Is the Arts Economy Dead?

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- It is safe to say that virtually all sectors of the U.S. economy were ravaged by the Great Recession. But the arts sector took a particularly hard beating and hasn't really recovered -- at least, that's the conclusion of a report released this month by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and National Endowment for the Arts.

The report finds that the arts now make up about 0.5 of a percentage less of Gross Domestic Product than a decade ago. From 2000-05, the arts constituted between 3.5% and 3.7% of GDP; since 2009, that dipped to 3.2%, or $504 billion, where it has stayed. (By comparison, the U.S. travel and tourism industry makes up 2.8% of GDP.)

A half of a percentage point may seem small, but it actually makes up a significant part of the general economy. About 2 million Americans were employed in the arts in 2011, with 310,000 working for the motion picture industry and 200,000 working for museums and in the performing arts.

As with GDP, employment levels in the arts took a real nosedive in 2009 -- much greater than the economy as a whole -- with more than170,000 jobs lost. The sector had yet to recover fully as of 2011, when "arts and cultural goods and services" contributed to a total gross output of $916 billion, with advertising generating the most of that estimate at nearly $200 billion. Arts education, which grossed just sort of $104 billion and includes fine- and performing-arts schools and departments at universities, came in second. Cable television production and distribution followed shortly behind at $100 billion.

Another study by the nonprofit Americans for the Arts reported that the nonprofit arts and culture sector generated $61.1 billion and supported 4.13 million full-time jobs in 2010.

"The positive value of arts and culture on society has been understood on a human level for millennia. With this new effort, we are now able to quantify the impact of arts and culture on GDP for the very first time," U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said in a press release. "Better utilizing this type of knowledge and information is part of the Department of Commerce's 'Open for Business Agenda,' through which we are seeking to provide more transparency and data to enhance decision-making, create more value and better understand and grow our economy."

The report's release coincides with other recent research supporting the arts as playing a critical role in influencing and affecting success in other sectors.

For instance, a project led by the College of Education and Urban Talent Research Institute at the University of Houston has incorporated the arts into its science, technology, engineering and math programs  turning STEM into STEAM -- not only to attract more students, but to help them thrive.

"Creative thinking and problem solving are essential in the practice of math and science," said founder Jay Young, a doctoral candidate concentrating in educational psychology. A recent recipient of a U.S. Department of Education-sponsored Fellowship in Education Evaluation, Assessment and Research, Young interns at the Children's Museum of Houston, where he evaluates an afterschool program integrating art and STEM.

"Incorporating art into math and science will not only help students become more creative and better problem solvers, it will help them understand math and science better," Young said.

Despite all the recent media focus on STEM education offering greater security in a competitive job market, arts education also has supporters.

Writing in defense of a liberal arts education for Time back in June, Annette Gordon-Reed said "Students should be prepared not just for their first job but for their fourth and fifth jobs, as there is little reason to doubt that people entering the workforce today will be called upon to play many different roles over the course of their careers" and suggested workers needed "the ability to draw upon every available tool and insight -- gleaned from science, arts and technology."

This might be why college graduates with humanities degrees are more widely distributed throughout different economic sectors than degree holders in most other fields, according to the American Academy of Arts and Science.

Those who want to work primarily in the arts sector might still face challenges in finding secure and long-term positions in today's tight market, though, even as the arts continue to be a staple of public recreation and an important factor in the economy.

"Art and culture is a significant part of the U.S. economy," NEA Senior Deputy Chairman Joan Shigekawa said in a press release. "Not just its contributions of ideas and creativity to the innovation economy, but also as an important part of the labor force and our country's GDP."

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