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2016 National Arts Index: An Annual Measure of the Vitality of Arts and Culture in the United States: 2002-2013

This is the sixth and final publication of the National Arts Index, Americans for the Arts’ annual report on the health and vitality of arts and culture in the United States. The 2016 National Arts Index delivers a score of the health and vitality of arts and culture in the United States, covering the 12-year span of 2002-13. The National Arts Index is composed of 81 national-level indicators—the latest annual data produced by the federal government and private research organizations. It is set to a base score of 100 in 2003. Every point difference is a one-percent change from that year.

This year’s report provides the fullest picture yet of the impact of the Great Recession on the arts—before, during, and after. The National Arts Index score grew in 2013 to 99.8, an increase over a revised 2012 score of 97.4. The impact of the Great Recession of 2008-09 on the arts was swift and measurable: the four-year drop from 2007-11 nearly doubled the five-year gains made between 2002 and 2007 (-6.6 vs. +3.5 percentage points, respectively). As of 2012, an arts recovery was underway, which continued into 2013, as the Index value climbed to near its 2003 baseline.


Like many sectors of the economy, the arts recovered slowly and unevenly from the recession due to industry contraction and consolidation, the impact of technology, slow rebounds in philanthropy, and tepid consumer spending. During the economically robust years of 2002-06, more than 50 percent of the indicators increased annually. Between 2007 and 2009, however, less than one-third of the indicators increased. In a key sign of continued improvement, more than half (55 percent) of the indicators increased in 2013.

There is no “maximum” Index score, though higher is better. A score of 120, for example, would be the highest ever and convey that the arts are a highly-integrated component of society—characterized by strong financial health, ample capacity, innovation, vigorous public participation, and a vital competitive position in American life.

Click the icon to download the 2016 report containing 2013 data.

Download all National Arts Index Reports (data 2002-2013).

Key Findings

The National Arts Index summary score of 99.8 in 2013 is just a fraction below the 2003 Index baseline of 100.0. The following are some key trends and findings from the 81 indicators that, together, comprise the aggregate score.

  1. The arts continued to recover from the Great Recession in 2013: The arts are an economic force in the United States. In 2013, there were 95,000 nonprofit arts organizations and 656,000 more arts businesses, 2.21 million artists active in the workforce, 766,000 self-employed artists, and $151 billion in consumer spending. The graph shows the Index growing in the middle part of the past decade, along with the economy, followed by a decline during the Great Recession and beyond, and finally renewed growth to go with economic strengthening. It appears the general economic recovery that started in 2009 helped to stabilize the arts beginning in 2012 and continued through 2013.
  1. 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 2013, a time of improved economic health, 42 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. Larger‐budget organizations were more likely to run a deficit, though no specific arts discipline is particularly more likely to run a deficit. While 42 percent of the nonprofit arts organizations running a deficit is a serious cause for concern, this is actually only several percentage points worse than the universe of all charitable nonprofit organizations. While some of these organizations have reserves available to manage these financial situations and other deficits may be the result of federal accounting and tax filing requirements, it is clear that the budget fortunes of nonprofit arts organizations got worse during the Great Recession and have been very slow to recover.
  1. Arts attendance is fluid: In 2013, 31 percent of the adult population attended a live performing arts event, slightly less than 2010, but much less than the 40 percent of 2003. Art museum attendance also continued a slow decline, with 12.9 percent of the population attending at least once (down from 15.5 percent in 2003). Attendance at live popular music concerts, however, is growing (from 23 percent in 2003 to 25 percent in 2013). Focusing in on specific art forms, attendance at symphony and opera increased in 2013, while audiences for movies and theatre got smaller.
  1. Public funding of the arts stabilized. While federal funding has stayed fairly stable across the range of programs funded by Congress (about $1.9 billion per year), there were six consecutive years of declines in state dollars flowing to state arts agencies. In 2013, that trend was reversed as the improving economy loosened the purse strings held by state legislatures. Local government support of local arts agencies fell for a shorter time, then increased in 2012 and again in 2013. Periodic budget accords in Congress have preserved the funding level of most of the major federal agencies for budget years through 2016.
  1. Prospects are good for continued health in the arts. Since 2002, total charitable giving and overall employment are two indicators that help explain the health of the arts sector. 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 also financially more able to make charitable contributions. Thus, the increases in employment and in overall levels of charitable giving in 2014 and 2015 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 experiences 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. Digital downloads of singles grew from 139 million units to 1.33 billion between 2004 and 2013. Annual data about downloads was not even collected until 2004, yet in 2013 it accounted for 37 percent of total music industry sales, and recent evidence shows that it has grown since then. Streaming providers like Pandora and Spotify represent an additional 27 percent of recording revenues. Similarly, bookseller revenues fell even while the number of books in print grew, 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, though research on theaters in the UK indicates this is not the case. Technology has even altered the business model for artists. More musicians now deal\ directly with consumers online, selling songs to fans, crowdfunding their recordings, and announcing their touring schedules. All of these trends tend to bypass traditional record labels, ticketing and promoting businesses.
  • Arts and music preparation by college-bound seniors stabilized, following years of decline: A multi-year trend of decreases in K-12 arts education finally saw a rebound in 2013. 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, suggesting that pervasive arts education cuts in the 2000s had the downstream effect that was long a concern. In 2013, this arts educated population was about 18 percent of all SAT test-takers. Ironically, the College Board also 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.
  • Demand for college arts degrees increases: Even with downward trends in the number of high school 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 139,000 between 1997 and 2013. 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. Similarly, the percentage of SAT test takers who indicate an intention to major in the arts grew from about 6.5 percent to nearly 8 percent between 2004 and 2013.
  • 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 1.32 percent in 2013. As economic revitalization in coming years builds employment and consumer buying power, the arts are poised to compete better.
  • Millions of Americans volunteer in the arts: Two Index measures show the range of volunteer engagement in the arts. Volunteering at an arts organization was the choice of service for over 2.2 million people in 2013, up 16 percent from 1.8 million in 2010. In another federal study of volunteerism, 5.7 million Americans say that arts activities (such as playing music) are their main activities while volunteering, regardless of type of organization they volunteered for (a school or church, for example). Taken together, these show the depth and range of what volunteers contribute to the arts.


