It's All in the Data: Supply and Demand for the Arts

Posted by Mr. Randy Cohen, Feb 07, 2011 5 comments

Randy Cohen

Randy Cohen

On January 31, National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman posted a blog about (1) the issue of supply and demand in the arts and (2) the ratio of arts administrators to artists.  I had the opportunity to augment the first point using additional data as well as clarify the second in my posting.  Because these are two issues that may arise for you, we thought it worth posting here so you have the facts at your fingertips.

An examination of years of trend data indicate that demand for the arts is indeed lagging supply. The good news is that it also indicates that audiences are not walking away from the arts, but rather broadening how they choose to engage in the arts.

There is also one noteworthy correction to be made in the Chairman’s numbers and thus, one of his points.

On the supply side:

In our annual National Arts Index report, released just two weeks ago, we track the Urban Institute’s count of registered nonprofit arts organizations as one of our 81 national-level indicators. In the past decade, the number of nonprofit arts organizations in the United States has grown 45 percent (75,000 to 109,000), a greater rate than all nonprofit organizations, which grew 32 percent (1,203,000 to 1,581,000). Or to take the more startling look, between 2003 and 2009, a new nonprofit arts organization was created every three hours in the U.S.

While this is a good news story in terms of greater access to the arts for Americans, we are also seeing more of these organizations (those that file an IRS 990) ending the year with a deficit—41 percent in 2008, compared to 36 percent in 2007. While 41 percent of nonprofit arts organizations running a deficit is a serious cause for concern, this is actually on par with the universe of all charitable nonprofit organizations (which has me worrying about the entire nonprofit sector).

On the demand side:

Tens of millions of people attend concerts, plays, operas, and museum exhibitions every year—and those that go, usually attend more than once. While attendance numbers at artistic institutions have remained relatively flat over the past decade, the percentage of the country’s population attending these arts events is shrinking, and the decline is noticeable. Between 2003 and 2009, the percentage of the population attending art museums and performing arts events both decreased (-19 percent and -22 percent, respectively). While year-to-year, flat attendance may not seem significant, what is the 20-year implication of a shrinking share of the U.S. population attending the arts?

How the public participates in and consumes the arts is ever-expanding, and the Chairman lists some great demand-building examples in his blog. We see greater arts consumption via technology. One of my favorites is right here in D.C.: the Washington National Opera’s annual simulcast at the baseball stadium attracted 20,000 fans last summer! The number of Americans who personally participated in an artistic activity—making art, playing music—rose 5 percent between 2005 and 2009, while the number of people volunteering for the arts jumped 11.6 percent during the same time period.

The point to be clarified:

Regarding the Chairman’s “arts infrastructure” statistic (”5.7 million arts workers in this country and 2 million artists. Do we need three administrators for every artist?”)...According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 2.2 million artists in the U.S. workforce. The 5.7 million figure, however, is from our Arts & Economic Prosperity study, which measures the economic impact of the nonprofit arts industry. The figure represents the number of jobs supported as a result of spending by nonprofit arts organizations PLUS the impact of event-related spending by their audiences (e.g., meals, transportation). Thus, it includes not just arts jobs—but also non-arts jobs that are supported by the arts industry.

So, we can relax about that 3:1 administrator-to-artist ratio point and get back to the big questions about creating more “want” for the arts by the American public.

5 responses for It's All in the Data: Supply and Demand for the Arts


February 08, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Devon Smith also has some great stats around Supply & Demand in the Arts. It's a great breakdown.

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February 08, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Hello Randy --
Yes indeed Chairman Landsman has kicked a hornet’s nest by suggesting our arts sector is “overbuilt” and thanks so much for clarifying where that 3:1 ratio came from. But I think we need to grapple with a larger issue: Whose job is it to cultivate demand? Can the arts ever be sustained by marketplace “survival of the fittest” mechanisms and how can we harness the true amateur (arts lover) connections to the arts (chorus participation, video/web mash ups/ created content, etc), to benefit the sector and insure its survival?

Similar conversations are occurring in other countries, such as Britain, struggling with deficit reduction plans and looking at art institutions and libraries as “overbuilt” anachronisms no longer worthy of public support.

I call to our attention a speech given by Phillip Pullman, author of the highly regarded trilogy “His Dark Materials,” on this topic given to protest the Oxfordshire county council’s plan to stop financing 20 or its 43 libraries. Mr. Pullman defended not just the value of reading but of the open democratic space enshrined in public libraries and noted that libraries remind us that “there are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about…things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight.” Yes indeed Mr. Pullman, there are things that stand above profit but how can they be sustained if the marketplace disagrees with that valuation?

I challenge us to imagine ways to touch the population which has been described as “not yet ready or able to experience the work?” I believe arts learning is a vital path to drawing more Americans into engagement with the culture around them and other cultures they can encounter and better understand through the universal language of the arts (the other is nurturing the pro-am movement, one of the more hopeful signs in the current artistic production/consumption landscape.) Let’s talk more about how to build demand by strengthening the infrastructure for arts learning and amateur engagement before discussing how to control supply in the arts sector.

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February 13, 2011 at 10:32 pm

ugh. It is not necessarily beneficial that we have MORE 501(c)3 Art organizations out there. Non profit art organizations are being created because they need cash and the only way they think they can earn it is by asking for someone else to give it to them! It is SICK that these groups go out and try to get donations from people, from tax paying businesses all in the name of art. More than 60% of these organizations will FAIL within 5 years. That is fact, you have a slightly better chance of being happily married than you do of creating a succesful business and the fact that you start you business by asking for free money from government grants is SAD SAD SAD! We already know how important the arts are in educating our youth, in adding to the enrichment of the lives around us. Why do we need to grovel for cash to startup? Just start smaller! Those same non profits that just started up would have been better off by working with another non profit. Dont you see? The more non profits out there dilute the amount of cash that each non profit could gain. More non profits doesnt not equal a victory. in fact i would argue the opposite. If you create value and enrich the lives around you it does not matter what your tax classification is! Stop asking for free money... I started a business in arts education three years ago in 2008, i have doubled my growth each year and now we gross over $100k and i have 12 educators working in music theater and dance. WITHOUT BEGGING for cash. When the artists out there actually know what they are doing they Wont start a non profit. That is the weak way out... the thought of free cash is way to appealing isnt it. Thats why there is growth in the tax classification. That does not meant that they have something meaningfull to produce, create , or impart. If Demand is down it is because the quality is down and people wont spend cash on sub par work. Artists are scientists, businesspeople, community leaders, advocates etc... Be fearless, thoughtful, and perceptive. Dont just ask the government for cash to run your operation, thats pathetic. Like any other business, the people will decide if you should stick around.

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March 07, 2011 at 7:05 pm

We agree with you in that art institutes shouldn't necessarily walk up and ask the government alone for necessary funding. Sometimes a little business acumen is all that is needed! For example, we're running our third annual San Francisco Dream House Raffle to benefit the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and anyone who signs up not only helps out, but also stands a chance to win a beautiful home in San Francisco. It's really a win-win situation for both the average citizen and the institution!

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March 08, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Thanks for sharing!

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