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.
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.
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.