Pittsfield and Berkshire County are the No. 1 medium-sized communities in the nation for the arts.

That's the verdict from the third annual Arts Vibrancy Index compiled by the National Center for Arts Research.

The center, launched in 2012 by the Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business at SMU (Southern Methodist University) in Dallas, ranks more than 930 communities for their commitment to the arts.

The results are based on the number of arts providers; public demand on the basis of arts dollars spent by audiences and in spending by organizations, and government support as measured by state and federal arts dollars and grants.

The recently released 2017 report ranks areas by population for the first time — large (over 1 million residents), medium (100,000 to 1 million) and small (under 100,000 with an urban center of 10,000 to 50,000).

The Pittsfield metropolitan area, which includes all of Berkshire County, topped the Arts Vibrancy medium-community list, followed by Santa Fe, N.M., San Rafael, Calif., Missoula, Mont., and Burlington-South Burlington, Vt.

The Berkshire County ranking at No. 1 means it's in the top 1 percent of all communities in the nation.

"This is an incredible nod to all the work done in the community to make it more vibrant," said Kate Maguire, artistic director/CEO of the Berkshire Theatre Group, which includes Pittsfield's Colonial Theatre as well as the Fitzpatrick Main Stage and Unicorn Theatre at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge.

The study shows that "the community understands the role of the arts, and that's wonderful for all of us who live here as well as visitors," she added.

The Arts Vibrancy Index gave the most weight to the number of arts providers, including independent artists, and arts dollars spent, with government support considered as a minor factor.

"Culture is a destination," Maguire pointed out. "Not only is it a destination but it's a way of lifting our society and making us all better people for it. We need it more than ever to remind ourselves of our humanity and what the arts do."

Describing the county's designation as a top hot spot for the arts, the National Center for Arts Research called the Berkshires (population 127,828) "home to a myriad of world-class art, theater, dance, music, film, and historic sites."

The report singled out the Berkshire Theatre Group based at Pittsfield's Colonial Theatre, Jacob's Pillow in Becket, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Barrington Stage in Pittsfield, Aston Magna Festival in Great Barrington, Berkshire Music School in Pittsfield, the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and Tanglewood "among the outstanding organizations that call the Berkshires home."

"The recognition of Pittsfield and the surrounding Berkshire area as the nation's number-one vibrant medium-sized arts community comes as no surprise to any of us here at the Boston Symphony who have been so fortunate to spend time at Tanglewood," said Managing Director Mark Volpe in Boston.

"Our summer home is a big part of the heart and soul of the Berkshire community." he added. "We congratulate all the many wonderful cultural organizations that have played such an important role in receiving this prestigious acknowledgment from the National Center for Arts Research."

Volpe voiced hope that the recognition "will serve to bring ever more arts and culture lovers to the Berkshires so they can discover the abundance of inspiration to be found in the singular beauty of the area, its wide-ranging historic heritage and its place as one of the leading summertime destinations for arts and culture in the country."

The study raved about Mass MoCA's "vast galleries and numerous indoor and outdoor performing arts venues, allowing it to embrace all

forms of art: music, sculpture, dance, film, painting, photography, theater, and new, boundary-crossing works of art that defy easy classification."

"I'm not surprised," noted MASS MoCA Director Joseph Thompson. "As [former Clark Art Institute Director] Michael Conforti liked to point out, there are more art historians, critics, conservators, and artists per capita in our region than any other in the United States. Nevertheless, it's always nice when the world at large confirms what we who live and work here already know."

Another beacon on the area's arts scene is in Williamstown, where residents and visitors flock to The Clark, with attendance up sharply to about 200,000 a year following completion of the museum's 12-year, $145 million expansion.

"It's wonderful to have this study affirm what we here in the Berkshires already know: Berkshire County is a vibrant arts mecca like no other," said Olivier Meslay, director of the Clark Art Institute. "The richness and diversity of arts and culture here is extraordinary, and the opportunity to experience these offerings in a place of such great natural beauty is simply exceptional."

