There are many indicators within the National Arts Index Report that show both the overall health and industry-specific health of the arts and culture in the United States. I was excited to see so much deep data showing how the arts is performing across so many indicators. When trying to track the cultural health and vitality of the nation, I’ve decided to take a wide economic approach, because given the data there, I think it does the best job of showing overall health in a more true form than compared to other potential indicators that could be just scratching the surface of a broader indication or too specific for a certain industry. Although I’m not the biggest fan of economic indicators, I think the ones I’ve chosen below do the best job of informing arts performance at a large level.
The indicators I’ve chosen, include:
• Payroll in arts and culture industries: As noted in the Index, this indicator gives us an economic sense of scale in the arts and culture as well as an indication as to how many people are being paid, or invested in, within the arts and culture industries. While not specific to industry or to how many people are getting what portion of the share, I think this helps us understand the overall benefit. Of course, I imagine outliers, like arts and culture foundation CEOs who are paid a lot, might be skewing this data, but seeing its overall growth is certainly helpful in understanding the benefits of the arts and culture.
• The next three indicators, 15, 16 and 17 (which are specifically expressed below) are all vitally important because it shows how much the government is supporting the arts at the federal, state and local levels. I’m a huge believer that the government must lead in investment and seeing their investment will show the material support the three levels of government are providing, which in turn shows how the arts are doing. I’ve often heard where the government leads, others follow, so I can see this being true for the arts as well. So if these indicators are healthy, we might experience that trickle-down economics we heard so much about (only with the government leading, not the rich). Besides, I think it’s the government’s duty to support and enable arts and cultural development in the interest of national cohesion and such, without trying to control the arts. Here’s the specific list of indicators I’m speaking to:
o Federal government arts and culture funding
o State arts agency legislative appropriations
o Local government arts funding of local arts agencies
• Creative Industries Employment: This final indicator is important because it shows the employment distribution of the creative industries. Seeing the number of people involved in the arts whether they’re an artist or non-arts employee will help us see how big the arts industry is and how involved the nation as a whole is in pursuing and supporting the arts. While the first indicator is a numbers count of how much money is being doled out, this indicator is a breakdown of the number of people. Combining the two will help us understand the total impact the arts is having as well as understanding if there are any issues around pay disparity or industries that are in need of support from the government.
Looking at the source
I decided to review the source of the State Arts Agency Legislative Appropriations, which is collected by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) Legislative Appropriations Annual Survey. The group surveys state agencies and collects their art agencies’ Final Descriptive Reports (FDRs) of grant-making, which is submitted to the National Endowment for the Arts and NASAA. Due to how this is data directly sent by state governments to the federal government, I think this data is crystal clear in what it’s showing as well as highly reliable, since funding discrepancies would lead to criminal charges.
The sixth indicator
A sixth indicator that I think would be important in seeing to understand national health would be a survey of the number of folks who want to be in the arts, but either haven’t practiced in a long time or who have never practiced in the arts. This would show national willingness to engage in the arts, which then would help us understand if there is enough equitable access to the arts. If the number of people who want to be in the arts, but aren’t practicing, is high, this would show that more investment into the arts at all levels needs to be done. If the number is low, then it shows that we’re on the right course and that we need to continue the great work that we’re doing.