2014 National Arts Index

Americans for the Arts 2014 Index report delivers a 2012 score of the health and vitality of the arts in the U.S. The arts started to turnaround in 2012 as the economy continued to recover and expand.

The National Arts Index summary score of 97.3 in 2012, up from a revised 96.1 in 2011, but still below the baseline of 100.0 in 2003.

2012 saw improvements in many dimensions of the arts: financial flows, capacity and infrastructure, arts participation, and the competitiveness of the arts.

Click the icon to download the 2014 report containing 2012 data.

Download all National Arts Index Reports (data 2008-2012).

Key Findings

The National Arts Index summary score of 97.3 in 2012, compared with an industry baseline of 100.0 in 2003, is only the tip of the iceberg, with many of the interesting findings just below the surface.  This chapter calls out some key trends and findings from the 81 indicators, individually and in various groups.  Four in particular are noted first, followed by some patterns in audience engagement, and other continuing trends and challenges.

  1. The arts’ recovery from the Great Recession did not begin until 2012:  The arts are an economic force in the United States: 91,000 nonprofit arts organizations and 800,000 more arts businesses, 2.1 million artists active in the workforce, 720,000 self-employed artists, plus $151 billion in consumer spending. Figure A shows the Index growing in the middle part of the past decade when the economy was growing, with declines in two recent economic downturns, and growing slowly with economic strengthening.  It appears the economic recovery that started in 2009 did not positively affect the arts sectors until 2012.
  2. Arts nonprofits continued to experience financial challenges:  The percentage of arts organizations operating at a deficit has ranged from 36 percent in 2007 (during a strong economy) to 45 percent in 2009 (the deepest part of the recession).  In 2012, a time of improved economic health, 44 percent of arts nonprofits still failed to generate positive net income—a figure that raises concerns about the long-term sustainability of arts organizations that are unable to achieve a break-even budget.
  3. Arts attendance remains fluid:  In 2012, 32 percent of the adult population attended a live performing arts event, the same as in 2010, but much less than the 40 percent of 2003.  Art museums attendance also held steady with 13 percent of the population attending at least once (down from 15.5 percent in 2003).  Overall, attendance at theatre, opera, and movies increased in 2012 over 2011, while audiences for symphony got smaller.  Almost certainly related is the decreasing share of households making contributions to the arts—a figure that has dropped annually since 2007, from 9.3 percent to 8.6 percent.
  4. Total charitable giving and overall employment help explain the health of the arts sector:  For the 10-year period between 2002 and 2011, two economic forces were strongly correlated to the overall National Arts Index: (1) total private giving to all charities, and (2) the overall number of workers in all occupations.  This combination of factors explained a robust 75 percent of the change in the Index value from 2003-2012.  The significance of this finding is that it points to two bellwethers for the arts over the long term.  People who are working, especially within the confidence of a growing job market, have more discretionary income to engage in the arts both personally and as consumers, and are financially more able to make charitable contributions. At the same time, an environment where charitable giving rises is also healthy for the arts.  Thus, the increases in employment and in overall levels of charitable giving in 2013 and 2014 are promising signs for the arts.


How the public participates in and consumes the arts is ever-expanding.  Tens of millions of people attend concerts, plays, operas, and museum exhibitions every year—and those that go frequently attend more than once and enjoy multiple art forms (sometimes called the “cultural omnivore”).  Digital tools afford consumers access to more personally-curated engagement in their arts experiences.  Technology lets consumers select between in-person participation and experiences as well as remote experience through media.  The evolving delivery model is digital, so arts producers whose business model relies on in-person engagement by the audience have to compete in different ways.  The public is certainly not walking away from the arts, but they are walking away from some traditional models of delivery.   Here are some interesting shifts in how audiences consume and participate in the arts:

