Vibrant artsy towns in the mountains?
May 15, 2018 11:05 PM   Subscribe

We're planning on moving to a town somewhere in Mountain West/PNW within the next 2 years to open an artistic business. We have a list of potential places, but want to expand the list before we start narrowing it down. Criteria inside...

"We" in this case is four people in our 30's, no kids. Two of the four of us work together as professional artists. We like where we are a lot, but need to move elsewhere to start a new venture.

We're looking for the following things:
  • >=10k population in the area
  • mountains
  • artistic community
  • close by, good skiing
  • purpleish places -- we're very (extremely?) liberal, but also like guns and redneck neighbors and living in the sticks
  • relatively easy to travel to, so it's easier to have non-local clients
  • depending on the size of the place, close to a bigger population center
  • nearby public land
  • university town is a plus, but not required
Places already on our list:
  • Helena, MT
  • Bozeman, MT
  • Sandpoint, ID
  • Couer D'Alene, ID
  • Bend, OR
  • Boise, ID
  • Bellingham, WA
Where else aren't we thinking about?
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Rust Moranis at 11:30 PM on May 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Given your wishlist I'm a bit surprised by the lack of Colorado, so maybe there's a reason for that, but I was going to suggest Lyons. Smaller but would give you easy access to Boulder and Denver. If you want to go further out maybe something like Rifle or Fruita.
posted by mannequito at 11:37 PM on May 15, 2018

Helena and Bozeman are...not great in my opinion. Super conservative friends of mine went to college in Bozeman. I don't know that people go to Helena on purpose unless they have to visit the capital in-person, honestly. Helena is very flat and not as accessable for driving to. Absolutely go with Missoula if you're going to go somewhere in MT. It's gorgeous. Super liberal. Good art scene. Lots of walk-ability in the downtown areas. Historic downtown and college. It's very much a university town. It's SURROUNDED by mountains. I met a ton of people that literally moved there for mountain climbing and hiking purposes. It's literally in a cup of mountains or what was "Glacial Lake Missoula" in the past and therefore it gets a bit more rainfall and less dryness than other parts of MT.

I grew up in Billings, which surrounding areas may also be an option for you if you want a bit more rural life but it's far more conservative than Missoula. Red Lodge Resort is about 1 hr outside Billings which is a big ski area. I went to college in Missoula and lived there about 4.5 years. My husband and I moved to Salt Lake a few years ago - but we miss the fun, artsy, liberal culture of Missoula SO MUCH - unfortunately it lacked jobs and resources we needed.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:46 PM on May 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

Santa Fe!
posted by ellenaim at 12:16 AM on May 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Bozeman is very liberal and artsy. It is filled with great, friendly people. I loved living there and hope to again someday. Yes, sometimes conservative people pass through town, but I wouldn't hold it against Bozeman that someone once knew a guy.
posted by Kalmya at 1:42 AM on May 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ellensburg in Washington state meets every one of your requirements, but I would recommend visiting first so you can see if the constant wind bothers you.
posted by seasparrow at 2:58 AM on May 16, 2018

Reno, NV or Carson City, NV.
posted by elsietheeel at 5:38 AM on May 16, 2018

Durango, CO
Montrose, CO
Salida, CO
posted by nickggully at 6:35 AM on May 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Evanston, WY which is about an hour away from Park City and about 1.5 hours away from the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon ski areas as well as downtown SLC. It has a fairly progressive vibe and a nice downtown with some other established artsy businesses (e.g., stained glass). Bonus: no income taxes.
posted by carmicha at 7:00 AM on May 16, 2018

Look at Cedar City, Utah. It has some of the conservative culture you'll find anywhere in Utah, but also has a major University, a notable Shakespeare festival that brings in artistic tourists, is big enough to have a regional sized airport, and is very near a lot of very pretty public land.

In Nevada you might look at Truckee and the overall Lake Tahoe area.
posted by Candleman at 7:19 AM on May 16, 2018

Ashland, OR. Has everything except the skiing is only "mediocre".
Eugene, OR. Has everything except I wouldn't call it mountainous, but it's not flat nor terribly far from mountains. Hood River, OR. Seems like it checks every box.
posted by TomFoolery at 8:46 AM on May 16, 2018

Salt Lake City.

