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Where’s the Money? US Arts and Culture Economy By the Numbers

by Mostafa Heddaya on December 9, 2013

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(image via National Endowment for the Arts)

An unprecedented survey of the role of the arts in the larger economy, last week’s breakdown of the GDP contribution of America’s creative industries in 2011 is illuminating and depressing, if not entirely surprising in its conclusions. The preliminary report, a joint effort of the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and National Endowment for the Arts, reveals that advertising dwarfs the economic clout of every single other creative endeavor, followed by arts education in a distant second place. The report finds that the total size of the arts and culture economy is 3.2 percent of GDP, coming in at $504 billion. In the broader leisure economy, the report notes, this sector supplants travel and tourism, which clocks in at 2.8 percent of GDP. The report also finds that the national economic recovery has lagged, jobs-wise, in the culture sector.

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That advertising is a major fiscal engine should of course not be terribly surprising, but the small size of the “Independent artists and performing arts” ($48.9 billion) compared to the “Arts education” category ($104 billion) should provide some pause as far as the economic linkage that exists between arts education and the production of what we consider high (or “fine”) art: teaching art — i.e. the promise of art — is a more lustrous pearl than the actual messy business of producing it. And speaking of messy businesses, the words trade (publishing) isn’t so hot, either, with a gross output of $41.5 billion. Also worth noting is the comparative size of the movies and video industry, which employs 310,000 people, while museums employ a third of that figure.

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As a reminder, the annual budget of the National Endowment for Arts in 2011 was $154.7 million. In that same year, the Philadelphia “Phillies,” a Major League Baseball team, paid their players alone $173 million.

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  • MatthewHT

    Though there’s definitely some things to consider in terms of arts education vs. arts profession, comparing the economic output of arts education to just “independent artists and performing arts” is a bit misleading. First, it ignores all those art school grads who work in film, advertising, publishing, design, museums, etc. We can’t assume they all wanted to be independent artists but just couldn’t cut it. Also, we rarely expect literature students at a big university to all have novelist aspirations, nor are all philosophy majors expected to become philosophers. To truly value arts education is to understand that creative and critical thinking, critique culture, etc., have benefits far beyond making paintings. Not all art students have aspirations to work in any of the above professions, but just like the psychology student who doesn’t want to be a shrink, they choose a particular education for various ways they thing it will work for them. Then there are of course the Jackson Pollocks who just don’t make it. But the story is more complex than that.

    • punktoad

      We need to recognize the generative power of “creative and critical thinking, critique culture, etc.” For example, design centered companies like Apple would not otherwise flourish to the degree they have.

  • jmco

    A little misleading as many areas cross over. Photographers do a lot of ad work. Graphic designers are involved in all these areas. Arts education could be a lot of things from software training (why I think it is so high) to college programs (are they including performing arts too?)
    The reality is that design and art crosses over and is a big part of everything! From medicine (medical device design/interface, branding, etc.) to things we use all day like clothing (hey! where is the fashion industry here?), interfaces, devices, typefaces, etc.
    If there was no design and art in business and economies, it would be like the land of North Korea. These numbers are low and simplistic.

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