Study: America's culture economy is doomed

New NEA report finds that in the wake of the recession, the arts represent a shrinking portion of our GDP

Published December 8, 2013 5:00PM (EST)

This piece originally appeared on Pacific Standard.

Pacific Standard
Pretty much every sector of the economy was battered during the great recession, but the artistic and creative community suffered more than most. And, at least as of two years ago, there was little sign of recovery.

That distressing news is contained in a report released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts. It finds that, for 2011, “the value added from arts and cultural production accounted for nearly 3.2 percent, or $504 billion,” of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a common gauge of economic activity.

That figure was in the 3.5 to 3.7 percent range in the first half of the 2000s. It dipped to 3.2 percent in 2009, and has been stuck there ever since.

That still represents a significant slice of the overall economy. In 2011, two million Americans were employed in the arts and culture category, including 310,000 in the motion-picture industry, and 100,000 each for museums and the performing arts.

But employment levels in this sector took a real dive in 2009—much greater than the economy as a whole—and had yet to fully recover as of 2011. Employment in cultural production (as broadly defined by the federal government) declined roughly one percent from 2010 to 2011—a much smaller figure than the previous few years, but still on the negative side of the ledger.

The total gross output of “arts and cultural goods and services” in 2011 was just under $916 billion. The advertising industry generated the biggest slice of that total: nearly $200 billion. Arts education, including fine arts schools and college and university fine arts and performing arts departments, placed second, at just under $104 billion.

Close behind were cable television production and distribution ($100 billion); motion pictures and video ($83 billion); independent artists and the performing arts ($49 billion); and book, newspaper, and magazine publishing ($41 billion).

In case you were wondering, the advertising-industry figure is limited to the creative side. To put it in Mad Men terms, Don Draper and Peggy Olson’s salaries are included; Pete Campbell’s is not.

So NEA senior deputy chairman Joan Shigekawa is correct to note that, beyond its "contributions of ideas and creativity to the nation's economy," the output of artists, writers, and other creative types is economically significant in itself. But its impact is significantly smaller than it was in 2000 or 2005. Even if there has been an upturn in the past two years, it will likely have a long way to go to reach its pre-recession levels.

By Tom Jacobs

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