Arts Contributed $1 Trillion to US Economy in 2021

The arts and cultural industry, which made up 4.4 percent of the US economy in 2021, accounted for a record $1 trillion of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) that year. According to a study conducted jointly by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), the field rebounded from the global Covid-19 crisis comparatively quickly, expanding by 13.7 percent between 2020 and 2021, while the broader economy gained just 5.9 percent during the same period. Of note, the arts and entertainment sector was among those hardest hit by the pandemic.

Of the thirty-five subsectors included under the arts-and-culture umbrella, ten of them—including those comprising performers, performing arts organizations, independent artists, and writers—saw significant growth, while still failing to return to pre-pandemic earning power. Streaming and web publishing, the only arts subsector to see a tremendous increase during 2020, gained by 27.3 percent in 2021, exceeding pre-pandemic levels. The businesses that make up the subsector, including music and film archives, are often for profit, compared with 82 percent of the culture industry, which is nonprofit or not for profit. Arts-related construction, such as building and restoration of museums and other cultural facilities, and philanthropic services, which includes grantmaking and giving, tumbled for the second straight year in 2021.

Jobs in the arts crept back, with 4.9 million employed in the sector in 2021, an increase of 3 percent over 2020’s 4.6 million, but shy of the 5.2 million working in the field in 2019. The report’s authors noted that these numbers do not include freelancers or those who are self-employed. In 2019, such workers accounted for about 33 percent of the arts industry.

“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,” said NEA chair Maria Rosario Jackson. “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.”


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