Arts Sector Shrank at Twice the Rate of US Economy as Covid Surged, NEA Reports

March 23rd, 2022

A report released March 15 by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) revealed that the arts industry in the US shriveled at nearly twice the rate of the country’s economy between 2019 and 2020, as the Covid-19 crisis shuttered theaters, clubs, cinemas, and museums across the country. Additionally, while the arts sector has regained strength as the course of the pandemic evolves, it has not yet returned to 2019 levels. However, the NEA pointed to what it describes as the sector’s “outsized role in the US economy” as a positive predictor regarding future value.

Analyzing economic data from across thirty-five different segments of the cultural field and adjusting for inflation, the NEA discovered that arts and cultural production tumbled 6.4 percent between 2019 and 2020, while the US economy as a whole dipped by 3.4 percent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the performing arts were the hardest hit, joining oil drilling and air transportation at the front of the breadline; queuing up close behind was the film industry, which saw a staggering 136,000 jobs lost as productions shut down. Unemployment rates in the arts overall rose precipitously, from 3.7 percent in 2019 to 10.3 percent in 2020; job losses, not counting those sustained by self-employed arts workers, totaled 604,000 in the same period.

With vaccines widely available, Omicron receding in the nation’s rearview mirror, and future Covid variants expected to be less deadly, the arts industry is expected to continue to pick up steam this year. While nowhere near the $12.7 billion reaped in third-quarter 2019, the performing arts segment saw revenue double in the comparable 2021 period over the previous year, rising from a pitiful 834 million to $1.7 billion. Citing the expansion, during the pandemic, of digital media platforms such as live-performance streaming services and online viewing rooms that accounted for a total of 12,000 jobs added, and pointing also to the $876.7 billion in value added by the arts sector to the national GDP in 2020, down from $919.7 billion in 2019,

NEA chair Rosaria Jackson offered an optimistic outlook.

“While arts and cultural industries and workers nationwide have sustained heavy losses, the sector continues to play an outsized role in the U.S. economy—as the new data demonstrate,” she said. “The NEA is committed to participating as a key partner in the recovery of this sector, recognizing not only its economic value, but also the arts’ capacity to transform the lives of individuals and communities in other ways, contributing to health and well-being, and overall resilience.”