Excursions to 5 Art-Filled U.S. Cities Where You Can Unlock Your Creativity

Amy Beth Wright
Sep 7, 2018 9:30PM

Exploring your artistic instincts while traveling can yield unexpected rewards. Psychologist and travel writer Michael Brein explains that “travel enables us to be more adventurous, more expanding, more experimental, and more exploratory, by enabling us to experience ourselves in new, creative, experimental ways.” Making art necessitates making choices, and can result in a wellspring of self-confidence and self-awareness. Doing this in a new context, while inspired by the history and culture of a new place, can be transformative.

Beyond the major American art hubs, many U.S. cities are rich with opportunity for exploring one’s creative instincts. The unique histories of the five cities below each inform year-round classes, workshops, and retreats that are well-suited to novice artists over the course of a short trip or a long weekend. Whether you’re looking to get creative with paint, clay, iPhone cameras, or glass, as you plan your itinerary, just recall an observation by Henry David Thoreau: “The world is but a canvas to our imagination.”

Sarasota, Florida

The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL. Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images.

John Ringling was an intriguing contradiction: a connoisseur of high art (he believed an art museum was essential to every town) and an impresario of the mythic, at times gaudy world of the circus. He and his wife, Mable Ringling, first purchased land along the Sarasota Bay in 1911, and by 1925, his net worth exceeded $200 million. At that point, they also owned several of the surrounding Florida Keys, and began nurturing cultural institutions—including their eponymous art museum and school, the Ringling Museum of Art and the Ringling College of Art and Design—that still distinguish Sarasota as a site of artistic experimentation and innovation.

Recently, Art Ovation, a new hotel in downtown Sarasota, began collaborating with the Ringling College of Art and Design to connect guests to the arts through a wealth of classes, demonstrations, and exhibitions within the hotel. The inaugural exhibition, “Legacy,” featured art by faculty, alumni, and students from the college; the hotel is building a permanent collection by acquiring pieces from each exhibition, and guests are even able to participate in the selection process.

Complimentary on-site classes for guests range from origami to portrait painting to paper weaving, and a local artist-in-residence is situated in a studio space in the lobby. Guests can also try out musical instruments, and guest rooms are all equipped with a ukulele (lessons take place at the rooftop bar), art supplies, and a dedicated workspace for focused exploration.

Nearby, Art Center Sarasota offers one-day and week-long classes in mixed media, acrylics and oils, watermedia, printmaking, and more. The historic venues that anchor Sarasota’s cultural scene are also in close proximity, like the Florida Studio Theatre, the Sarasota Opera, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (which has a performance series as well as an art gallery), the Sarasota Ballet, and the Asolo Repertory Theatre.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Courtesy of Sunrise Springs Spa Resort.


Centuries before Santa Fe grew to become the third-largest art market in the U.S., Ancestral Puebloans created ceremonial and functional pottery using beeweed, tansy mustard root, and crushed hematite to ink dark patterns on white clay—a form of pottery now referred to as “black on white.” When Spanish settlers arrived in the 16th century, they brought their own techniques for wood-carving, portraiture, furniture-making, textiles, and metalwork. In the early 20th century, New Mexico—a spare desert landscape with dramatic and awe-inspiring hues of earth and sky—earned recognition as a source of boundless inspiration for artists from the East Coast. As local gallery director Michael Ettema writes, “There have been artists in Santa Fe as long as there have been people here.”

Many of the 200-plus galleries in Santa Fe—which showcase everything from sculpture with found objects to handcrafted jewelry and textiles—offer open studio events in addition to the city’s myriad opportunities for getting tactile and expressive within a variety of mediums. One standout opportunity is the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, which offers classes in digital, iPhone, and night sky photography. The Santa Fe Art Institute offers workshops in design and storytelling, and Sunrise Springs Spa Resort’s Art Immersion program combines mindfulness with artful exploration—workshops include “Zen Doodles,” “Sugar Skulls,” “Blind Portraits,” and the enchanting “Twilight Studio.” Another popular attraction is the immersive, interactive installation of Meow Wolf, a local art collective that builds multimedia art environments and hosts concerts and events in their former bowling alley-turned art space.

A variety of day trips can also feed creative impulses, including visits to Art & Soul in Taos, which offers collage workshops; and the former stomping grounds of Georgia O’Keeffe an hour north in Ghost Ranch and Abiquiú.

