Breckenridge lands top spot in annual arts index

The Breckenridge Arts District is shown in this photo. Steeped in culture and heritage, Summit County "provides a unique mix of creative opportunities for people of all ages and interests," according to the 2017 Arts Vibrancy Index, which ranked Breckenridge No. 1 for small citiies.
Liam Doran / Special to the Daily |

2017 Arts Vibrancy Index

The National Center for Arts Research ranks annually the top cities in its Arts Vibrancy Index. This year, the rankings were expanded to include three classifications: small, medium and large.


(Under 100,000 people)

Rank, City 2015 population

1. Breckenridge, Colorado 30,257

2. Summit Park, Utah 39,633

3. Bennington, Vermont 36,317

4. Bozeman, Montana 100,739

5. Hudson, New York 61,509

6. Greenfield Town, Massachusetts 70,601

7. Oneonta, New York 60,636

8. Juneau, Alaska 32,756

9. Jackson, Wyoming-Idaho 33,689

10. Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts 17,299


(100,000 to 1 million people)

Rank, City 2015 population

1. Pittsfield, Massachusetts 127,828

2. Santa Fe, New Mexico 148,686

3. San Rafael, California 261,221

4. Missoula, Montana 114,181

5. Burlington, Vermont 217,042

6. Bremerton, Washington 260,131

7. Ithaca, New York 104,926

8. Asheville, North Carolina 446,840

9. Barnstable Town, Massachusetts 214,333

10. Des Moines, Iowa 622,899


(Includes metro districts/MSAs over 1 million)

Rank, City 2015 population

1. Washington, D.C. 4,812,246

2. New York 14,413,079

3. San Francisco 1,629,951

4. Nashville, Tennessee 1,830,345

5. Minneapolis-St. Paul 3,524,583

6. Boston 1,984,537

7. Los Angeles 10,170,292

8. Silver Spring, Maryland 1,285,438

9. Newark, New Jersey 2,511,493

10. Seattle 2,889,626

11. Philadelphia 2,131,336

12. Cambridge, Massachusetts 2,361,182

13. Portland, Oregon 2,389,228

14. Denver 2,814,330

15. Chicago 7,340,454

16. Pittsburgh 2,353,045

17. Austin, Texas 2,000,860

18. New Orleans 1,262,888

19. Rochester, New York 1,081,954

20. Richmond, Virginia 1,271,334

What they said

Local reactions to the Breckenridge MSA, which is Summit County, being ranked No. 1 for small cities in the annual Arts Vibrancy Index by the National Center for Arts Research at Southern Methodist University.

“I think it’s a statement about how our town leaders recognize the role of arts and culture, and how that affects this being a vibrant place to live and visit. The recognition is always nice. Last year, we were No. 4 on it, and I was still hoping we’d still be in the top 10, so seeing that we’re No. 1 was certainly nice to hear and it’s a credit to all the good work that’s happening here in Summit County.”

— Robb Woulfe, president and CEO of BreckCreate.

“Summit County has an exciting and developing arts community. The new Performing Arts Center in Silverthorne, the revamping and enlarging of Backstage Theatre in Breckenridge, plus the vibrancy of organizations like Breckenridge Music Festival, BreckCreate and Summit Music and Arts suggests a bright and encouraging future for performing arts in this community.”

— Len Rhodes, Summit Music and Arts

“The Breckenridge Music Festival is proud to share this honor with the many arts and culture organizations, patrons and government officials who have invested in using the arts to define the ‘Breck experience.’ We’ve deepened and widened our impact over the last year, increasing our audience by 10 percent and employing over 100 artists, and the NCAR results are proof that our businesses’ collective impact is powerful and growing.

— Tamara Nuzzaci Park, Breckenridge Music Festival

“It’s always good to be called out for something positive. Obviously, there’s a very strong synergy that exists among all the nonprofits, and we’re very pleased to be a part of that. I love what everyone here is doing.”

— Chris Willard, Breckenridge Backstage Theatre

Not Martha’s Vineyard, the Teton mountain range, nor Alaska’s capital city could keep Breckenridge and Summit County from capturing the top slot in this year’s Arts Vibrancy Index, an annual nationwide survey of artistic communities.

