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A Wonderful Town

"I don't want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light."

—Woody Allen, Annie Hall

We hear ya, Woody. Los Angeles is rarely recognized for being a forward-thinking, culturally rich city. Even as proud Angelenos we sometimes find it difficult to see through the smog, traffic, pointless awards shows, celebrities, and tattered copies of US Weekly everywhere. Perhaps our reputation as a haven for the beautiful, but not the brainy, a cultural wasteland wrecked by bad TV and too much sunshine, isn't too far from the truth at times.

But dear, dear Mr. Allen and other L.A. haters, one only has to barely scratch our superficial surface to discover one of the most culturally advanced cities in the world. Indeed one only has to open Back Stage West to see evidence of the sheer volume of innovative, entertaining theatre—not to mention music, film, and visual arts—produced throughout Southern California.

However, you don't have to take our word for it, because there are nothing like hard statistics from a no-nonsense business publication to make a point. In February, Business Week and Sperling's Best Places named L.A. the best place for artists to live in the U.S. The study found that our city boasts 56 artistic establishments for every 100,000 people and an arts-and-culture index—which considers the number and size of local resources such as museums and theatre troupes—of 100 (on a scale of 1 to 100).

In comparison, New York—which placed fourth behind Santa Fe and Carson City—has only 14.8 art establishments per 100,000 people and an arts and culture index of 76.

How can L.A. possibly be more "cultural" than New York? Business Week speculates its all about the economy: "While the city provides great opportunities for actors and directors, there are equally rich prospects for musicians, artists, writers, and dancers. Of course, the majority of these people can't afford to live in Beverly Hills—at least not until they get their big break—and instead opt for more affordable digs in areas like Echo Park," wrote the article's author, Maya Roney.

So, not only does the entertainment industry yield those great opportunities—i.e. jobs—for a variety of local artists—i.e. actors; it's also comparatively less expensive to live here. Money magazine listed L.A. as only the third-most expensive city in the U.S. last year—behind New York (No. 1) and San Francisco (No. 2). And the difference in price is quite dramatic: Manhattan's annual cost of living was $146,060, while L.A.'s was $117,726.

Most Angelenos, however, do just fine on a five-figure income. Unfortunately for cash-strapped actors, our less expensive areas such as Echo Park are quickly disappearing. Little Tokyo, Venice, and Echo Park neighbors Silverlake and Los Feliz were once little-known bohemian enclaves offering cheap rent, ample space, low-key coffee shops, and DIY art galleries and theatres a plenty. Much of that environment changed when the wealthier art-appreciating public caught wind of these small communities and moved in. Those areas are now among the most desirable—and therefore expensive—parts of town.

But according to Business Week, those rich gentrifiers also keep our artists afloat. "Proximity to wealth is also important," writes Roney. "The fact of the matter is that artists can seldom earn a living, let alone become rich, selling to other artists. They need wealthy benefactors to buy their paintings or support their local symphony…." Plus, unlike New York, L.A. still has enough land for inexpensive artists' enclaves to flourish.

So, Woody, you can take Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island, too. We'll take REDCAT, The Actors' Gang, Theatre of NOTE, The Groundlings, The Actors' Network —and In-N-Out!

-- Back Stage Staff

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