Many policymakers and arts advocacy groups have argued that the creative sector impacts the economy. One of the Center for 21st Century Communities' "8 Assets" that make communities better places to live is Cultural Economic Development, which hinges on the argument that artists, creative industries and professionals, museums, festivals, and other facets of the creative sector make communities attractive and generate a positive impact on the economy.
However, in my time interviewing artists and arts organizations as a journalist, one of the biggest needs they frequently identify is the need for more hard data and better sources of proof.
It is not like there is no such data out there. The Bureau of Economic Analysis previously reported some estimates every five years with the benchmark Input-Output Table. Some agencies in communities that identify as "art towns,' like Ann Arbor, have some data on art's impact on the local level (Ann Arbor Arts Alliance's master plan for Washtenaw County is a great example).
Without more macroeconomic data, however, the degree to which the creative sector impacts the economy and other aspects of life has always been a bit hazy and open-ended.
The creative sector might be pleased to hear, for the first time ever, the BEA and the National Endowment for the Arts are partnering to "identify and calculate the arts and culture sector's contributions to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)," according to a press release sent after the NEA's announcement last week at a public session of the National Council on the Arts.
"Before this, you could look at pieces of the puzzle, now you can see the whole puzzle," says NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. "Our partnership with BEA gives the arts the same level of precise, national data on GDP as other sectors like manufacturing, construction, and services. I think economists and policymakers will take notice," he was quoted in the press release.
The partnership will develop an "Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account," which will conduct an impact analysis of "how the arts affect various domains of human life, such as economy, human development, science and technology, and education," reads the press release. It promises to produce data on things like how many people work at museums, how much revenue is generated by architectural firms, how musicians are compensated, and other measures of the creative sector. Preliminary estimates will be release in 2013. In 2014, the BEA will publish findings in The Survey of Current Business.