim Davis (2022).

For those who prefer a quieter atmosphere away from the busy city, Nashville’s surrounding areas of Davidson, Franklin, and Murfreesboro offer many of the same benefits and support for creatives to push boundaries and create new works but with small-town lifestyles. 

Karen Lampert from the city of Murfreesboro says that what makes this community unique is the amazing support for a diverse set of venues and programs for adults and children alike. At just a 35-mile distance from the big city, Murfreesboro has become a hub for attracting niche groups of artists through Middle Tennessee State University which is well-known for its recording industry degree program and has been listed on The Princeton’s Review best colleges in the U.S. for a number of years. 

As a growing arts community, the city of Murfreesboro is setting the foundation for long-term success. Future development plans include establishing a designated Arts District in the downtown corridor to help bolster and sustain the nonprofit arts.


Thank you to Karen Lampert of City of Murfreesboro for their thoughtful contributions to the making of this article.


The Arts Vibrancy Index examines the level of supply, demand, and government support of the arts in more than 900 communities across the country. Accompanied by an interactive Arts Vibrancy Map that reveals the arts-vibrancy score of every county in the U.S., the Index lists, in alphabetical order, the 20 most arts-vibrant large cities, the 10 most arts-vibrant medium cities, and the 10 most arts-vibrant small cities. In this year’s Index, the first since 2020, four communities debut on the lists, and an additional five return after an absence of at least three years.

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