The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, June 13, 2002  

American Style Readers Rank U.S. “Arts Destinations”

American Style magazine earlier this year asked its readers to provide a list of “their top choices for arts travel destinations based on the richness and variety of visual arts sites, activities and events.”

The results of the poll are in and American Style has published the 25 favorite destinations at the magazine’s web site. According to the editors, “[The readers’] selections underscore the diversity and excellence of arts offerings, from museums and galleries to open studios, craft shows and special arts events all across the country.”

That’s one way of looking at it, we suppose. But at the risk of sounding like Hilton Kramer, we believe the results of the poll provide just the latest evidence that not everyone is entitled to his opinion.

The readers’ top 25 destinations, provided below, include some genuine surprises, not only with respect to the communities selected, but also with regard to their ranking.

Thankfully, the editors of American Style helpfully provide a guide to the goings-on in each of the 25 cities and towns on the list as an aide to understand what thoughts are in the minds of those submitting ballots. From these brief entries it quickly becomes apparent that the magazine’s readers were encouraged to take an expansive view of what constitutes “the arts.”

Thus, Berkeley Springs, W.Va., comes in at number 12. Now with all due respect to the people of Berkeley Springs, which truly is a community of exceptional natural beauty, charm, and sophistication, the entry for the village makes clear that in the minds of the editors of American Style at least, flea markets and trinket shops contribute as much to the cultural fabric as a world-class art museum or symphony:

“Go to the heart of Berkeley Springs at Fairfax Street and art is around every corner. From handcrafted silks to oils and monograph prints, the city boasts a variety of art for all tastes and interests.

“The art community is closely knit under the guidance of the Morgan Arts Council (MAC). MAC provides public openings of galleries and studios, and art shoppers can see the artists at work while searching for new pieces to add to their collections. While visiting Berkeley Springs keep a Friday night open to check out the Ice House Gallery Walk -- you will begin your tour with a reception at Mountain Laurel, then proceed to the Ice House for a gala opening of a special art exhibit. The evening ends with a stop at Tari’s Café where you can enjoy a light meal or snack surrounded by the works of local artists.

“If you are going to be in Berkeley Springs in the fall, make a stop at the annual Apple Butter Festival during the first weekend of October. More than 200 vendors display their works, including traditional and contemporary crafts and antiques. But the festival is more than just an art show -- the entire town gets involved. Each of the galleries and boutiques hosts special events of their own.”

Like the endless lists of “The 50 Best Places to Live,” “The Top 40 Places to Raise Children,” and so forth, which seem always to be urging Americans to pick up and move to some reclaimed, mosquito-ridden, thoughtlessly developed swampland in South Carolina or Florida, the American Style list of leading arts destinations is little more than a tired ploy designed to stir up some “buzz” and sell magazines. Sadly, given the lack of originality endemic to the magazine business, we fear we will suffer these gimmicks in perpetuity.

For what it’s worth, the top 25 “arts destinations” selected by the readers of American Style are:

1. New York
2. Santa Fe/Taos
3. San Francisco/Berkeley
4. Pittsburgh
5. Chicago
6. Seattle
7. Washington, D.C.
8. Boston
9. Buffalo, N.Y.
10. Philadelphia
11. New Orleans
12. Berkeley Springs, W.Va.
13. Asheville, N.C.
14. Los Angeles
15. Phoenix/Scottsdale, Ariz.
16. Athens, Ga.
17. Portland, Ore.
18. Miami (with South Beach), Fla.
19. Saugatuck, Mich.
20. San Diego
21. New Hope and Lahaska, Pa.
22. Sedona, Ariz.
23. San Antonio
24. Carmel, Calif.
25. Baltimore

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