NEA study explains financial effect of the arts nationally — and California’s huge cultural economy

The sidewalk in front of City Hall is barricaded for a film production.
The sidewalk in front of City Hall is barricaded for a film production.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
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Data released Wednesday by the National Endowment for the Arts, in a joint effort with the Bureau of Economic Analysis, offers an argument for keeping arts funding alive at a time when the Trump administration seeks to eliminate the NEA altogether.

The data, which look at the economic role of the arts at the federal level, show that the arts and cultural sector contributed nearly $730 billion to the U.S. economy in 2014, the year for which the agencies evaluated data. That is roughly 4.2% of the U.S. economy for that year. (The NEA’s annual budget, as a point of comparison, is $148 million.)

California rose to the top in a number of key areas in state-by-state comparisons analyzed in the Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account report (or ACPSA, as it’s called). California is:

  • One of the five top-ranking states in the area of arts and cultural employment. It employs 674,865 people in one of 35 cultural areas, including graphic and architectural design, filmmaking and performing arts companies (representing 3.9% of state employment and $73.8 billion in compensation).
  • The top-ranking state for motion picture and video production. Employment is 3.2 times greater than the national index.
  • The top-ranking state for compensation in film and video production. Compensation here is nearly four times greater than that of the U.S. in general.
  • Second for musical instrument manufacturing. (Tennessee is No. 1.)
  • Third for employment in the area of sound recording. California is topped only by Tennessee and New York.
  • Fourth for compensation in performing arts companies, behind Nevada, Tennessee and New York.

California is No. 9 when it comes to growth in cultural employment: Between 2013 and 2014, employment in the sector grew by 2.4%.

“Information from the Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account has been invaluable for understanding the role of arts and culture in our economy, demonstrating that the arts are indeed part of our everyday lives,” said NEA Chairwoman Jane Chu in a statement. “Now with the new state data, state leaders have a powerful tool to assess and advance arts and culture for the benefit of all their residents.”

ACPSA also reports that the arts represent an important area of trade surplus for the U.S. economy at the federal level — a sum that reached $24.1 billion in 2014 alone.

Movies and TV shows — many of them produced in California — accounted for $16.4 billion of that total. Arts-related software publishing such as video games (another industry with deep roots in California) accounted for another $9.1 billion, while manufactured jewelry and creative advertising followed with totals of roughly $8 billion each. Architectural services accounted for about $2.6 billion.

The NEA, in collaboration with the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, has made state data available and searchable via a pair of new tools — one on NASAA’s website (, the other via the BEA, at

The report is the first federal effort aimed at providing an in-depth economic analysis — at both the federal and state level — of how the cultural sector affects the U.S. economy.


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