Menus Subscribe Search
new-building

The Old Post Office Pavilion, home of the National Endowment for the Arts. (PHOTO: WYN VAN DEVANTER/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Report Paints Grim Picture of Arts, Culture Economy

• December 05, 2013 • 11:33 AM

The Old Post Office Pavilion, home of the National Endowment for the Arts. (PHOTO: WYN VAN DEVANTER/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Production of cultural goods and services took a huge hit with the recession, and has been slow to rebound.

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.

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.

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.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 2 • 6:00 AM

The Rise of Biblical Counseling

For millions of Christians, biblical counselors have replaced psychologists. Some think it’s time to reverse course.


September 2 • 5:12 AM

No Innovation Without Migration

People bring their ideas with them when they move from place to place.


September 2 • 4:00 AM

Why Middle School Doesn’t Have to Suck

Some people suspect the troubles of middle school are a matter of age. Middle schoolers, they think, are simply too moody, pimply, and cliquish to be easily educable. But these five studies might convince you otherwise.


September 2 • 3:13 AM

Coming Soon: When Robots Lie


September 2 • 2:00 AM

Introducing the New Issue of ‘Pacific Standard’

The science of self-control, the rise of biblical counseling, why middle school doesn’t have to suck, and more in our September/October 2014 print issue.


September 1 • 1:00 PM

Television and Overeating: What We Watch Matters

New research finds fast-moving programming leads to mindless overeating.



September 1 • 6:00 AM

Why Someone Named Monty Iceman Sold Doogie Howser’s Estate

How unusual names, under certain circumstances, can lead to success.



August 29 • 4:00 PM

The Hidden Costs of Tobacco Debt

Even when taxpayers aren’t explicitly on the hook, tobacco bonds can cost states and local governments money. Here’s how.


August 29 • 2:00 PM

Why Don’t Men and Women Wear the Same Gender-Neutral Bathing Suits?

They used to in the 1920s.


August 29 • 11:48 AM

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.


August 29 • 10:00 AM

True Darwinism Is All About Chance

Though the rich sometimes forget, Darwin knew that nature frequently rolls the dice.


August 29 • 8:00 AM

Why Our Molecular Make-Up Can’t Explain Who We Are

Our genes only tell a portion of the story.


August 29 • 6:00 AM

Strange Situations: Attachment Theory and Sexual Assault on College Campuses

When college women leave home, does attachment behavior make them more vulnerable to campus rape?


August 29 • 4:00 AM

Forgive Your Philandering Partner—and Pay the Price

New research finds people who forgive an unfaithful romantic partner are considered weaker and less competent than those who ended the relationship.


August 28 • 4:00 PM

Some Natural-Looking Zoo Exhibits May Be Even Worse Than the Old Concrete Ones

They’re often designed for you, the paying visitor, and not the animals who have to inhabit them.


August 28 • 2:00 PM

What I Learned From Debating Science With Trolls

“Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but occasionally ignoring it can lead to rewards.


August 28 • 12:00 PM

The Ice Bucket Challenge’s Meme Money

The ALS Association has raised nearly $100 million over the past month, 50 times what it raised in the same period last year. How will that money be spent, and how can non-profit executives make a windfall last?


August 28 • 11:56 AM

Outlawing Water Conflict: California Legislators Confront Risky Groundwater Loophole

California, where ambitious agriculture sucks up 80 percent of the state’s developed water, is no stranger to water wrangles. Now one of the worst droughts in state history is pushing legislators to reckon with its unwieldy water laws, especially one major oversight: California has been the only Western state without groundwater regulation—but now that looks set to change.


August 28 • 11:38 AM

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.


August 28 • 10:00 AM

The Five Words You Never Want to Hear From Your Doctor

“Sometimes people just get pains.”


August 28 • 8:00 AM

Why I’m Not Sharing My Coke

Andy Warhol, algorithms, and a bunch of popular names printed on soda cans.


August 28 • 6:00 AM

Can Outdoor Art Revitalize Outdoor Advertising?

That art you’ve been seeing at bus stations and billboards—it’s serving a purpose beyond just promoting local museums.


August 28 • 4:00 AM

Linguistic Analysis Reveals Research Fraud

An examination of papers by the discredited Diederik Stapel finds linguistic differences between his legitimate and fraudulent studies.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.

Being a Couch Potato: Not So Bad After All?

For those who feel guilty about watching TV, a new study provides redemption.

The Big One

One third of the United States federal budget for fighting wildfires goes toward one percent of such fires. September/October 2014 big-one-fires-final

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.