Snapshot Of 2021 Arts Gives Hints About How We Got To Today

Last week, Sunil Iyengar, Director of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was on the NEA’s  Quick Study podcast (transcript) talking about the state of the arts economy for 2021 based on data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.  While we may all wish to push 2021 out of our memory, there was some interesting data that emerged after the first year plus of Covid, including some hints of decisions and trends here in 2023.

For instance:

Despite all the setbacks for the sector in the past few years, the arts value added in 2021 expanded to a record high of one trillion dollars, over one trillion actually, representing 4.4 percent of GDP, and this growth rate more than doubles that of the US economy.  The economy as a whole grew by 5.9 percent versus 13.7 percent for arts and cultural industries.

The fine print to that is that a significant part of this growth was in category of web streaming and web publishing of arts content which moved to the top position among arts industries by size. Most of this activity was in the commercial rather than non-profit sector. Similarly, most of the categories that either regained or exceeded where they were in 2019 were in the commercial realm including “movies, broadcasting, creative advertising, and arts retail,…” Government run entities like schools, arts and cultural agencies, museums, libraries, cultural exhibits and parks also held relatively steady compared to their 2019 numbers.

Iyengar said the data showed other areas doing better than 2020, but not reaching the levels they were at in 2019.

At the top of that list I’d place a category called independent artists, writers, and performers. So these are establishments led by artists that have at least one employee on payroll. This industry gained from 2020, but at 33.5 billion is still under the 41 billion it contributed to GDP in 2019. Performing arts organizations also have not quite caught up with 2019 levels, though they’re nearly there, as is the case with fine arts schools, and custom architectural services such as woodwork and metal. Then there are a couple of industries that have been in persistent decline since 2020– arts related construction, and grant making services in the arts.

I didn’t know quite what to make of that last bit. Iyengar says these declines are based on economic activity. Given the amount of time it can take to get construction projects set into motion, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that had not regained momentum after a pause. I am more concerned to think about what it means that grant making in the arts slowed in 2021. My read on that is that granting organizations were pulling back their giving in 2021. Though maybe with arts organizations closing, there were fewer recipients to whom to give?

An interesting observation Iyengar makes later is that while economic activity by self-employed workers is recognized as contributing to the Gross Domestic Product, the data does not distinguish the workers by industry. Iyengar says he suspects a lot of the growth in activity among arts industries is the result of cutting staff and using independent contractors.

“So what that means is I suspect that we’re seeing turbocharged growth for some arts industries even while they’ve lost workers since 2019, and that’s because they’re reverting to contractors such as self-employed artists and other workers who are not counted in the total employment figures here. So that might be why the total employment numbers are lower but we see economic growth still continuing.”

Will Augmented Reality For Cooking Provide A Successful Application For Opera Notes?

Rainer Glaap recently posted a story about Deutsche Oper am Rhein’s (German Opera on the Rhein) partnership with Vodaphone to offer augmented information about the opera’s production of “Die tote Stadt” (Dead City) in April. (Use Chrome browser or pop the link into Google translate to translate from German.)

I have written about the use of augmented reality devices to interact with art as well as long running projects to provide commentary for classical music concerts and opera. There hasn’t really been any leading technology that has emerged and been adopted to provide these services, but I am always interested to see what people have in the works.

The opera house has set aside 30 seats in the 2nd tier, that is where the 5G reception is best, for people who wish to use the glasses.

According to the article Vodaphone has already used this technology for football/soccer games, providing insight into a chef’s kitchen as he cooks, and neurosurgery procedures.  Given the wide use of the technology across different industries and practices, I would think this product might have the best chance of success. They need to solve problems associated with providing supporting information and visuals to people viewing action on a broad football pitch as well as extreme close-ups in surgery. The equipment needs to operate effectively outdoors in weather and in the steamy chaos of a restaurant kitchen.

I expect they might be able to draw lessons from the different arenas of application to provide information people didn’t know they wanted. Information streams that football fans want by default may enhance the experience of opera goers. On the other hand, examining how people developed superb knife skills will be equally valued by those interested in cooking and surgery.

Unexpected Headline – Black Sabbath The Ballet Premieres In September

In a case of “not something I had imagined”, the Birmingham Royal Ballet recently decided to create a ballet set to the music of Black Sabbath, who got their start in the city. Lead guitarist Tony Iommi described the show as a “rags to riches” tale will attract “both our fans and ballet fans”.

Say what you want about whether a ballet set to heavy metal music is appropriate, my first thought was that from what I know of Birmingham the concept is suited to the history and socio-economic dynamics of the city and it is population. Obviously, these are the very forces that gave rise to the band in the first place. It may be an unorthodox pairing, but it is aligned to the community rather than an attempt at shoehorning something presumed to be good for the audiences or that they will learn to like.

I don’t doubt there will be cries of sacrilege. I am just suggesting Black Sabbath is more closely aligned to Birmingham than something like Aaron Copland & Agnes DeMille’s “Rodeo,” which has more resonance with American cowboy culture.

My thoughts about the continued timeliness of the song “War Pigs” preceded me reading Ballet director Carlos Acosta’s parallel thoughts on the song:

“”War Pigs is so relevant today, how sometimes politicians and governments hide behind words. And all the wars happening at the moment… it’s timeless.”

Videogame Inspired Tourism

I saw this tweet the beginning of the month and was engaged by the idea of video game inspired tourism.

I tried to see if there was a recording made of her talk, but haven’t been able to find it. Given that people have trekked to see the locations appearing in Star Wars films and episodes of shows like Game of Thrones, it isn’t surprising that people want to see these places in real life. What is a bit more interesting is that a video game about a post-apocalyptic world would take the pains to accurately depict real life locations.

Does this reflect a tension between the pursuit of creating fictional worlds and scenarios and a desire for authenticity? What drives the desire for authenticity, the gaming company, the players, a combination of both? With the emergence of AI created art, which can presumably integrate elements of real locations as well as generate completely new environments, will the drive for authenticity continue or will gaming studios and players be satisfied with AI generated worlds?

Not to mention, will those artist jobs continue to exist?

The fact that people are traveling to these locations suggests people have an interest/curiosity in extending their virtual explorations into the physical realm. This bodes well on many levels if game designers continue to actively seek new interesting places in the real world to translate into the games.