Taking Note: Writing the First Draft of U.S. Cultural Accountancy
In June 2000, the international research collaboration known as the Human Genome Project published a "rough draft" of the complete set of genetic information in humans. This milestone generated perhaps more scientific and media hype than when a final draft was completed three years later.
It's an extravagant analogy, maybe an ill-fitting one, but I like to think that preliminary results from the first Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account (ACPSA) in our nation's history—released today on the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis' (BEA) website—occupy a similar place, at least in the development of reliable data about the arts' long-term economic impact.
One thing's for certain: these estimates may be regarded as a draft. In close collaboration with BEA analysts, the NEA's Office of Research & Analysis worked throughout 2013 to identify a set of commodities (goods and services) that reflect arts and cultural production. Once these items were flagged, the BEA set about computing values for them, and linking them to specific industry clusters—thus yielding estimates of the arts' contribution to GDP from 1998 to 2011.
Is the account perfect? Certainly not. It's unlikely to have captured every single sub-industry or commodity type relevant to arts production. And yet the account represents a breakthrough in the way we report and analyze arts and cultural output and related variables such as jobs, imports/exports, labor, and compensation. Working together, the NEA and the BEA intend to revise the estimates and release a new version of the account in the fall of 2014.
Meanwhile, today we're posting a suite of resources to help analysts and the general public to understand how the account was created. We're also issuing a series of "issue briefs," ranging from topics such as the innovation economy to the recession of 2007-2009 and the ripple effect of arts spending throughout the U.S. economy and labor market. Such resources, including technical documentation on how to measure the economic value of arts and cultural workers and the arts' volunteer sector, are available online through the NEA's Arts Data Profile pages.
Arts and the Economy: Parallel Projects
Just last week, I had the privilege of speaking to a gathering called "The Creative and Cultural Industries and the Future of Latin America's Economy." As reported by my colleague Bonnie Nichols in her online guide to the BEA account, some of our neighbors to the south have been especially active in developing satellite accounts to track the monetary value of arts, culture, and creativity.
At last week's event, cosponsored by American University's Center for Latin American and Latino Studies with the Inter-American Development Bank, I shared a panel with government reps from Colombia and Costa Rica, countries that already have produced such accounts. From a presentation by Anahi Moyano, an advisor at the Ministry of Culture and Youth of Costa Rica, I inferred that policy-makers in that country have made great progress in mining their satellite account for indicators about the health and vitality of Costa Rica's cultural sector. And, hey, they even have a logo for the account!
From that convening, I also learned that translators are working feverishly to bring into English the contents of what promises to be a key text about "the cultural and creative economy" in Latin America and the Caribbean. Titled "The Orange Economy: An Infinite Opportunity," this report was authored in part by Felipe Buitrago, an analyst with the Inter-American Development Bank, and someone who proved helpful to the NEA's Office of Research & Analysis in early conversations about the ACPSA.
In closing, I want to draw attention to another comprehensive report, one which, I'm proud to say, received funding through the NEA's Research: Art Works program. Authored by Christine Harris, et al., for the National Creativity Network in collaboration with Creative Alliance Milwaukee, the report examines 27 documents defining and measuring "creative economies" or "creative industries" within different U.S. geographical areas.
The 141-page report cannot be summarized neatly in the space I have left. At least one finding, though, takes me back to genomics.
The 27 documents in Harris' study used a total of 264 NAICS (North American Industrial Classification System) codes to construct different profiles of a creative economy. Yet Harris observes that only four NAICS codes were in common to all of those reports: Interior Design Services (NAICS code 541410); Graphic Design Services (541430); Theater Companies and Dinner Theaters (711110); and Musical Groups and Artists (711130).
When nearly all of the human genome was sequenced, the federal government's lead researcher on the project, Francis Collins (now director of the National Institutes of Health) remarked how amazing it is that so little genetic variation occurs across the human species. If only the same could be said about how various researchers have defined creative and cultural economies! On the other hand, this plurality is a large part of what makes the challenge of standardization such an adventurous exercise. Divergent metrics? They're the DNA of cultural policy research.