Art Works Blog

Taking Note: Measuring Arts' Contribution to the U.S. Economy

Loose Change 2 by flickr user jswieringa

The arts can speak to a nation’s soul, but how about its wallet? For the first time, details about the arts’ contribution to overall economic activity, the number of people employed in specific industries, and how much they earn will be available starting next year.

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) are teaming up to measure the impact of the arts on the U.S. economy. This new project will provide quantitative insight into the economic benefits of the creative sector, which includes art museums, theaters, book publishing, the music industry, and architectural firms. That data will be useful to policymakers, businesspeople, and researchers, and will come in handy when evaluating programs and grants.

This new partnership fuses NEA’s deep knowledge of the multifaceted arts world with the number-crunching skills of the BEA, a government agency that produces some of the country’s leading economic statistics.

Economic activity generated by the arts is currently included in BEA’s calculations of gross domestic product (GDP), the broadest measure of the nation’s economic standing. However, detailed information about the arts isn’t broken out in the GDP reports. Instead, various pieces of arts production are lumped into other categories. That makes it difficult to see the arts sector’s economic impact. BEA also produces estimates for some broad arts categories in its benchmark “input-output” tables. (If you think of GDP as providing a broad map of the U.S. economy, the input-output tables offer the street-level details.) But those benchmark input-output tables come out only every five years. The new NEA-funded project---the Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account (ACPSA)---will provide far more detail on the economic impact of the arts in a much more timely fashion.

For example, the new project will estimate the number of people employed in museums, revenues generated by concerts, and the receipts of publishing houses. It also will provide information on the compensation earned by people working in the creative fields. The new project will encompass industries that directly involve creative work as well as activities that help bring arts and culture to the public.

The first set of preliminary estimates from the ACPSA will be presented next year. In 2014, these estimates will be updated and published in an article in the BEA’s monthly Survey of Current Business, a must-read publication for those in economics and public policy circles.



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