Fresh Consumer and Business Data on the Local Arts Index Site

Posted by Roland Kushner, May 28, 2014 1 comment

Roland Kushner Roland Kushner

In 2010, Americans for the Arts launched the National Arts Index; this was followed in 2012 by its community-level sibling, the Local Arts Index.  The Local Arts Index (LAI) is the largest publicly accessible source of data on arts and culture at the county level.  It offers a free and easy-to-use web tool that displays information about the arts in every U.S. county in the form of 75 indicators, with data since 2009.  The site makes it easy for you to learn about your county (or the one next door, or where you’re thinking of moving) as an arts community. 

LAI data comes from a range of reputable sources.  Our friends at the Urban Institute shepherd the great nonprofit arts data that so many researchers rely on.  Federal government statistical bureaus (Census, Labor Statistics, Economic Analysis, and others) have authoritative economic and employment data series.  There are also private market research companies (Scarborough Research, Nielsen Claritas) that compile data sets to help their business clients target customers with products and services.

Most indicators have annual updates, though there is typically a lag of a year and sometimes longer. This week, we’re happy to announce 22 updated LAI indicators, 19 with (fresh!) 2013 data. Most of these indicators come from three market research companies.

  • Dun & Bradstreet provides data on arts-centric businesses and their workforces to Americans for the Arts for their annual “Creative Industry” studies.  Using LAI, you can see the arts share of arts businesses and arts workers in any county as of January 2014 (and easily compare to others).
  • From Nielsen Claritas, we have 2013 county-level estimates of per capita consumer spending on the arts—specifically admissions, reading material, photography, and music-making.  Claritas uses Consumer Expenditure Survey data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and adapts it to local demographics in all counties.  LAI indicators feature per capita spending estimates for individual items and for the total.
  • Arts participation data comes from Scarborough Research, which gathers data from 210,000 telephone and in-person contacts each year in 81 metropolitan areas around the country.  Scarborough LAI measures include the share of adults attending performing arts and popular music, purchasing music, visiting museums, and the share of households donating to arts and culture or public radio.  The indicators show three-year averages (2011-2013) for 515 counties.  We provide a summary index of all of these Scarborough participation measures.

Try it out: go to (link will open in a new window).  Drop-down menus on the LAI page make it very easy to compare up to four counties at a time. You’ll see the indicators organized into four key dimensions (Arts Activities, Arts Resources, Competitiveness, and Local Cultural Character), each composed of multiple factors, and each factor composed of actual data indicators.  It’s a big list—but take a minute to scroll down, and you’ll see how rich the perspectives are.

Who uses this?  We have seen these data used in fueling local arts advocacy, informing regional economic planning and placemaking initiatives, and in support community indicator initiatives.  The LAI helps to give the arts a greater voice in all of those venues.  Americans for the Arts makes LAI data available to the public at no charge for all of the 3,143 counties or equivalents in the U.S.  Of course, there isn’t information on arts in every place; many small counties have very little measurable arts activity.  But some are buzzing, and we have data on those places, specifically about arts businesses, participation, and spending.

I live and work in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, in the Lehigh Valley region that includes neighboring Northampton County.  Pulling up LAI data for those two counties, and looking at the first Arts Activity indicators for Cultural Participation and Cultural Programming, shows that most indicators are generally similar.  However, Lehigh County (home of the Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley) had more art museum attendance, and Northampton County (home of Artsquest) has more nonprofit arts expenditure per capita. Because they’re adjacent, arts activities in one part of the region one tend to be enjoyed by people in other parts, too.

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Dive in, find more about the arts marketplace where you live, and compare yourself to the communities you compete with and admire.  We can’t make generalizations about what you’ll find—the experience of every county is different.  For some indicators, you’ll see past years’ values and two- or three-year trends.  If your interest is in longer-term national trends, you’ll be happy to know that the next National Arts Index report, with data from 2000-2012, will be published this summer.

1 responses for Fresh Consumer and Business Data on the Local Arts Index Site


Stephanie says
May 29, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Roland, thank you so much for sharing this information! I did look at the ArtsIndex and played around a little, and thought this is a really useful tool for administrators to use. Do you know if the data behind the tool is open, or available for folks to use?


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