Introducing the National Arts Index (from Arts Watch)

Posted by Mr. Randy Cohen, Jan 20, 2010 1 comment

Today, Americans for the Arts released our new National Arts Index at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.  This report represents a major milestone for arts in America. Never before has there been a single and annually produced measure of the health and vitality of the arts in America. 

While new for the arts, we interact with indicators daily. If you want to know about the stock market, you check the Dow-Jones Index.  Are we optimistic about the economy? Track the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index. Indicators are broad measures that compress a lot of data into a single indicator. 

The National Arts Index is an annual measure that uses 76 equal-weighted, national-level indicators of arts activity-making it one of the largest data sets about the arts industries ever assembled.  This new report covers an 11-year period, from 1998 to 2008. 

The 2008 National Arts Index score is 98.4-down 4.2 points from its 2007 score of 102.6 (2003=100). A score of 105.5 would return the Index to its highest point, measured in 1999. While the arts industries in the U.S. have become increasingly creative and the number of working artists and arts organizations is growing, audience demand has failed to keep pace-causing the National Arts Index to drop to its lowest level in the 11 years we've tracked. 

The overall Index score is only one of the big stories in this report. 

We can also track many sub-sectors and policy-relevant trends:

1.      The arts follow the business cycle. The arts respond to the booms and busts of the nation's economy.  Based on past patterns, we estimate that an arts rebound will begin in 2011.  Does this sound right for your community? 

2.      Demand for the arts lags supply. Between 1998 and 2008, there was a steady increase in the number of artists, arts organizations, and arts-related employment. Nonprofit arts organizations alone grew in number from 73,000 to 104,000 during this span of time (between 2003 and 2008, there was a new nonprofit arts organization created every three hours in this country!). That one out of three failed to achieve a balanced budget even during the strongest economic years of this decade suggests that sustaining this capacity is a growing challenge.  Which begs the question, are these gains are at risk?  Can the capacity issues be addressed by broadening the business structure opportunities beyond the 501(c)(3) model, using incubators, shared services and spaces, or better use of existing venues?                                                                                         

3.      How the public participates in and consumes the arts is expanding. Tens of millions of people attend concerts, plays, opera, and museum exhibitions, yet the percentage of the U.S. population attending these arts events is shrinking, and the decline is noticeable. On the increase, however, is the percentage of the American public personally creating art (e.g., music making, and drawing). Technology is changing how Americans experience the arts and consumption via technology and social media are up. How can arts organizations capitalize on the public's increased interest in making art? 

4.      Demand for arts in education is up.  A growing percentage of college-bound high school seniors are getting 4 years of arts and music, even as other national studies point to a decline in arts education.  College arts degrees conferred annually have increased from 75,000 to 120,000 in the past decade.  Do we have an equity issue?  Who is being left out? 

These are just a few of the findings from the National Arts Index.  You can read the full report and track the blogo'mania around the Index at

Indicators provide a common currency of language-enabling even the general public to discuss, in this case, the value of the arts, using similar information and terms. Let the conversation begin!

1 responses for Introducing the National Arts Index (from Arts Watch)


January 22, 2010 at 10:18 pm

Way to go, Randy. Useful! You know my point of view. I believe there should be more innovative "monetization" of the performing arts using private sources as part -- as part of a new economic model mix.

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