Putting a value* on culture

Someone asked on Twitter recently how much does the GLAM sector contribute to NZ’s GDP? The short answer is it’s tricky to tell, but here are some known figures and some of the complications behind them. My thanks to colleagues at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage for sharing what they know.

Culture and recreation

According to Statistics NZ, ‘culture and recreation’ contributes over $900m to the economy, but that includes sport (the biggest contributor at over $400m). ‘Arts and culture’ contributes almost $200m, but it’s unlikely that truly represents the whole GLAM sector. (I think this is the data behind those figures.)

There’s a figure in this infographic from Stats, that the non-profit sector contributed 4.4% to GDP in 2013. Sure it includes a lot of GLAM organisations but probably doesn’t include local and central government organisations. And ‘culture and recreation’ is only one sub-group in non-profits, which also includes 11 other sub-groups:

  • Education and research
  • Health
  • Social services
  • Environment
  • Development and housing
  • Law, advocacy and politics
  • Grant making, fundraising and voluntarism promotion
  • International
  • Religion
  • Business and professional associations, unions
  • Residual categories

Included in the ‘culture and recreation’ sub-group is film societies, community theatres, toy libraries, historical associations, garden societies, operatic societies, pipe bands, Maori performing arts groups, sports clubs, regional sports trusts, racing clubs, tramping clubs and vintage car clubs.

Arts and recreation services

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage is currently working with its funded agencies (the likes of Te Papa, NZ On Air, Creative NZ and so on) on a project to develop a cultural sector narrative. Part of that includes working with Stats to develop better reporting on cultural statistics. For now MCH is working with the Statistics NZ GDP by industry, but the smallest category that’s useful currently is ‘arts and recreation services’. Improving this is part of the work MCH is doing with Stats.

The ‘arts and recreation services’ industry group includes the following 7 sub-groups:

  • Museum operation
  • Parks and gardens operations
  • Creative and Performing Arts activities
  • Sport and Physical Recreation activities
  • Horse and Dog Racing activities
  • Amusement and Other Recreation activities
  • Gambling activities (that’s right – GLAM is in there with gambling…)

The GDP for ‘arts and recreation services’ for the year ended March 2016 (expressed in 2009/10 prices) is $3.038b or 1.35% of GDP. But there are so many caveats in that figure that it’s currently not possible to answer the question of what does GLAM contribute to GDP. It gives a sense of the scale though, and in time we might have a better idea.

* Contribution to GDP is only one way to measure or value something, and a very blunt one at that. It’s useful in some contexts and useless in others, but is worth being able to articulate alongside other richer, more interesting and intangible benefits of cultural sector. As Paul Rowe put it, “knowledge/creativity/sense of community”. Tautoko that! (In my defence, the question was about GDP, thus an answer about GDP.)