The Economic Case for the Arts
The arts have an immeasurable impact on quality of life and community. The arts ennoble and inspire us, fostering creativity, goodness, and beauty. They bring us joy, help us express our values, and build bridges between cultures—benefits that endure during both prosperous and difficult social and economic times.
We also know that most public and private sector leaders have a natural inclination to evaluate an issue by examining it through an economic lens.
While there may be a great deal of discussion about the economic advantages reaped from the arts, there are few existing measures that provide reliable, detailed findings at the local, state, and federal levels. The publication of Creative Industries: Business & Employment in the Arts, aims to fill that gap. This series of reports, a first of its kind, demonstrate in new ways the size and scope of the nation’s arts establishments and jobs.
As of 2017, there were over 673,000 businesses involved in the creation or distribution of the arts in the US, employing 3.48 million people. This represents four percent of all US businesses and two percent of the country’s entire workforce.
"[The arts] bring us joy, help us express our values, and build bridges between cultures—benefits that persist both in prosperous and difficult social and economic times."
Before examining the findings of our Creative Industries: Business & Employment in the Arts reports, let’s outline how our research defines “creative industries.” We were broad in our classification of businesses in the arts, and included performing and visual arts, literature, crafts, media, design and publishing, and arts services. While most studies on the arts focus on the nonprofit sector (such as our Arts & Economic Prosperity studies), this research included any establishment involved in the creation or distribution of the arts, regardless of how it was incorporated. We included arts establishments ranging from nonprofit museums, symphonies, arts education organizations, and theaters; to for-profit film, architecture, publishing, and design companies. We used data from Dun & Bradstreet (D&B), widely acknowledged as the most comprehensive and trusted source for business information in the US. Each of the 16.8 million businesses tracked by D&B are coded by industry. We identified 644 industry subsets specifically driven by artistic creation. (For example, we did not include computer programming or scientific research—both are creative, but are not focused on the arts.)
How Big are the Creative Industries in Your Community?
While viewing the data in the aggregate is eye-opening, the local numbers show not only how and where creative industries are distributed across the country, but also their local impact. To that end, we have posted a detailed two-page report on our website for all 435 US Congressional Districts, the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the nation’s 7,383 state house and senate legislative districts, and every one of the 3,141 counties in the US. This allows us to showcase, for example, that California’s 42nd Congressional District is home to 1,288 arts-related businesses that employ 4,276 people (3.9 percent of all businesses and 1.6 percent of total employment in the district). The map below plots the creative industries in CA-42, and each dot represents a unique arts establishment.
All 11,000 customized reports are available online, free to the public, and include a full suite of user tools, comparison reports, and a comprehensive list of industry categories used in this analysis. Begin your exploration at www.AmericansForTheArts.org/CreativeIndustries.
What Messages Emerge from Creative Industries Reports?
Our hope is that local advocates can use this information to defend and promote the hard value and economic return from investment in the arts.
Here’s how to get started:
- Start with the Map. The map above represents a Congressional district. The data included in this report represents not just a city within that district, but every arts organization within the district. The same will be true for counties, states, and all legislative districts.
- Arts Business are Distributed Broadly Across the Community. Every dot on the Creative Industries reports represents an arts business. They are broadly distributed across communities and political jurisdictions. What is clear is that the arts are not simply a downtown or urban phenomenon. They exist in—and support—urban, suburban, and rural communities. The arts truly have a nationwide impact.
- How Many Arts Businesses and Jobs? There are several key numbers to focus on. Right below the map, we have outlined the total number of arts businesses and the total number of people they employ in every region.
- How Well Does Your Community Compete? Nationally, four percent of all businesses are arts organizations. Below the map, we have developed a “share” feature which captures the percentage of arts businesses in each region. How does your county or legislative district stack up? Are the numbers in your area different from a neighboring community? Cities that want a competitive advantage can use this data to measure themselves. In the King County (Seattle area) report above, for example, there are 8,108 arts businesses that employ 34,536 people. Another way to look at that is that the creative industries in King County represent a remarkable six percent of the total number of area businesses and 2.3 percent of the people they employ.
- Arts Education. With 3.48 million people working for arts businesses, arts education is a critical tool in fueling the creative industries through the development of arts-trained workers. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, a Julliard-trained clarinetist who worked as a professional musician early in his career, has noted, “The arts develop skills and habits of mind that are important for workers in the new economy of ideas.”
"Our hope is that local advocates can use this information to defend and promote the hard value and economic return from investments in the arts."
More Funding for the Arts
The Creative Industries reports have already proved to be a pivotal tool in helping arts supporters demonstrate the value of the arts to the economy. Paired with individual stories of inspiration and education through the arts, these reports make clear that additional individual, corporate, and public contributions to the arts yield tangible returns on investment—time and again, and in every region across America.
Randy Cohen is Vice President of Research and Policy at Americans for the Arts, a national advocacy organization for the arts.