US Arts and Culture Sector Contributes Record $1 Trillion to Economy in 2021

In 2021, the arts and culture sectors made a remarkable contribution of over $1 trillion to the US economy, marking a historic share of the nation’s total economic value, according to recent data from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

While the economic impact of the arts is significant, Iyengar emphasized that it’s only one aspect of their overall value.

The analysis investigated the economic health of 35 arts-related industries, evaluating if they had achieved pre-pandemic levels of economic performance.

Between 2020 and 2021, the total economic value of the arts and cultural industries rose by 13.7 percent, greatly surpassing the broader US economy’s growth of 5.9 percent during the same period.

By the end of 2021, the arts industries accounted for 4.4 percent of the country’s overall gross domestic product (GDP).

Employment in Arts Industries Shows Improvement but Not Complete Recovery

In 2021, the arts industries employed nearly 4.9 million people, as reported by the NEA, a rebound from 2020 when the pandemic significantly impacted economic activities in the arts around the world.

Nonetheless, this figure is still below the 5.2 million workers in 2019. Employment in the performing arts sector, one of the most affected areas during the pandemic, increased by 14 percent in 2021, reaching around 230,000 workers.

However, this was still short of the pre-pandemic figure of 323,000.

The report indicates that the drop in employment in some areas could be due to a higher dependence on freelance or contract workers during this period.

Resilience Evident in Arts Sector Amid Challenges

Sunil Iyengar, director of research and analysis at the NEA, expressed amazement at the robust recovery of many industries within the arts sector.

He mentioned that people generally underestimate the economic footprint of the arts in the country. Despite some setbacks for major industries in the arts, resilience was also evident.

The agencies also introduced an interactive map that tracks the estimated economic growth and output of cultural industries across all 50 states.

The map shows that every state experienced an increase during this period, with 31 states and the District of Columbia observing at least a 10% growth in their Gross State Product attributed to the arts.

The Value of the Arts Goes Beyond Economic Contributions

While the economic impact of the arts is significant, Iyengar emphasized that it’s only one aspect of their overall value.

The NEA is also investing in research on the effects of the arts on health, social cohesion, and education to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the arts’ contributions.

He explained that although the arts have a substantial economic impact, their value extends beyond just economic factors.

Article In a Snapshot:

  • The arts and culture sectors contributed over $1 trillion to the US economy in 2021, making up 4.4% of the nation’s GDP.
  • The arts and cultural industries experienced a 13.7% growth between 2020 and 2021, outpacing the broader US economy’s growth of 5.9%.
  • Employment in the arts industries recovered to nearly 4.9 million in 2021, but still remains below the pre-pandemic level of 5.2 million.
  • An interactive map showed economic growth and output of cultural industries across all 50 states, with 31 states and the District of Columbia witnessing at least a 10% growth in arts-related Gross State Product.
  • The value of the arts extends beyond economic contributions, with the NEA investing in research to understand their impact on health, social cohesion, and education.

Craig Miller

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