Creative jobs usually have a negative reputation, bringing to mind the struggling artist. However, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows otherwise; the annual median salary of creative jobs is around $57,283 which is more than the nationwide average of $38,640. Creative jobs are also on the rise — depending on the occupation, the BLS predicts growth to be 3% to 9% for the next 10 years.
What makes a job ”creative”? A creative occupation is one that requires original ideas or imagination — this isn’t limited to just artists or designers. It might include writers who craft stories, for example, or a producer who envisions a movie. Creatives might not always hold a regular office job. They often work non-traditional hours or by the project, and might be paid accordingly. (This makes it all the more important for creatives to have an emergency fund in a savings account.)
Costs and being able to save money are the major factors that creatives might consider when finding a city. What else makes one city better than another for creatives? We decided to take a look at the best and worst places for creatives in America.
The Policygenius Creatives Index takes into account the type of job, housing costs, and health insurance. We also wanted to gauge the artistic climate of the city, and consider the community, with the understanding that creatives might want to collaborate with other like-minded creative individuals.
We surveyed the major metropolitan statistical areas in all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C.
Here are the data points:
Annual salary: The average median salary across creative jobs in that particular metro area.
Arts establishments: This is a measure of how many arts establishments there are for every 10,000 people in a given metro area. Higher is better. Arts establishments include: theaters, dance theaters, museums, but not amusement parks, or gambling or sports-related venues.
Housing costs: The median monthly housing costs for both renters and owners.
Health insurance: The monthly premium cost of the second lowest-cost silver plan (SLCSP) — a middle-tier plan that individuals can buy on the health insurance marketplace — for a nonsmoking 40-year-old. While there are many younger creatives under age 35, a recent BLS survey reveals the average to be closer to 42 for those holding creative jobs. Regardless of your age, these premium costs (which do not include a subsidy) are still useful for comparing the relative costs of health insurance across different areas. Some creatives might be self-employed or freelance and will not always have health insurance provided through their workplace. Learn more about health insurance for freelancers.
Job density: The total density of creative jobs per 1,000 people. For every 1,000 people employed in an area, this is how many people hold a creative occupation. We are using this as a measure of community. Higher is better.
Data sources: Annual salary and job density figures from BLS May 2018; Housing costs from American Community Survey 2017; Arts establishments comes from 2016 U.S Census data; 2019 insurance premiums from Kaiser Family Foundation.
In creating this index, Policygenius compiled a list of 29 creative jobs using the BLS. You can detailed descriptions of each occupation from the BLS.
- Architects (except naval and landscape)
- Art directors
- Artists and related workers, all other
- Craft artists
- Fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators
- Multimedia artists and animators
- Fashion designers
- Floral designers
- Graphic designers
- Interior designers
- Set and exhibit designers
- Commercial and industrial designers
- Art, drama, and music teachers, postsecondary
- Producers and directors
- Music directors and composers
- Musicians and singers
- Writers and authors
- Audio and video equipment technicians
- Sound engineer technicians
- Camera operators, television, video and motion picture
- Film and video editors
- Theatrical and performance make-up artists
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Best places to live for creatives
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim. This California metro area ranked best overall, including the highest average annual salary ($77,136), the highest density of jobs (20.5 for every 1,000 people). It also had the highest density of arts related establishments — 9.32 venues for every 10,000 people, which is 12,354 places in total.
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington. The Twin Cities came in second, boosted by having the lowest monthly health insurance premiums ($300). It also scored well for density of arts venues. While the creative jobs don’t pay as much in this area — $60,100 annually — there was a high density of them — 10.2 jobs per 1,000 people, which was the ninth highest on our list.
Boston-Cambridge-Newton. Our findings revealed big similarities between Boston and Minneapolis. Both have affordable health insurance, a high density of creatives, and artistic establishments. (Health insurance costs $321 a month on average in Boston and the density of creative jobs is 11.2 for every 1,000 jobs.) The most noteworthy difference between the two areas is that Boston has more expensive housing — the third most expensive, at $1,655 per month — but makes up for it with higher salaries — the fourth highest, at $68,075 a year.
