• Jonathan Lakeland

Arts & Culture: The (underappreciated) driver of our Economy


This Forbes article by Benjamin Wolff is an efficient and colorful description of America's great misunderstanding of the power of the arts. The article presents statistics about the arts that are enlightening, and surprising even for a lifelong musician and music-lover like myself.

According to the Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account compiled by the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (wow – what a jumble of words!), the arts and culture industry in America grew by 2.9% in 2016, representing 4.3% of our GDP and more than $800 billion of economic activity.

I can hear my high school English teacher yelling at me for writing what looks like a run-on sentence, but if the US government used shorter titles I wouldn’t be in this mess.

It’s important to highlight the cold hard facts there – 4.3% of our GDP and more than $800 billion of economic activity! And the article goes on to highlight more striking statistics:

  • Five million Americans are employed in the arts/culture industry

  • The Arts/Culture industry has expanded faster than the total economy every year since 2012

  • The contribution of the arts to the GDP is greater than agriculture or transportation

The article goes on to highlight the irony that, around the time of this report, the Trump administration released a future budget proposal which would eliminate all government funding for the arts and culture. As the article points out – it isn’t the first time this has been attempted. So let's hope that this research helps convince lawmakers that supporting the arts is an effective way of supporting our economy. The article also shows how the arts better people's lives, using the "Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts" program as a perfect example.


What I love about this article from Forbes is that it evaluates our subjective artistic industry with objective, inarguable statistics. It helps quantify a truth about the arts – that people want it and need it in their lives as both an enriching experience for audiences, and a fulfilling career for professionals. To quote the slightly cheesy film Mr. Holland’s Opus, “Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren't going to have anything to read or write about.”

Yeah - screw you, Gene!

And thought it’s cheesy, the point is an important one. What are we doing on this earth? Are we here to simply be efficient, worker bees capable of calculating square roots and maximizing profits? Are we machines?

Or are we here to feel something, to come to understand human nature and the world around us, and maybe do something constructive and creative with that knowledge? The latter. It's definitely the latter.

The arts/culture industry helps us explore the creative side of who we are. It’s inspired creativity which is at the root of all great achievements that humanity has to offer. And whether you are young or old, you can find that inspired creativity (and personal fulfillment) from exploring, experiencing, and participating in artistic activities.

It's nice to know that on top of all that, the arts and culture are also a powerful driver of the USA's economy. Now there's no arguing it - our government HAS to increase financial support of the arts, and we NEED to seek out artistic experiences (whether familiar or brand new) in our daily lives.

#classicalmusic #economy #forbes #outreach

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