Meslay declared that the report "underscores the importance of the arts as a critical engine in economic development for our region and our Commonwealth. The arts not only contribute to the quality of life here, but they drive tourism and related spending that is so vital to our local businesses -- hotels, restaurants, shops, and service providers."

He also cited the recognition for Bennington and Burlington since "state boundaries don't define the state-of-mind that exists here. Artists, musicians, dancers, performers, writers, and creators have long treasured this area as a source of inspiration and more and more tourists are discovering all the great treasures that are here."

Meslay listed the recent launch of the ArtCountry consortium, the work of 1Berkshire, local chambers of commerce and tourism council for spreading the word, as well as state support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, and area legislators, as "critical to helping us to foster the arts, promote tourism, and create an environment that recognizes the importance of the arts to the economy. Working together, we have all helped to put the Berkshires on the map and I know that this recognition will push us to continue to build on our success."

The research center's report cited Pittsfield's Upstreet Cultural District, specifically the city's Lichtenstein Center for the Arts' gallery and performance space, ceramics studio and working artist studios.

The Arts Vibrancy Index credited the recent Pittsfield Artscape announcement of its plan to expand the Pittsfield Paintbox Program, which encourages artists to paint electrical boxes around the city.

"The creative economy is part of 1Berkshire's countywide economic development strategy," the study stated. "The abundance of renowned arts and cultural activity and support drives Pittsfield to rank in the top 1 percent of communities on overall Arts Providers, Arts Dollars and Government Support, and either in the top 1 percent or 2 percent on nearly every underlying measure."

At the Norman Rockwell Museum, Director/CEO Laurie Norton Moffatt said "it's wonderful that the Berkshires are receiving outside recognition as a mecca for the arts and for artists. It has been a region for immense creativity for centuries and offers a cornucopia of unparalleled cultural offerings."

Norton Moffatt added that she was pleased to see recognition "for all of Pittsfield's efforts to develop cultural resources. We have so many practicing artists of all disciplines in our community and it's thrilling to see it all recognized and to see the Berkshires embraced for one of its true hallmarks."

Bennington, Vt., made No. 3 on the small-community rankings, behind Breckenridge, Colo., and Summit Park, Utah. Nearby Hudson, N.Y., in Columbia County came in fifth, followed by Greenfield in Franklin County, Mass. Hudson and Greenfield appeared for the first time on the small cities list.

Bennington was credited for Bennington College, Southern Vermont Arts Center, the Bennington Center for the Arts, Bennington Museum (housing the largest collection of original paintings by Grandma Moses) and the Bennington Art Guild. Bennington County also is home to the Oldcastle Theatre Company, Manchester Music Festival and the American Museum of Fly Fishing, as well as the Vermont Arts Exchange.

In addition to the Arts Vibrancy Index, the National Center for Arts Research scores every U.S. county on its interactive map, based on measures of arts dollars, arts providers, government support and socio-economic and other leisure characteristics.

"In the current climate, it is more important than ever to recognize the vital role that the arts play in creating dynamic places to live, work, and visit," said Zannie Giraud Voss, director of the center, in a prepared statement. "The Arts Vibrancy Index shows us that this is the case in communities all across the country, not just in large cities and on the coasts."

Voss pointed out that the index measures the ingredients making an area "artistically vibrant and culturally rich, and it illustrates how vibrancy manifests in a wide variety of forms that are often tied to that community's unique identity."

According to Karen Brooks Hopkins, researcher for the center, "The arts are an under-appreciated sector in America. As this report demonstrates, the idea that they are for an elite few is simply not true. The arts generate tremendous amounts of tourism dollars, enhance and encourage a love of learning, and connect diverse communities and people."

"Arts institutions house our greatest treasures and serve as gathering places for people to come together in a shared appreciation for human expression," Hopkins stated. "At the end of the day, when all else is said and done, art is the only thing that endures from generation to generation to generation."

The arts research center's index noted that every region of the country is represented and that arts vibrancy is not limited to large, coastal metropolitan areas, taking many shapes and forms.

Pittsfield and the rest of the county won high marks for being "robust and strong in a variety of arts sectors."

Contact correspondent Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.