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Arts Index report sees hope despite fourth straight drop in 2011

This post has been corrected. Please see below for details.

The health of the arts in the United States worsened for a fourth straight year during 2011, according to the latest National Arts Index report, released this week by the advocacy group Americans for the Arts.

But its authors did see signs of an eventual turnaround. The rate of decline continued to slow in 2011, and they said this leveling-off is likely to presage an upturn when complete figures for 2012 and 2013 come in.

The aim of the National Arts Index is to distill the health of the arts into a single number. It's derived by weighing a number of statistics and estimates. Factors include employment, earnings, donations and government funding, tourism, attendance, box office receipts, sales of audio and video recordings and other arts-related products, online exposure to the arts and arts education.

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The index score released this week was 97, down from 97.2 in 2010. It had peaked at 103 in 2007.

The arts index defines the arts broadly, with jewelry-making, fashion design, the movie business, pop music, advertising and publishing among the industries considered along with museums and live performing arts.

The declines for 2010 and 2011 were 0.4 and 0.2 points, respectively, after drops of 2.4 points in 2008 and 3 in 2009, and the report’s co-author, Roland J. Kushner, an economist at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, said he expects an upswing in 2012.

The report noted “overall increases” in theater and symphony attendance in 2011, and drops for opera and movies.

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Nationwide spending on live entertainment apart from sporting events was $17.9 billion in 2011, up 3.7%. A "museums and libraries" category grossed $6.1 billion, up 4%. Movie theaters grossed $11.7 billion, down 2%.

The number of arts jobs (2.15 million) and their average yearly wages ($52,000) held steady. So did the number of degrees colleges and universities conferred in the visual and performing arts -- 133,258, or 3.9% of all degrees conferred.

But the report’s authors saw an ominous sign in K-12 education trends. Only 17.6% of college-bound seniors who took SAT exams in 2011 reported having had four years of art or music in high school, down from 20.2% in 2009. About a third reported having taken one year or less of arts classes.

“Pervasive arts education cuts in the 2000s are now having the downstream effect that was long a concern,” the authors said. Other studies have found that exposure to the arts in childhood correlates strongly with whether a person will be interested as an adult.

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The ranks of arts nonprofits were thinned by nearly 16% during 2011, the report noted – partly because the IRS stepped up revoking nonprofit status for organizations that previously had stayed on its books even though they were dormant.

Some 95,000 arts nonprofits remained, and in 2011 they were more likely to be suffering budget woes: 44.2% reported deficits, up from 43.3% in 2010.

The report says that foreigners increasingly craved America's arts output in 2011. The value of exported “arts goods” such as films, paintings and jewelry grew from $64 billion to $72 billion. The U.S. imports $25 billion worth of “creative goods,” the report said, resulting in a $47 billion trade surplus in the arts.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation ran a $744-billion trade deficit for all goods in 2011.

For the record, Sept. 23, 2013, 9:56 a.m.: A previous version of this post incorrectly gave Roland Kushner's first name as Robert.

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