The Big Story Blog

A national view on recession and the arts

Posted at 8:58 AM on December 7, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Arts

It's the worst I've seen it. They're desperate. In every state, we're seeing some organizations going under.

That was Bob Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts, nearly three years ago.

At that point, the Great Recession was more than two years old and the evidence was mostly anecdotal.

There are numbers now from Lynch's group showing just how difficult it was for arts groups across the country in the first few two years of the recession. Excerpts from the 2010 report:

More nonprofit arts organizations ended the year with a deficit. In 2008, 41 percent of nonprofit arts organizations reported a deficit to the IRS, up from 36 percent in 2007.

Arts follow the nation's business cycle. The Index is high when consumer confidence and GDP growth is high. From 1996 to 2009, the number of artists in the workforce increased 17 percent (1.9 to 2.2 million).

Demand for the arts lags supply. There were 3,000 new nonprofit arts organizations created during the 2007-09 recession years (but) the population share attending museums and performing arts events decreased 19 percent and 22 percent, respectively, between 2003-2009.

Giving down. The portion of all philanthropic giving going to the arts dropped from 4.9 percent to 4.0 percent over the past decade. If the arts sector merely maintained its 4.9 percent share from 2001, it would have received $14.9 billion in contributions instead of $12.34 billion in 2009 -- a $2.5 billion difference.

The news hasn't been all bad. The group found that more Americans were creating art and volunteering in arts groups in the years before and during the Great Recession. Arts in education is up, too.

The money, though, is a huge hit.


About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.