Also, I lived in Laramie, Wyoming for about six years. It checks all of your boxes except for (possibly) thriving artistic community. I didn't find it to be my cup of tea since I'm more of a city person, but Fort Collins and Denver aren't too far away.
posted by Fister Roboto at 8:48 AM on May 16, 2018

Helena and Bozeman are...not great in my opinion. Super conservative friends of mine went to college in Bozeman.

I'm a queer trans guy who went to Montana State in Bozeman. It's certainly not San Francisco but I had no problem finding a social group. This was in the late 90s so I'm sure it's gotten even better. Lots of students come from much smaller, "gun-totin' redneck" towns but I found that most don't keep their virulently conservative views, if they had them to begin with. The disadvantage to Bozeman is that it's not within an easy drive of any major city, and flights can be expensive. Take a look at Livingston, just over the pass from Bozeman. It's well known for artsy types.

Having only passed through (recently), I loved Steamboat Springs and Estes Park in Colorado. I love the area around Sheridan, Wyoming but I don't know anything about the town. (I doubt there'd be skiing, though.)
posted by AFABulous at 8:59 AM on May 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nederland, Evergreen, Central City and environs/CO could all be worth investigating.
posted by fast ein Maedchen at 9:32 AM on May 16, 2018

Reno, NV satisfies all those criteria, and the entire month of July is an arts festival: The housing market right now is a bit silly, but it's absolutely worth checking out.
posted by memento maury at 9:57 AM on May 16, 2018

Seconding Santa Fe - at that end of New Mexico, the climate is similar to southern Colorado, complete with mountains and good skiiing close by, very artistic community that isn't just an artist enclave, very progressive city in a relatively progressive state (we're a blue state, despite the terrible Republican governor we have now), major destination with a diverse population (68k in the city, 144k in the extended metro area, and within the Albuquerque travel-shed, increasing the mega-region population to 1.146 million -- but there's a major section of land that won't be developed, so it's not a run-together city). Tons of public lands near Santa Fe and throughout New Mexico and southern Colorado. Missing: major university (the two biggest schools in New Mexico are in Albuquerque and Las Cruces, at the southern end of the state).

If you want a smaller, more artsy town near-ish to Santa Fe, there's Taos (Wikipedia; vacation guide, and Toas Chamber of Commerce website), but the population is under 6k and it's 1.5 hours north of Santa Fe. Otherwise, it's vibrant, in the mountains with even more skiing opportunities, and a significant destination with quite a lot of tourism for such a small town.

If you want a bigger town, but are willing to go farther south, Silver City (Wikipedia, Silver City Arts and Cultural District website) is the first city in New Mexico that came to mind. Very much an arts/artist-focused city, up in the mountains (elevation is over a mile high, despite being in south-east New Mexico, which is generally lower in elevation), very liberal and diverse population of just above 10k, home to Western New Mexico University (rather small, but it's part of the community). Downsides: rather remote, as it's 2 hours to Las Cruces, which is the 2nd biggest city in New Mexico, but it's in the shadow of El Paso, which is about 30-45 minutes farther; 4 hours to Albuquerque, under 5 hours to Phoenix.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:05 AM on May 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thirding Santa Fe, for all the reasons stated above. Also, New Mexico has more artists per capita than any other state.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:50 AM on May 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

In Colorado -- Salida! Paonia! Palisade! Steamboat! Buena Vista! Leadville!
posted by heurtebise at 10:51 AM on May 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Olympia or Tacoma, Washington, depending on how big you prefer.
posted by Margalo Epps at 11:05 AM on May 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Chiming in on Colorado: Durango, Glenwood Springs, Ouray, Placerville (tiny but awesome, & close to Telluride).
posted by sutureselves at 2:34 PM on May 16, 2018

No Missoula? That and Bozeman are my favorite MT towns. I also love the Star Valley in WY, towns like Afton. No university there though.

I used to live in ID twenty years ago. I visited two years ago (before the election) and I found it intolerable. I love the terrain but would not move back to ID, and probably not AZ, two states I've spent a lot of time in (10+ years).

Bend is expensive (and IMHO overrated), maybe Redmond or Madras? Or one of the Willamette Valley towns like Salem or Corvallis. Possibly Eugene.
posted by phliar at 5:56 PM on May 16, 2018

Sisters, Or! Close to Bend but.. smaller and better. Tons of artistic festivals during the summer which bring lots of people.
posted by girlalex at 10:35 PM on May 16, 2018

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