BEA’s Arts in the GDP Study: How You Can Help Make it Great

Posted by Mr. Randy Cohen, Jan 28, 2014 0 comments

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BEA is a Big Deal

In December 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) added to the canon of research on the economic impact of the arts with the new Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account—a measure of arts and culture in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  Economic impact of the arts is not a new story.  What's new is that an agency of BEA’s stature has undertaken the research.  The BEA is choosy about the satellite accounts it establishes and wouldn’t measure arts and culture unless it recognized the sector as important to the nation's economic well-being and global competitiveness.

What did BEA find?  That arts and culture activity produce $504 billion dollars in goods and services annually in the U.S.—representing 3.25 percent of the nation’s economy—numbers larger than transportation ($448 billion) and agriculture ($174 billion), and only slightly behind construction ($530 billion).  The arts numbers were much larger than expected and turned enough heads at BEA headquarters to get the attention of U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, who provided a quote in the NEA’s release about the value of arts and culture (not an insignificant recognition).

Just 2 Million Jobs?

Beyond the eye-popping headlines of arts and culture being a half-trillion dollar industry, the report indicates that this activity supports 2 million jobs.  So much economic activity and so little employment?  Multiple measures of how the arts affect jobs and the economy are available.  While each one has a slightly different specification, taken together they suggest considerably more employment than BEA’s initial findings.

  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks the number of artists in the U.S. workforce and currently counts 2.2 million—and that’s using just 11 artist categories.
  • Americans for the Arts’ analysis of Dun & Bradstreet data (Creative Industries: Business & Employment in the Arts) shows that there are 3.3 million people on the payroll at 905,000 arts businesses (nonprofit and for-profit).
  • Arts & Economic Prosperity IV by Americans for the Arts shows that spending by nonprofit and public arts organizations alone directly supports 1.1 million jobs.
  • The American Alliance of Museums estimates that 400,000 people are employed at U.S. museums, yet the BEA study puts that number at just 130,000.

It All Depends on What You Are Counting

Different studies use varying definitions of the arts, which led me to wonder what is—and is not—included in the BEA counts.  What I quickly learned is that if one has questions beyond the top-line findings in the NEA’s release, you are quickly linked to a labyrinth of BEA data tables and background reports.  This exploration, and some clarifying phone calls with a helpful NEA Research staff, illuminated important choices and assumptions made by BEA and gave me insight as to how the 2 million jobs figure was derived.

  • In this analysis, BEA tracks arts production rather than arts occupations.  This took me some time to wrap my head around until I came across an illustrative example.  According to BEA, there are 140,300 workers in the architectural services.  However, BEA includes only the number of architects that design cultural facilities (700).  Thus, as constructed now, 139,600 architectural services jobs are not part of the BEA jobs total. My opinion is that anything an architect designs is an arts commodity and ALL architects should be counted.  More on how to stake our claim to these jobs and those like them in a moment.
  • Some of the industries within arts and culture are just plain small and harder to measure.  Take, for example, arts grantmakers.  BEA estimates that a mere 100 people in the U.S. are private sector arts grantmakers. (I recall four times that many at the last Grantmakers in the Arts conference.)
  • There are also categories that BEA wholly excludes: Performing and visual arts departments at universities are included.  However, departments of creative writing and design are not.  If design and creative writing don’t yield cultural product, what do they produce?

Still Time for Improvement

You don’t get to be the top economic analysis shop on the planet, however, with closed ears.  BEA knows this is a first cut and they want to hear responses from the field.

In the NEA’s press release, it characterizes the study as “preliminary” with “prototype data”—not unusual for a new and complex endeavor of this sort.  BEA is soliciting feedback from the public.  I am taking them at their word and hope you will do the same.  While there is no way to capture everything within the study, the starting list of changes below would go a long way toward addressing some of the larger concerns from the 2013 report.

  1. Include all architectural services, not just jobs and revenue generated from designing cultural structures.  In fact, include all 46 arts and culture occupations included in the National Arts Index (see page 119 for the list).
  2. Expand arts education to include college design and creative writing departments—beyond just college fine and performing arts departments and college performing arts centers. College arts and culture activity should be measured for both public and private schools.  And, is there room for K-12 arts education here?
  3. Include ticket agencies such as Ticketmaster that move arts and culture tickets (part of NAICS 561599).
  4. Provide more detailed estimates of performing arts value added (e.g., theaters, opera companies, dance troupes), separate from independent artists, promoters, and agents.
  5. Provide more detailed estimates of electronic and print information value added (e.g., motion pictures and video industries, sound recording, broadcasting, publishing).
  6. Redesign performing arts commodities to align with traditional NAICS codes: theater, opera, dance, music groups and artists.
  7. Do more to distinguish arts and culture work and investment from sports work and investment in NAICS 711xxx.

Responses can be emailed to Carol E. Moylan, Associate Director for Industry Economic Accounts at BEA at ArtsandCulture@bea.gov.  Share your appreciation, recommendations including those above, and suggestions by March 7, 2014.  (I have emailed with them and they are pleasant and receptive.)

Thank You!

This first BEA effort is exciting news for scholars, policy makers, and arts advocates.  The U.S. has lagged behind the rest of the world in tracking commerce data about arts and culture industries.  In fact, the design of this study was guided by existing models from Statistics Canada and UNESCO as well as by researchers stateside.  Undertaking this research makes clear the important role of the arts in building a healthy U.S. economy and ensuring our competitiveness in a global marketplace. The NEA deserves strong plaudits for focusing the BEA’s economic lens on arts and culture and BEA has made a Herculean effort to get the research this far.

Now let’s make it better.

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