Having first appeared in 2014, the study by the National Center for Arts Research at Southern Methodist University ranks cities of similar sizes in three groups: small, medium and large.

Some of the communities are fairly compact and easy to determine. Others, like the metropolitan divisions that make up the Chicago MSA, are spread across large distances and numerous states, according to the researchers.

The study itself is relatively new and still evolving. In 2014 and 2015, for example, small- and medium-sized cities were lumped in together, whereas this year they were divided into separate classifications.

In the first year the report was issued, Breckenridge finished fourth behind No. 1 Glenwood Springs; No. 2 Santa Fe, New Mexico; and No. 3 Jackson, Wyoming.

In 2015, Jackson moved up to No. 1 while Glenwood Springs fell to No. 2 and Santa Fe came in third. Meanwhile, Breckenridge held steady at No. 4, ahead of Edwards at No. 5 and two Montana cities in sixth and seventh.

Interestingly, Jackson fell to No. 9 on the small cities list this year, while Glenwood Springs failed to make the cut and Breckenridge jumped into the top slot for small cities.

It came as welcome news for local tourism officials on an otherwise cold, gray day, and Robb Woulfe, president and CEO of BreckCreate, was quick to point out this designation is a reflection of the entire Summit County arts community, not just one group.

The results are based largely on data collected from various sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau and the IRS, as the survey aimed to gauge the demand, supply and public support for arts and culture in 937 communities across the country and ranked them.

The rankings provide order, but do not show how close or far one city may be from the next even if they are ranked side-by-side. As a result, there could be large gaps or close bunches not reflected in the rankings.

“Our measures are aggregated across the 11 arts and cultural sectors that are featured in NCAR’s reports: Arts Education, Art Museums, Community, Dance, Music, Opera, Performing Arts Center, Symphony Orchestra, Theater, Other Museum, and Multidisciplinary Performing Arts,” the 2017 report states.

Specifically, researchers weighted what they called “art dollars” and “art providers” the heaviest, giving each 45 percent, while tossing “government grant activity” a passing nod with the remaining 10 percent of the ranking.

For the study, art dollars were defined as the quantifiable demand for nonprofit arts and cultural programming while researchers measured the number of arts providers in any given community with data showing the number of arts employees, nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, arts, culture and entertainment firms, and independent artists in the community. Predictably, grant activity included the number and amounts of state and federal grants in the community.

Breckenridge received its highest marks in the arts providers portion of the survey, ranking third overall and in the top 10 for arts and culture employees and arts and culture organizations.

Another high mark, the city ranked ninth overall for arts dollars, with the subset categories of program revenue, contributed revenue, total expenses and total compensation all ranked between 10th and 14th nationwide.

For grant activity, Breckenridge was considerably lower on the scale, coming in 61st overall.

Additionally, the study focused on the Breckenridge MSA, which is Summit County, and the top ranking is a reflection of the wealth of applicable criteria across the county’s 619 square miles more than it is just for Breckenridge.

Coincidentally, Breckenridge finished ahead of second-place Summit County, Utah, another community bolstered by its nearby ski resorts.

Rounding out the top five for the small cities were, respectively, Bennington, Vermont; Bozeman, Montana; and Hudson, New York, also known as “Upstate’s Downtown.”

Juneau, Alaska, which came in No. 8 for small cities, was the only ranked city outside contiguous U.S. in any classification. Behind Alaska’s capital city for the small cities were No. 9 Jackson, Wyoming, and No. 10 Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, which includes Martha’s Vineyard and the surrounding islands.

No state was better represented across the board than Massachusetts, which had two cities each in the small (Nos. 6 and 10), medium (Nos. 1 and 9) and large (Nos. 6 and 12) classifications, while states without a single city on any list included Nevada, Arizona, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Michigan, Maine, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Delaware and Rhode Island.

Additionally, Denver was ranked 14th for the large cities and the only other Colorado location to make any of the three lists.

For the complete report, go to

This story was originally published in the April 26, 2017 edition of the Summit Daily News.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.