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Arts and culture bring $500 billion to economy

To the business world, the arts are often seen as valuable but literally priceless: enjoyable, beautiful, sometimes troubling and scandalous, but also impossible to value in terms of U.S. economic benefit. 

A new report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis is aiming to change that view. In what it’s calling the first federal effort to put a price tag on the cultural sector’s contributions to GDP, the BEA estimates that the U.S. arts world adds $504 billion to the country’s economy.

That means arts and culture contributed 3.2 percent of the country’s 2011 GDP, making it bigger than the U.S. travel and tourism industry, which provided 2.8 percent, the study found. The estimates were created in conjunction with the National Endowment for the Arts. 

“The positive value of arts and culture on society has been understood on a human level for millennia. With this new effort, we are now able to quantify the impact of arts and culture on GDP for the very first time,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said in a statement. 

The leader in the arts and culture segment is the film and video industries, with Hollywood contributing $47 billion to GDP. That was followed by advertising; then cable television; TV and radio broadcasting; newspaper and magazines; and, finally, the performing arts. 

The cultural sector employed 2 million workers in 2011, creating $289.5 billion in employee compensation, the study found. The biggest share was grabbed by the film industry, which employed about 310,000 workers and provided $25 billion in pay. 

Arts and culture is rebounding after taking a hit in the recession, the study notes. 

“The arts suffered more than the overall economy during the great recession of 2007-2009,” the report says. Employment and production declined during the economic downturn, but the sector is now reversing those trends. 

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