Toledo, Ohio

Courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art.

Courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art.

Before artist Harvey Littleton led two seminal studio glass workshops at the Toledo Museum of Art in 1962, glass production in the U.S. was, in large part, utilitarian—designs for canning jars, tableware, bottles, windows, sconces, lanterns, and railroad insulators. But Littleton, the son of a prominent research physicist for Corning Glass Works and a professor at the University of Wisconsin, believed that glass could transcend functionality. In 1960, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation rejected his application for funding to establish a university program in glassblowing, but panelist Otto Whitman—the director of the Toledo Museum of Art at the time—urged Littleton to spend a year at the museum. Littleton’s workshops spurred the American Studio Glass movement, and established a precedent for determining the design for a work of glass art while in the process of creating it, with techniques like fusing, blowing, kiln and sand casting, crushing and binding, coldworking, flameworking, and staining.

The Toledo Museum of Art, along with innovative local studios in the area, offers regular glass workshops, classes, tours, and demonstrations. Weekly workshops in the museum’s Glass Pavilion, a companion building to the primary Beaux-Arts museum site, which was designed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa. Each month, one workshop is focused on a featured object—for example, September’s is an apple paperweight, October’s is a ghost—while another popular offering is “Pick Your Project,” a 90-minute session where participants can choose to create one of a variety projects, like a glass bird, flower, or pumpkin.

Similar classes are available at other glassmaking organizations in the area, like Gathered Glassblowing Studio and Copper Moon Studio in nearby Holland, Ohio. The latter offers youth classes where participants craft mosaics and puzzles with fused glass, and learn techniques for glass-cutting. Also in Holland, the Firenation Glass Studio and Gallery, an independent gallery and collective workspace, is open for tours and offers various specialized glass-blowing classes.  

Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Courtesy of Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.

The Berkshires region is a bucolic respite with an iconic landscape of thickly forested mountains, winding roads, and small towns that recall America’s colonial era—an idyllic venue for spending time outdoors while reconnecting with the interior. The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health pairs yoga, wellness, and outdoor programs with workshops in music, dance, and the visual and literary arts. Special workshops this year involve collage, painting, knitting, and writing, as well as classes that fuse visual arts with yoga. Freelance travel writer Joni Sweet describes a recent collaging workshop as “delightfully free form,” observing that “no matter what, you’ll come away with a piece of art that speaks to you—and potentially some new friends you gained through the process.”

One hour east of Kripalu is Zea Mays Printmaking Studio, and both the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the Clark Art Institute are less than an hour’s drive north. If arriving or departing through Boston, Diana Stelin leads two evening workshops for adults each week through The Plein-Air Art Academy; this fall, they’ll focus on landscapes in asian art.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Through relatively small in terms of population (with just under half a million residents in the metro area, per the last census), Minneapolis is a cultural gem due to its diversity and historically strong funding for the arts. There are abundant museums to get lost in, like the Weisman Art Museum and the Walker Art Center, home of the not-to-be-missed Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (The Walker also offers free drawing workshops led by Amber Sausen, president of Urban Sketchers, on the first Thursday of every month); the Somali Museum of Minnesota (dates for fall classes in Somali Kebed weaving are currently being finalized); and the Museum of Russian Art. The Minneapolis Institute of Art offers a “Sketching in the Galleries” program, which begins with a short lecture and discussion, followed by a practical portion in the galleries.

One Saturday each month, Alchemy Arts Studio, located in the Stillwater neighborhood, hosts three-hour-long fused glass classes, as well as jewelry-making workshops using metal clay (made from powdered metal, a fiber-based binding agent, and water), dichroic glass, silver leaf, molds, and handmade beads. Short workshops in digital photography and Adobe Lightroom can be found at Mpls Photo Center, and the Chicago Fire Arts Center, which focuses on “fine and industrial art forms that are produced using heat, spark, or flame,” offers weekend workshops in blacksmithing, enamel and coloration, encaustic work, jewelry and metal casting, neon signage, tinsmithing, welding, and repoussé (working with small tools and malleable metals to create a raised design).

You can also look for classes and workshops at the Northern Clay Center, as well as a variety of studios in the surrounding area, like Artistry (part of the Bloomington Center for the Arts), the Edina Art Center, the White Bear Center for the Arts, and the Minnetonka Center for the Arts.

Amy Beth Wright