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Arts and culture contribute more to U.S. economy than tourism

Teach your children art. New calculations on the contribution that arts and culture make to GDP reveal a larger impact than tourism.

For the first time the federal government has tallied up the arts and culture contribution to the nation’s economy. It turns out that sector, movies, painting, publishing, cable and more, was worth half a trillion dollars -- 3 percent to the gross domestic product in 2011. That’s more than the travel and tourism industry.

“Here you have for the first time, comprehensive empirical evidence from the point of view of economists that the arts play a substantial role in the nation’s economy,” says Sunil Iyengar who runs the Office of Research and Analysis for the National Endowment for the Arts.

In an instant, writers, app designers, publishers and painters just got a bunch of "street cred." Nearly two million people work in the arts and culture industry which exported about $40 billion in goods and services in 2011. Some economists say ideas, innovation, and creativity are essential to growing the United States economy.

University of Minnesota culture economist Ann Markusen says putting a dollar value to the sector could lead to policies that promote it. “The recognition of the significance of art skills, is going to really be a big boost for artists and also for encouraging young people to go into the arts,” she says.

Who knows, maybe that whole starving artist thing will finally be on its way out.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

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