Taking Note: Trending Now—an Arts Imperative in Economic Policy

By Sunil Iyengar, NEA Director of Research & Analysis
American $100 bill
An American $100 bill. Photo by flickr user 401(K) 2012 for 401kcalculator.org
Several years ago, we began working with the Bureau of Economic Analysis to capture the economic value of arts and cultural industries in the U.S. In doing so, we foresaw that the long-term benefit of the enterprise would be diagnostic. Like others, we and our colleagues were startled by the share of Gross Domestic Product attributable to arts and culture—consistently above 4 percent since we launched this project—and yet we knew that the BEA’s Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account (ACPSA) would disclose other impressive facets in the years ahead. Each year’s installment of the NEA/BEA account is adjusted retrospectively. It includes a time series permitting analysis of data from 1998 onward. In a few months, the two federal agencies will publish data and analyses for the most recent interval, ending in 2014. But for this blog post I want to locate some trends that may offer economic indicators for policy and planning.
  1. The substantial value added to U.S. GDP from arts and culture is on the rise. Fueling that growth is web-based publishing, broadcasting, and streaming of arts/cultural content (the related industry shows a 12.6 percent growth rate since 2012); performing arts presenters (a 5.7 percent growth rate), and industrial design services (4.1 percent).
  1. Arts and cultural goods and services are continuing to give the U.S. a trade surplus, with our nation exporting roughly $26 billion more in such commodities than it imports from other countries. In this respect, the arts are bucking a trend for the U.S. economy at large.
  1. Arts and cultural industries now account for nearly half (49 percent) of the economic value added by copyright-intensive industries as a whole, up from 43 percent in 1998. In short, the arts are increasingly linked to the health of our creative economy.
  1. Arts and cultural employment has partly recovered from the 2007-2009 recession, though remaining well below 2000-2001 levels. Labor analysts may want to consider whether a job surge in this sector would translate into even more economic value generated by the arts.
  1. Public investments in K-12 arts education have declined sharply since 2001, as reflected by a drop-off in the total economic output of these services. This diminution, coinciding with a growth trend for arts and cultural industries in the U.S. (see above), raises the question of whether future generations will receive the skills and training needed to participate fully in a growing economic segment.
More details are forthcoming. For our previous analyses of the NEA/BEA account, go here. I’ll sign off with two more observations about this year’s findings.
  • In 2014 (the most recent year captured), government contributed 13.5 percent of the value added by arts and cultural industries to the U.S. economy. This value is realized through federal, state, and local investments in arts and cultural facilities, museums, arts education, and other goods and services.
  • In early 2018, the NEA/BEA account will include details about arts and cultural industries’ economic contributions to each of the 50 states. In a few months, we’ll share trend data about state levels of arts and cultural employment. Taken together, these resources should assist state and regional policy-makers in assessing and supporting the economic vitality of arts and cultural industries in their purview.