Arts employment remains strong: A variety of labor market indicators show growing levels of employment, especially when compared to labor market difficulties facing all sectors of the economy.

  • The number of working artists has grown grew between 2002 and 2013 (2.10 to 2.22 million). Artists remain 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 numbers growing steadily between 2002 and 2013 (554,000 to 766,000).

America’s arts industries have a growing international audience: The arts help reduce the U.S. international trade deficit.

  • S. exports of arts goods (e.g., movies, paintings, or 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. (2013 data were unavailable for this report.)
  • 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 24 percent), while the share attending concerts and theater performances grew from 13 to 17 percent.

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 2013, audiences were treated to more than 11,500 new works— over 150 new operas, 1,446 orchestral works, 3,054 plays, and almost 6,500 movies. Regardless of the economic cycles, America’s arts industries continued to produce new and exciting work for their audiences.


As we concluded gathering material for this report, data for five indicators were not yet available for 2013. Their values from 2002-2012 are included, but they do not figure into the mathematics of creating the 2013 Index score.

  1. Constant dollar value of US exports of creative goods (Indicator #10)
  2. Foundation arts and culture funding (#12)
  3. Arts share of Gross Domestic Product (Indicator #58)
  4. Arts and culture share of foundation funding (#65)
  5. S. share of world creative goods trade (#79)

Seven data series shown in past National Arts Index reports became unavailable in 2011, and have thus been “retired.” Their prior year values are still available in Appendix F. Most dollar measures are deflated to constant dollar values in this report. This year’s report changes the base year for constant dollars used in previous reports from 2008 to 2013. Inflation-adjusted “constant dollars” figures are in 2013 dollars. This does not change any of the Index scores, because they all retain the same proportional relationship to the Index base year of 2003.


Fast Facts from the Arts Index

The nonprofit arts grow – despite a recession!

The number of nonprofit arts organizations has grown annually, reaching 113,000 in 2010. In the past decade, nonprofit arts organizations grew 49% (76,000 to 113,000), a greater rate than all nonprofit organizations, which grew 32% (1.2 million to 1.6 million).