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.”

Sending My Love To You

A little divergence from my usual posting topics. As many readers know, I moved to Loveland, CO in late Fall to take a position. As you might imagine, Valentine’s Day is something of a big deal in a place called Loveland which holds the Sweetheart Festival every year, complete with an official wedding.

However, no matter where you live, Loveland can lend you a hand spreading some love. The town has a remailing program where you can mail your Valentine’s card to the local post office and they will cancel it with a special postmark and send it along its way.  Details on the steps to make it happen are found on the remailing program website.

If Only These Problems Were Myths Of A Past Age

If you have read Ve Le’s Non-Profit AF blog, you know that he often frames serious topics with a bit of humor, often extolling vegan cuisine and his obsession with the Oxford comma. Frequently though, he will go into full entertainment mode riffing on a theme and applying it to the non-profit world.

A couple weeks ago, he wrote a post recasting Greek myths as if they occurred in world run as a non-profit. With a hurricane recently piling on to the problems which have faced Puerto Rico over the last few years and another heading toward Florida, non-profits are going to be mobilizing to help affected communities recover. It seemed like a good time to point to humorous content before groups had to seriously dive in.

Le addresses a number of stories, but here are some of my favorites. In his retelling of the Trojan horse, the horse doesn’t contain soldiers who spread out to slay the city’s defenders:

The following days, they joined the boards of directors of several organizations in the city. They never read board packets, always stopped much more knowledgeable staff from taking bold actions, caused missed quorum, insisted on golf tournaments, and gradually ruined morale. And that was how the city of Troy fell.

In Le’s retelling of the story of Echo who had been cursed by Hera to repeat only what other people say:

One day, Echo met Narcissus and fell in love with him. “I should start a nonprofit,” he said to her. She repeated, “start a nonprofit.” He ran off and founded a nonprofit that gave used togas to poor people abroad, and Echo was heartbroken. But joke’s on Hera, because eventually, Echo became a nonprofit consultant who mainly repeated what the staff says, and boards thought she was so smart and she got paid a ton of money.

My favorite story was Le’s version of Hercules’ 12 Labors:

Those were: Plan a silent auction, diversify a board, give someone feedback, get everyone to track their expense receipts, conduct a 360 assessment without someone getting hurt, endure an icebreaker that involves making random mouth sounds, fire someone who is really nice but sucks at their job, call out a major donor for being a jerk, translate a budget into a funder’s own budget format, get more than ten likes on a social media post about an upcoming event, get a several people’s schedules to align for a meeting, and save enough for retirement.

There are about six-seven stories in all and Le has promised a part two which hasn’t surfaced yet. What I appreciate about Vu Le’s writing style is that the problems he addresses are obviously sources of frustration and anxiety for folks in the non-profit sector, but he skewers them so satirically you can feel a slight sense of relief at having an ally by your side that understands.

A Little Night of Georgia Music

About three months ago I mentioned that we were having a concert filmed for public television in our venue. We recently got word that it will make its broadcast debut on Georgia Public Broadcasting on July 4. After that, it will be available to stations around the country on their schedule. (So hint, hint, you should nudge your local stations to air it.)

The show is comprised of music by Georgia musicians including, R.E.M., Ray Charles, The Allman Brothers, Outkast, Ray Charles, and B-52s.  The show is a project by Mike Mills of R.E.M., classical violinist Robert McDuffie, and Chuck Leavell formerly of The Allman Brothers and currently keyboardist for Rolling Stones.

The show features Concerto for Violin, Rock Band and String Orchestra composed by Mills. The string orchestra performing in the recording comes from the McDuffie Center for Strings at Mercer University.

A little bit of a preview below. I am sure there is more video to come.