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Measuring vitality of arts in U.S.

Michigan Photography, Roger Hart

In mid January, American for the Arts released the National Arts Index, one of the large collection of date on arts and culture ever assembled in the U.S. The report covers an 11-year span, from 1998-2008.

The Findings

The National Arts Index is a highly-distilled annual measure of the health and vitality of arts in the U.S. using 76 equal- weighted, national-level indicators of arts activity.

Similar to reports such as The Conference Board’s tracking of consumer confidence, the Index views the arts as a dynamic system and provides reliable longitudinal information. It is unique when compared to other arts data systems in its scope, amount of data it presents, and annual publication. The Index is set to a base score of 100 in 2003. Every point difference represents one percent change.

The National Arts Index fell 4.2 percentage points in 2008, reflecting losses in charitable giving and declining attendance at larger cultural institutions—even as the number of arts organizations grew.

The arts follow the nation’s business cycle—not surprising as the arts are composed of 100,000 nonprofit arts organizations and 600,000 more arts businesses, 2.24 million artists in the workforce, and count on billions of dollars in consumer spending. Based on past patterns, we estimate an arts rebound to begin in 2011.

Demand for the arts lags capacity. From 1998 and 2008, there was annual growth in capacity of the arts industries— a steady increase in the number of artists, arts businesses and nonprofit arts organizations, and arts-related employment. Nonprofit arts organizations alone grew in number from 73,000 to 104,000 during this span of time. 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.

How the public participates in and consumes the arts is expanding. The arts participation measure is on the increase. Personal arts creation by the public growing steadily (making art, playing music). Attendance at mainstream nonprofit arts organizations, however, is in decline. Technology has also had an impact: 50 percent of music and CD stores have disappeared in the past 5 years, while the number of online downloads grown four-fold in just the past three years.

The subsidy model is struggling. Arts and culture continues to lose their market share of philanthropy to other charitable areas—a decline that began well before the current economic downturn.

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.

The competitiveness of the arts is slipping. Overall, the arts are not “stacking up” well against other uses of audience members’ time, donor and funder commitment, or spending when compared to non-arts sectors.