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue. The birthplace of grunge has the fifth most expensive housing. On average, people here pay $1,597 per month, but that did little to bring down the No. 4 city. People in Seattle who work in creative occupations have an annual salary of $64,957 and there were 9.6 creative job holders for every 1,000 jobs. The average cost of health insurance was $380. There’s a lot of inspiration to be found in this city, which ranked fourth highest for density of arts-related venues. (3.72 for every 10,000 people).
Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise. Creatives make a little less in Las Vegas — $51,950 per year, but our best city for renters had the most affordable housing cost in the top five at $1,117 a month. Health insurance premiums averaged $369 a month and job density was 9.7 per 1,000 jobs (the 11th highest).
Coming in at number 12, NYC narrowly missed the top ranks. While it boasts the second highest average salary for creatives, the notably high cost of housing as well as expensive health insurance premiums brought the city down.
Smaller cities haven’t forgotten about the arts. Less populated metro-areas still had sizable density of arts establishments. The smallest area we looked at — Cheyenne, Wyoming — had the 11th highest density for arts-related establishments. Billings, Montana, the third least-populous area ranked tenth highest, with a density of 1.67 arts establishments per 10,000 people. Burlington-South Burlington, Vermont (the fifth smallest area) ranked No. 9 with 1.75 arts related establishments per 10,000 people.
Creatives should go to Detroit-Warren-Dearborn and St. Louis for better housing costs. These two cities were the only ones in the top ten with average housing costs below $1,000 a month — $951 and $954 respectively.
Worst places to live for creatives
Cheyenne, WY (tie)
Cedar Rapids, IA (tie)
Columbia, SC (tie)
In general, the places that ranked at the bottom of the list had lower annual salaries for creative jobs. The Huntington metro area had the lowest at $30,500 a year. They also had few arts-related venues — less than one establishment for every 10,000 people in the city. The cost of health insurance also tended to be higher in these areas, costing in the upper $600s per month. Cheyenne had a whopping monthly premium of $796. (Smaller cities tended to have higher health insurance rates.) If you’re a creative in this area with a lower income, you may be able to qualify for a health insurance subsidy.
However, most of these lower-ranking areas scored well on housing. While the housing costs in our top 10 cities for creatives varied greatly — from below $1,000 per month to well over $1,500 — the median monthly housing costs in some of the lowest-ranked areas were more affordable, costing under $1,000 per month. (The exception was Cheyenne, where people pay on average $1,053 a month towards housing.)
While the Huntington metro area ranked the lowest for salaries and also for the lowest density creative jobs, it also had the most affordable housing, at $615 per month — maybe an incentive for future creatives to come pave the way and start their own community.
Highest paying creative jobs
Here’s a breakdown of each occupation and where you can find the highest salary out of the metro areas we surveyed.
|Art, Drama, and Music Teachers, Postsecondary||Los Angeles||$114,710|
|Art Directors||Los Angeles||$118,940|
|Fine Artists, Including Painters, Sculptors, and Illustrators||Los Angeles||$67,100|
|Multimedia Artists and Animators||Seattle||$90,660|
|Artists and Related Workers, All Other||Atlanta||$100,790|
|Commercial and Industrial Designers||Detroit||$85,950|
|Set and Exhibit Designers||Portland, OR||$72,740|
|Designers, All Other||Baltimore||$77,620|
|Producers and Directors||Los Angeles||$107,070|
|Music Directors and Composers||Minneapolis||$107,350|
|Musicians and Singers||Seattle||$80,724.80|
|Writers and Authors||D.C.||$92,430|
|Audio and Video Equipment Technicians||D.C.||$56,720|
|Sound Engineering Technicians||NYC||$65,800|
|Camera Operators, Television, Video, and Motion Picture||Portland, OR||$79,650|
|Film and Video Editors||NYC||$77,540|
|Makeup Artists, Theatrical and Performance||D.C.||$86,060|