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Measuring the economic and social impact of the arts: a review

Key Message

In the U.K. creative industries now account for over 5% of the Gross Domestic Product and employ around 1.3 million people.


Reeves, M. ( 2002). Measuring the economic and social impact of the arts: a review. London, England: Arts Council of England.


The aim of the Review is to provide an overview of arts impact research to complement a recent Arts Council-commissioned review on arts and social exclusion.

Drawing on selected literature, the Review will address the following topics:
• concepts and definitions of impact, economic impact and social impact as they relate to the arts and creative industries
• different models and methods of measuring the economic and social impact of the arts
• assessing the quality and appropriateness of existing research design and methods
• discussion of key issues raised by existing research and their implications for future research and policy development.

The methodology adopted for the Review comprised a number of search strategies, which included:
• two separate analyses of the Arts Council of England’s library database, ‘Heritage’, for literature using the keywords ‘economic impact’ and ‘arts’ and ‘social impact’ and ‘arts’, respectively
• a manual search of the smaller libraries of the Arts Council’s Research and Development Department
• review of a database of research studies collated for the Realising the Potential of Cultural Services project, held in the Research Department of the Arts Council
• postal, telephone or e-mail enquiries to the Statistics and Social Policy Unit of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the Scottish Arts Council, Arts Council of Wales and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, a range of DCMS-sponsored Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs) with a remit for arts, culture or media, including National Lottery Distributing Bodies (NLDBs). Information was gathered on completed and ongoing research addressing the impact of arts interventions
• an e-mail circular to relevant staff in the Arts Council’s art form departments, and to the ten Regional Arts Boards in England, requesting information on local, regional or national impact studies focusing on either individual venues, specific cultural sub-sectors, or strategic initiatives
• meetings with members of the Social and Economic Contexts Team of the Arts Council’s Research and Development Department, and with Helen Jermyn, the Research Consultant employed to compile the Arts Council’s literature review on arts and social exclusion. Contact details of organizations, which could provide additional research material on such policy areas as arts and health, and arts and the criminal justice system, were also obtained and followed up.

These search strategies were supplemented by making reference to existing literature reviews in this area (Shaw, 1999; Blake Stevenson Ltd, 2000; Coalter, 2001; Jermyn, 2001).

The search of the Arts Council’s library database identified 22 research publications, addressing the arts in the UK, Europe, Canada, the USA and Australia.

A further 33 publications were identified through the Realising the Potential database, a significant number of which had been identified through other sources. Cross-referencing was carried out to remove any duplication. Other searches, enquiries and meetings generated awareness of further publications which were added to the bibliography.


As Pratt (1997) notes:
‘much attention has been paid to developing analyses of the indirect impact of the arts and cultural industries. Urban managers in the US and latterly the UK have developed economic impact studies that have sought to explore the extra economic activity generated by arts and culture; predominantly via participation figures, and secondary impacts via proximity on shopping and tourism, as well as transport and accommodation. Such studies have effectively re-legitimized arts investment (that is not-for-profit art activity) within a new state regime.’

In 1995, the Policy Studies Institute also published Culture as Commodity (Casey, Dunlop and Selwood, 1995) which provided an overview of the economics of the arts and built heritage in the UK. The study focused on five areas of cultural activity: the performing arts; the combined arts; museums, galleries and national collections, crafts, the visual arts and the art trade; media, including literature, film and video; and the built heritage, including historical buildings, monuments and sites and presented an analysis of published and unpublished secondary data for 1993/4. The findings of the study confirmed the cultural sector as a significant employer, and showed that it was characterised by: a highly educated workforce; significant ‘nonstandard’ employment, with up to 40% of those working in the sector in self-employment or temporary jobs, and nearly 30% working on their own; and higher levels of unemployment than in the labour force in general. Further, the Study highlighted differential earnings across the sector, with some cultural workers enjoying higher levels of earnings that other white collar workers, while others were poorly paid. £5 billion was estimated to be generated by consumer expenditure on the sector (Casey et al, 1995).

1998 saw the publication of the Creative Industries: 1998 Mapping Document (DCMS, 1998), which sought to provide a national overview of the economic contribution of the creative industries. The Report estimated that the creative industries generate £60 billion in revenues and an estimated £7.5 billion exports per year, account for over 1.4 million jobs, and have a growth rate of 5%, faster than any other sector in the economy. The authors suggested that if the sector grew by only 4% a year to 2007, it would generate £81 billion in revenues and account for 1.5 million jobs (Creative Industries Task Force, 1998).

More recently, the Creative Industries Mapping Document 2001 (DMCS, 2001) suggested that the revenues generated by UK creative industries has grown to around £112.5 billion and that exports contribute some £10.3 billion to the balance of trade. Further, creative industries now account for over 5% of the Gross Domestic Product and employ around 1.3 million people.

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Leadership Provided By:

  • Leisure Information Network (LIN)
  • Alberta Recreation and Parks Association

On Behalf Of:

  • Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRAA)

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