2012 National Arts Index

Americans for the Arts 2012 Index report delivers a 2010 score of the health and vitality of the arts in the U.S. The arts turned a corner in 2010 with a slight increase, following two years of recessionary decreases.

The 2012 National Arts Index by Americans for the Arts delivers a 2010 score of the health and vitality of the arts in the U.S. This year’s report bears witness to how the arts sector fared during the Great Recession. In 2010, the Index rose slightly from a revised 96.3 to 96.7, following two years of losses, bringing the Index up from its low point in 2009.

  • Arts industries turned the corner in 2010: Half of the 83 indicators increased in 2010—equivalent to pre-recession, 2007 levels. In 2008 one-third of the indicators were up; in 2009, just one-quarter increased.
  • Great Recession losses were swift and measurable: The two-year decline in the Index, from 2007 to 2009, was twice as large as the gains made during the preceding four years, between 2003 and 2007 (-7.1 percent vs. +3.4 percent, respectively).

National Arts Index Press Release

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

Key Findings:

The arts industries continue to follow the nation’s business cycle: While it may be no surprise that the arts track the economy, most people are unaware of the size of the sector. The arts are an economic force of 113,000 nonprofit arts organizations and nearly 800,000 more arts businesses, 2.2 million artists in the workforce, plus billions of dollars in consumer spending. The Index is strong when consumer confidence and GDP growth are strong.

Arts attendance begins to rebound: In 2010, 32 percent of the adult population attended a performing arts event (up from 28 percent in 2009); 13 percent visited an art museum (up slightly from 12 percent). These are the first increases since 2003.

Significant growth in the number of nonprofit arts organizations:  The number of nonprofit arts organizations continued to grow, reaching 113,000 in 2010.  In the past decade, the number of nonprofit arts organizations grew 49 percent (76,000 to 113,000), a greater rate than all nonprofit organizations, which grew 32 percent (1.2 million to 1.6 million).

Arts nonprofits show improvement, but continue to be challenged financially:  The percentage of nonprofit arts organizations with an operating deficit (requiring them to amass debt or dip into cash reserves) declined for the first time since 2007. In 2010, 43 percent of nonprofit arts organizations had an operating deficit, down after steady increases during the Great Recession: 36 percent in 2007, 41 percent in 2008, and 45 percent in 2009. While a troubling finding, this is about the same share as nonprofits in other areas besides the arts. Larger-budget organizations were more likely to run a deficit; there was no predictable pattern based on specific arts discipline.

Arts organizations foster creativity and entrepreneurship:  Arts organizations are homes to new ideas and innovative leaders. Between 2005 and 2010, there was a 14 percent increase in the number of new opera, theater, film, and symphony works—an impressive 1,025 premieres in 2010 alone.


America’s arts industries have a growing international audience:

  • U.S. exports of arts goods (e.g., movies, paintings, jewelry) increased from $56 to $64 billion between 2009 and 2010, up 12 percent. With U.S. imports at just $23 billion, the arts achieved a $41 billion trade surplus in 2010.
  • The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that the percentage of international travelers including museum visits on their trip has grown annually since 2003 (17 to 24 percent), while the share attending concerts and theater performances increased five of the past seven years (13 to 17 percent since 2003).
    Consumer arts spending steady at $150 billion:  Since 2002, consumer spending on the arts, a discretionary expenditure, has remained in the $150 billion range (e.g., admissions, musical instruments). Because the amount of consumer spending increases over time, however, the arts’ share has slipped from 1.88 percent in 2002 to 1.45 percent in 2010.

    • Following four years of decreases, musical instrument sales rebounded, growing from $5.9 billion in 2009 to $6.3 billion in 2010.
    • After one of its best years on record in 2009, motion picture attendance dropped off in 2010. Historically, the movie industry does well during a recession.
      Arts employment remained strong:  A variety of labor market indicators show relatively steady levels of employment.
    • There was a 15 percent increase in the number of working artists from 1996 to 2010 (1.9 to 2.2 million). Artists 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 eight of the past nine years (from 509,000 in 2000 to 688,000 in 2009).


    College-bound seniors taking more arts and music:  Despite the evidence of decreases in K-12 arts education, the percentage of college-bound seniors with four years of arts or music grew over the past decade—from 15 percent to 20 percent of all SAT test takers. Additionally, The College Board also reports that students with four years of arts or music average about 100 points better on the verbal and math portions of the SAT.

    More college arts degrees conferred annually: The number of college arts degrees has risen steadily from 75,000 to 129,000 over the past dozen years.

    Americans seek personal engagement in their arts participation:  Personal arts creation and arts volunteerism remains strong, though responsive to the economy:

    • The percentage of Americans who personally participated in an artistic activity—making art, playing music—has remained steady in the 19 percent range over the past decade. However, annual increases are noted in the pre-recession years, followed by annual decreases during the recession.
    • Following steady growth during the recession years, volunteerism at arts organizations declined slightly in 2010.
      Technology is changing how the public engages in the arts: Since 2003, nearly half of the nation’s CD and record stores have disappeared.  Online downloads of music singles, however, grew 7-fold to more than one billion units annually. In 2009, digital formats comprised 41 percent of total music sales in the U.S., up from 34 percent in 2008, and 25 percent in 2007.

    Philanthropic giving to the arts remains challenged: While arts giving has increased over the past decade ($13.28 billion in 2010), the sector struggles to maintain its philanthropic “market share”—dropping from 4.9 percent in 2001 to 4.5 percent in 2010. What is the financial cost of this decrease?  If the arts sector merely maintained its 4.9 percent share in 2010, it would have received $14.3 billion in contributions—a $1 billion difference.

    About the National Arts Index: The Index is composed of 83 national-level research indicators—the latest available data produced by the federal government and private research organizations—and covers the 13-year span 1998-2010.  The Index is set to a base score of 100 in 2003; every point difference is a one percent change from that year.  There is no uppermost Index score, though higher is better. A score of 125 would convey that arts are more highly integrated as a fundamental component of society than during the past decade—characterized by strong financial health, ample capacity, innovation, vigorous participation, and a vital competitive position in American society.

    National Arts Index Press Release

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


Fast Facts from the Arts Index

Consumer arts spending steady at $150 billion!

Since 2002, consumer spending on the arts has remained in the $150 billion range, though as a share of all expenditures it has slipped from 1.88% in 2002 to 1.45% in 2010. Following four years of decreases, musical instrument sales rebounded, growing from $5.9 billion in 2009 to $6.3 billion in 2010.