  • Technology is changing audience engagement and the arts delivery models: The effects of technology have been undeniably swift, but it depends where one sits on the arts production-to-consumption food chain as to who the winners and losers are. For example, since 2003, half of the nation’s CD and record stores have disappeared. The public, however, has hardly stopped listening to music.  Annual data about downloads was not even collected until 2004, yet in 2012 it accounted for 40 percent of total music industry sales, and recent evidence shows that it has grown since then.  “Access models” from providers like Pandora and Spotify represent an additional 15 percent of recording revenues.  Similarly, bookseller revenues are down even though the number of books in print is increasing, thanks to more self-publishing, print on demand, eBooks, and downward pressure on prices.  Savvy nonprofit arts organizations are using technology to broaden their audience base and enrich the audience experience, like the successful Metropolitan Opera simulcasts (2,000 theaters in 66 countries and 3 million tickets sold annually).  As ever, technology can be a two-edged factor.  There is concern that simulcasts of the arts are cannibalizing live attendance.  While growing evidence suggests that this is not the case, nor does it seem to provide a bridge to increased live attendance.  Technology has even altered the business model for artists.  More musicians now deal directly with consumers via websites—selling songs to fans and even allowing them to vote on touring venues—thus bypassing traditional record labels and ticket services.
  • Arts and music preparation by college-bound seniors is slipping, following years of growth:  Decreases in K-12 arts education can now be seen by college admissions officers.  Between 1998 and 2009, the percentage of college-bound seniors with four years of arts or music grew from 15 percent to over 20 percent.  Since 2009, however, the share of SAT test takers bringing this credential to their college application process slid to 17.4 percent, suggesting that pervasive arts education cuts in the 2000s are now having the downstream effect that was long a concern.  Ironically, the College Board reports that students who take four years of arts or music average about 100 points better on the verbal and math portions of the SAT, compared to those with a half-year or less.
  • More college arts degrees are conferred annually:   Even with downward trends in the number of arts and music classes taken by college-bound seniors, college-level demand in this area continues to increase. The number of college arts degrees rose steadily from 75,000 to 137,000 between 1997 and 2012.  Reasons for this include an increase in design degrees along with the appeal to college students of double-majors combining arts with humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences.  This is promising news for business leaders looking for an educated and creative workforce.
  • Consumer arts spending flat at $151 billion:   Since 2002, discretionary consumer spending on the arts (e.g., admissions, musical instrument purchases) has remained in the $150 billion range.  Because total consumer spending increased over time, however, the arts’ share slipped from 1.83 percent in 2002 to 1.35 percent in 2012.  As noted in the Key Findings, one of the economic factors most strongly correlated with the health of the arts is total employment in the economy. As economic revitalization in coming years builds employment, consumer buying power, and the charitable instinct, the arts are poised to compete better.
  • Arts organizations foster creativity and innovation through new work:  Year after year, entrepreneurial arts organizations nurture new ideas, innovative leaders, and creative energy.  One Index indicator tracks premiere performances and films.  Between 2002 and 2012, audiences were treated to more than 10,000 new works—over 130 new operas, 1,342 orchestral works, 2,744 plays, and almost 5,900 movies.  Regardless of the economic cycles, America’s arts industries continued to produce new and exciting work for their audiences.


