I'm lucky to live in a city that's known as an "arts destination." Alexandria, VA might not have the kind of arts infrastructure you find in places like New York City, but we've got some pretty great artists and art organizations for a mid-sized city. My very favorite amenity in our city, art-related or not, is the Torpedo Factory Art Center.
The TFAC was founded in 1974 in an obsolete torpedo factory (hence the name), and now houses 82 working-artist studios. The artists work in almost every media you can think of: painting, printmaking, ceramics, glasswork, photography, jewelry, fiber arts, wood carving, and more. In addition to the studios, there are also several galleries displaying other artists' work. There's so much original art under one roof.
What makes the TFAC so special is that visitors can not just purchase original art, but they can interact with the artists themselves--watch them at work, ask questions about their processes, learn the stories behind the pieces they've made. It's a really fantastic place, and one I visit at least once or twice each month. It never gets old to me.
One drawback of the TFAC is that, because its purpose is to promote interaction with artists, it doesn't have the most collector-friendly online presence. The website is great if you want to visit the Factory, but not set up to facilitate purchasing art from outside the walls. Most of the artists have their own websites, which are all linked from the main TFAC site, but they have varying degrees of usefulness if you're interested in buying artwork. Having to contact an artist directly about a piece isn't the biggest inconvenience in the world, but I do appreciate websites that remove all of those kinds of hurdles.
In researching for this post, I've found that many of the artists, more than I previously thought, offer limited edition prints (mostly giclee) in addition to their original works. If you discover an artist whose work you love but is outside your price range, it might be worth asking whether they sell prints. Obviously, the artists want to sell originals so that's their focus, and perhaps they assume people will ask about prints if they're interested, but very few of the studios make this option obvious.
Here are just a few of the kinds of pieces you will see if you visit the Torpedo Factory Art Center (prices shown when listed online):