Museums as Economic Engines

Category: Research and Reports
Cover Image of the Museums as economic engines report. Shows a woman with a younger girls looking down together as an unseen object

Museums play an essential role in cultural and social life across the US. They tell our stories, preserve our heritage, interpret the past, and explore the future. In this way, museums enrich our lives daily—feeding a hunger for knowledge and igniting our imaginations. But beyond this cultural impact, the museum sector is also essential to the national economy of the United States—generating GDP, stimulating jobs, and contributing taxes.

Researched and prepared in partnership with Oxford Economics and with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, this comprehensive report quantifies the economic benefit of museums, including jobs, direct spending, and supply-chain effects. The numbers tell an indisputable story about museums as true economic engines for their communities, supporting jobs and wages that are vital to the health of their hometowns.

Highlights of the report

To conduct the research for this report, Oxford Economics used standard techniques known as economic impact analysis. This kind of analysis measures not just the direct (operational) contribution of the museum sector but also the impact that is felt as its activities ripple out across the economy. This includes, for example, the impact generated as museums makes purchases from a wider supply chain, known as the indirect impact. It also measures the e ects that are felt in the wider consumer economy as employees in museums and their supply chains spend their wages on things like meals in restaurants or going to the gym, known as the induced impact. Each of these economic channels can be quantified in terms of a contribution to the national GDP, jobs, and the amount of tax revenue that is generated for all levels of government.

Each year, more than 850 million visits are made to US museums from all across US society, and that number continues to grow. To meet this level of demand, the museum sector directly supports 372,100 jobs and generates $15.9 billion in income. In support of the sector, museum volunteers also contribute more than a million hours of service every week, which we do not quantify. But, the economic contribution of museums also extends far beyond these immediate operations—in ways that we calculate in this report.

Infographic: Museums add $50b to GDP; 726k jobs, $12b in taxes each yearThe total economic contribution of museums in 2016 amounted to more than $50 billion in GDP, 726,200 jobs, and $12 billion in taxes to local, state, and federal governments.
On top of the 372,100 workers directly employed by the museum sector, a further 354,100 jobs are supported in the wider economy, either in the supply chains of museums or through the wage spending of those employed by museums themselves or those employed in the supply chain—totalling 726,200 jobs.

The contribution of museums is widespread. Of the $50 billion total contribution to GDP made by the sector in 2016, some $34.2 billion results from supply chain and consumer spending activities. This spreads the bene ts of the sector to other parts of the US economy, including, for example, $11.9 billion in financial services; $6.0 billion in trade, transportation, and utilities; and $4.8 billion in professional and business services. The impact is also spread widely across the US, with every state realizing economic benefits from museums.

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Acknowledgements

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Logo

The American Alliance of Museums would like to thank the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their crucial support of this initiative and Oxford Economics for the expertise and thoughtful approach they brought to the project.

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