  • U.S. cultural destinations helped grow the U.S. economy by attracting foreign visitor spending.  Cultural tourism by foreign visitors is, effectively, a form of export by domestic arts and culture industries.  The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that the percentage of international travelers including “art gallery and museum visits” on their trip has grown since 2003 (17 to 28 percent), while the share attending “concerts, plays, and musicals” increased from 13 to 18 percent since 2003.
  • The arts helped reduce the U.S. international trade deficit. U.S. exports of arts goods (e.g., movies, paintings, jewelry) increased from $64 to $75 billion between 2010 and 2012, up 17 percent.  With U.S. imports at just $25 billion, creative goods delivered a $48 billion trade surplus in 2012, when the total U.S. trade deficit for the year was $537 billion.
  • Arts and culture is starting to regain its market share of philanthropy.  This year’s report shows the share of philanthropy going to the arts increasing for a second consecutive year, from 4.3 percent in 2010 to 4.6 percent in 2012.  There is still much ground to make up, considering the 4.9 percent share in 2001. As noted in the key findings, overall philanthropy correlates strongly with the health of the arts. Philanthropy has grown stronger since 2012, a hopeful sign that the arts are poised to compete better.
  • Arts employment remained strong:  A variety of labor market indicators show relatively steady levels of employment, especially when compared to labor market difficulties facing all sectors of the economy.
    • There was an increase of 14 percent in the number of working artists from 1996 to 2012 (1.99 to 2.18 million). Artists have remained a steady 1.5 percent of the total civilian workforce.
    • The self-employed “artist-entrepreneur”—active as poet, painter, musician, dancer, actor, and in many other artistic disciplines—is alive and well, with total numbers growing 10 out of the 11 years between 2000 and 2012 (509,000 to 749,000).
    • Arts workers have diverse occupations and skills, ranging from designers and crafts artists to performance professionals and artistic technicians.  Across the range of arts occupations, earnings kept pace with inflation, increasing in current dollars to about $53,000.
  • Government arts funding struggles continued in 2012.  Funding of the whole suite of federal arts-related agencies stayed very close to historic highs of previous years at $1.86 billion.  Funding of the National Endowment for the Arts decreased to $155 million in 2011, and total arts funding dropped from 0.40 percent of federal domestic discretionary spending to 0.30 percent between 2002 and 2012.  Not included in these totals are arts programs embedded in the budgets of other federal departments and agencies such as Health and Human Services, GSA, Transportation, and Defense (which boasts vigorous music programs throughout the armed services).  State arts funding dropped to historic lows in 2012 dollars, in share of total expenditures, and per capita, while municipal arts funding in 60 of the largest US cities grew.
  • Millions of Americans spend their time in the arts.  Three Index measures show the range of volunteer engagement in the arts.  Volunteering at an arts organization was the choice of service for 2.1 million people in 2011, up 15 percent from 1.8 million in 2010.  This amounts to 24 volunteers for every nonprofit arts organization in the country!  In another federal study of volunteerism, 6.2 million Americans say that arts activities (such as playing music) are their main volunteering activities, regardless of type of organization they volunteered for (a school or church, for example).  Consistently, about three percent of Americans spend time engaged in the arts every day, and those who do spend about 2.85 hours a day.
  • There is new evidence on the big impact of the arts on the economy. Two new data series prepared by the federal government illustrate the significant role of the arts in the macro economy.  As one part of a periodic revision of the national income accounts, certain kinds of long-lived artistic assets, including creations like television shows and movies, are now formally counted as part of the nation’s assets.  A second new series measures the value added to GDP by arts and culture activities, and estimates it at about $504 billion, or about 3.25 percent of the $15.5 trillion U.S. economy.


Three new indicators help this year’s report paint a clearer picture of the arts’ role in the life of the nation—the enduring wealth they create, how people us their time in the arts, and the arts’ impact on the overall economy.

  1. Artistic assets in the national income accounts (Indicator # 32)
  2. Engagement in the arts (Indicator # 35)
  3. Arts share of Gross Domestic Product (Indicator #58)

Seven data series shown in past National Arts Index reports are not available for 2011 and beyond, and have thus been “retired.”  Their prior year values are still available in Appendix F.


While bruised and a little battered by the Great Recession, the arts industries showed resilience having survived, evolved, and maintained societal relevance during the worst economic downturn in generations.  The National Arts Index tracks a continuing change in how audiences seek to consume the arts, with growing reliance on technology and major institutions struggling to maintain attendance numbers.  The Index highlights changes in demand and supply, how audiences are engaging with (and spending money on) the arts and the constant tension between what artists and arts organizations produce and what the public wants to consume.

The arts in the U.S. are active venues of creativity and innovation in their artistic products.  To ensure continued relevancy, arts organizations need to evolve as their communities evolve, which is key to growing audiences and reversing the downward trend in households contributing to nonprofit arts organizations.

The full report shows why these issues emerged since 2001.  Chapter 2 provides detail on how the Index data were assembled, and it presents the “Arts and Culture Balanced Scorecard” model as a way to frame the information using four broad dimensions: (1) measures of financial flows into and through the arts, (2) the capacity of the arts to deliver service, (3) levels of arts participation, and (4) the competitiveness of the arts.  Chapters 3 through 6 report on each of these four dimensions of the model as well as the 81 individual indicators.  In Chapter 7, we present some future considerations for artists, audiences, arts organizations, and communities based on all of the data.  Chapter 8 presents the National Arts Index methodology.


Fast Facts from the Arts Index

International cultural tourism proves recession-proof. Arts travelers are ideal tourists—they stay longer and spend more.  The U.S. Dept of Commerce reports that the percentage of int’l travelers including museum visits on their trip has grown annually since 2003 (17% to 24%), while those including concerts and theater performances have increased five of the past seven years (13% to 17% since 2003).