NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman Announces New Study That Measures The Value Of The Performing Arts And Other Arts Sectors

Report measures value through time use, organizational data, consumer spending

WASHINGTON, DC – “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it,” said American author Henry David Thoreau more than 150 years ago. Time and Money: Using Federal Data to Measure the Value of Performing Arts Activities is a new research note from the National Endowment for the Arts that looks at the value of the arts in three ways: time spent on arts activities; organizational revenue and expenses; and direct consumer spending.  A particular focus on performing arts data provides consistency across these three measurements. 

The note draws on the most recent data available from the U.S. Economic Census, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), to arrive at monetary and non-monetary value measurements of the nation’s performing arts sector.  Recent data show that performing arts organizations generated nearly $13.6 billion in revenues; Americans spent $14.5 billion on performing arts admissions, and on any given day, 1.5 million Americans attended arts performances, usually with family or friends.

“It’s clear that Americans value the arts, through the time and money they spend on the arts,” said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman.  “Beyond the economic fact that the arts generate significant revenue, the arts are a shared, social activity, and that’s something that enhances the civic life of our communities.” 

Time and Money analyzes the value of arts and culture through concrete monetary measures, through ‘revealed preferences’ as seen through consumer spending, and through time use, which is a ‘quality of life’ measure.  A growing body of research defines the concept of value using measures beyond traditional gauges such as economic impact.  These measures include happiness and life satisfaction surveys, studies that link the arts to community development, research that clarifies the role of arts and culture in the ideas economy, and ‘value added,’ which refers to an industry’s contribution to the gross domestic product.  Future NEA research will consider these more comprehensive measures of value.

Key Findings:

Value as expressed by time use

For the first time, the NEA offers a ‘day in the life’ snapshot of how Americans participate in arts and cultural activities.  The data was collected through the American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and shows how much time Americans spend on the arts, the time of day selected arts activities are likely to take place, whether the activities were done alone or with others, and where those activities occurred.  The research reveals that the arts are often a social, shared experience with friends and family.

  • On any given day, 1.5 million Americans attend arts performances, usually with family or friends (41 percent).  Attendees spend an average of 2.7 hours at these events, and attendance usually peaks between 8-9 pm.
  • Museums draw more than 500,000 per day; most visitors spend 2.4 hours at museums, and attendance peaks during lunch hour.  Seventy percent of museum-goers visit with family members.
  • On any given day, 2.6 million Americans spend 2.5 hours on arts and crafts activities, including painting, sculpting, photography, scrapbooking, holiday decorations and costume-making, and jewelry-making.  Thirty percent do these activities with other family members, and 19 percent, with children.
  • In comparison, Americans spend an average of 3.5 hours watching television.  People spend an average of 1.5 hours using computers for leisure activities such as surfing the Internet, participating in chat rooms, or downloading music or photographs. 

Value as expressed by organizational revenue and expenses

According to the 2007 U.S. Economic Census, the U.S. performing arts industry is supported by nearly 8,840 organizations with a total of 127,648 paid workers. These organizations generate nearly $13.6 billion in annual revenues.

  • The not-for-profit sector alone accounted for 45 percent of these organizations (about 4,000) and 58 percent of their paid workers. Total annual revenue and expenses of nonprofit performing arts groups were $5.6 billion and $5.2 billion, respectively.
  • Theater and opera companies accounted for just over half of the total revenue and total expenses of all not-for-profit performing arts groups. They also provided over half (38,130) of this sector’s paid employees.
  • At not-for-profit performing arts establishments, 46 percent of total revenue comes from admissions, contract fees, and membership services.  Contributed income (from individuals, foundations, businesses, and government agencies) makes up 41 percent of all revenues.  The largest share of contributed income is from individuals (20.7 percent) and the smallest are from government sources (4.3 percent) and guilds and unions (2.3 percent).
  • Nearly one in four not-for-profit performing arts organizations (23.6 percent) have budgets of $100,000 to $249,000; more than half of all not-for-profit performing arts organizations have budgets ranging from $100,000 to just under $1 million.

Value as expressed by consumer spending

Americans recently spent an annual total of $14.5 billion on performing arts admissions.  This compares to $20.7 billion on sports events and $10.4 billion on movie box-office tickets.  The average U.S. household spent $139 annually on arts and crafts, a category that includes toys and (non-video) games.  This amount was roughly comparable to that spent on sports and exercise equipment ($130).

The NEA research note Time and Money is available for download in the Research section of

About the National Endowment for the Arts

The National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government. To date, the NEA has awarded more than $4 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. The NEA extends its work through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector. To join the discussion on how art works, visit the NEA at


Sally Gifford

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