The arts and culture sectors represented more than $1 trillion of the US economy in 2021 and accounted for a record portion of country’s overall economic value, per new data from the government.
On Wednesday, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) published their latest analysis of the economic health of 35 industries within the arts. Additional emphasis was placed on measuring whether each industry had returned to pre-pandemic levels of economic performance—or if they had failed to recover.
According to the report, between 2020 and 2021, the total economic value contributed by arts and cultural industries increased by 13.7 percent, vastly surpassing the gains of the wider US economy, which grew by just 5.9 percent over the same period. By the end of 2021, the arts industries made up 4.4 percent of the nation’s overall gross domestic product (GDP).
Of the 35 industries studied, ten—including independent performers and artists and performing arts organizations—recorded significant growth within 2021, however none reached 2019-levels of economic output. The NEA also reported that just under 4.9 million people were employed in the arts industries in 2021, representing an increase from 2020, when the pandemic curtailed economic activity in the arts worldwide. That too was still below the 5.2 million employed in 2019.
Performing arts workers and performing art venues, two of the hardest hit areas in 2019, grew in 2021 by 14 percent to about 230,000 employees in total. Again, a gain that was still below the 323,000 workers employed by the industry before Covid-19.
However, the report notes that these figures only represent employees on the bankroll of arts organizations. The decline in employment in some areas could be explained by an increased reliance on freelancers or contract workers during this period. Self-employed individuals historically make up a disproportionate amount of the arts workforce compared to other industries.
“This annual report from the NEA and BEA underscores that arts and culture are an essential part of the American economy. It is similarly apparent, however, that the sector still faces tremendous hardships due to COVID-19,” NEA chair Maria Rosario Jackson said in a statement.
She continued, “Because the data reflect the economic activity of nonprofit and for-profit organizations alike, it’s important to recognize the distinctive contributions both make in ensuring a vibrant and expansive arts and cultural sector.”