Art Works Blog

Taking Note: The Outperforming Arts Sector (A Preview)

As if program evaluation in the arts were not already difficult, a fresh layer of complexity arises from what I’ll call, without meaning to be cute, the “terms of art” associated with this enterprise.

In designing or conducting an evaluation—as with strategic planning in general—one is bound to use the word “performance” repeatedly, often preceding measurement, management, or indicator. This shouldn’t matter to anyone beyond the querulous researcher or consultant, but what if a sizeable chunk of the program or portfolio you’re evaluating is the performing arts? What’s a performance indicator for a performing arts project? How do you measure the performance of a performance? Add to this Abbott-Costello routine the odds that one is communicating to a group for whom performance measurement (in the evaluation sense) is an exotic choice of topic and the confusion only multiplies.

So it’s an unsought pleasure to be able, finally, to pun on the performing arts in a way that is not altogether displeasing. In preparing for the release of updated data from the U.S. Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account (ACPSA), we discovered that the performing arts industry—in a couple of key respects—has outperformed the ACPSA as a whole over the 15 years now on record.

ACPSA figures are reported annually by the NEA in collaboration with the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). They show the arts’ contributions to the final economic value of all goods and services produced in this country, or GDP. They show the number of workers employed by arts and cultural industries, and how much they draw down in wages, earnings, and benefits. And they show the value added to GDP from arts/cultural commodities sold abroad.

Later this month, we’ll be releasing findings from the updated account. It includes trend data, for the first time in real versus nominal dollars.

In 2013, the most recent year for which data are on hand, the combined categories of “independent artists” and performing arts companies and presenters contributed a total of $44.5 billion to the U.S. economy. Performing arts companies and presenters were responsible for over $25 billion, or 57 percent, of this value added to the economy. (Theaters were in the lead, contributing $7.1 billion in value added, followed by “other music groups and artists”—a category featuring jazz, rock, and country bands and artists, which contributed $4.2 billion—and symphony orchestras and chamber groups contributed $2.1 billion.)

More notably, the production of performing arts services has grown at a faster clip than has arts and cultural production in general. From 1998 to 2013, the real (inflation-adjusted) growth rates for opera production and for theater were 7.5 and 6.3 percent, respectively. By comparison, the average annual real growth rate for all ACPSA commodities was 1.1 percent.

Let’s look at value added—the total economic output of industries, minus materials (including energy costs) and certain taxes on production. Performing arts companies posted a 2.4 percent average annual growth rate in value added over the timeframe given above. Presenters showed a value-added growth rate of 2.2 percent. Meanwhile, arts/cultural industries as a whole had a 1.8 percent average growth rate in real value added.

That’s all on the supply side, as it were. But the new account also gives trends in personal consumption. As a share of all U.S. personal consumption expenditures (PCE), the performing arts have been increasing. After adjusting for inflation, the average annual growth rate in PCE on the performing arts between 1998 and 2013 was 10.2 percent. Over the same period, performing arts made up a greater proportion of all consumer spending—from 0.06 percent of PCE in 1998 to 0.24 in 2013.

Thanks to Bonnie Nichols on our staff for performing this analysis (there goes that verb again), based on the NEA/BEA numbers on arts and cultural production (still another word to use sparingly in a performing-arts research report). 

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