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The Profit in Performing Arts

What comes to mind with the word 'profit'? Some may have an almost visceral reaction to this: on one spectrum, loathing the very idea, and on another, brimming with excitement, especially when considered from a purely economic point of view. In whatever way one looks at it though, be it economic, emotional or spiritual, it's not completely inaccurate to suggest that, in the main, the performing arts is a field that is often instinctively overlooked or underestimated as a viable industry within which to pursue a career, except, of course, for those with the innate passion for it. And for these individuals, it is the pursuit of this passion alone that can sometimes lead to the ultimate 'profit' or personal satisfaction.


Personal satisfaction notwithstanding, it need not require a vehement defence to justify why those in the larger creative arts sector, under which the performing arts fall, ought to be properly compensated and the industry itself be given the credibility it deserves. Bigger and more robust economies such as the United States of America (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) caught on to this quite early, with New York's Broadway and London's West End being global centres and testament to the industry's ability to thrive, although the impact of the current pandemic has been quite devastating on the industry through no fault of anyone. In 2019, the value of arts and cultural production in the US was almost $1 trillion, accounting for 4.3% of the gross domestic product (GDP) - the total output of goods and services produced in the country. This proportion of GDP had grown by 76.9% since1998. The nonprofit arts industry alone contributes approximately $27.56 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues every year. Likewise, in London, £127 million was raised in Value Added Tax (VAT) in 2018 from London's theatres from a total of 34 million visitors and ticket revenues of £1.28 billion. In addition, the arts and culture industry pays almost 5% more than the UK median salary. Is this not enough evidence for the potential of the performing arts and wider creative arts industry in spurring national economic growth?

Although the creative arts industry in Africa shows activity with its approximate $4.2 billion accounted-for revenue generation each year, the industry still leaves much to be desired: a lot of this activity takes place in the informal economy, and in 2019, only 1.1% of total African start-up investment went to entertainment companies. Thus, what does it take for both the private and public sector in Africa to wake up to the power that is latent within the performing and wider creative arts industry? This might immediately appear like a chicken and egg problem: on one end, one might want to see the ready proof of successful and streamlined business activity in this regard to minimize the risk of investing in this space; on the other hand, I would propose that the success of this industry will be seen in the actual drive to develop it. Just as we see a trade surplus to the tune of $33 billion in arts and cultural commodities in 2019 from the US economy, it is very likely that a country like my homeland of Ghana may have a yet unexplored, or minimally-explored, comparative advantage in the performing arts.


I see it in the eyes of eager youth, who pursue performing arts subjects and emerge without the adequate, necessary and quality performing arts jobs to absorb them. I see it in every local and traditional band of performers that I have been exposed to since my childhood, featured at almost every kind of event that one can imagine, but who still appear to be loosely organized and without a proper framework for existence. And I believe that all it takes is a few innovators and a few early adopters to get the ball rolling in systematically building new platforms, institutions and structures to guide the development of a sturdy and attractive performing arts industry in my Ghana and beyond. After all, our favourite and widely-accepted raw materials, such as oil, are finite resources whereas the creative spirit is not. So if you do hear the call, today or some other day, to become an active participant in this sphere, either as an investor, developer or general advocate, do not turn away from it. 'For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, but lose his [creative] soul' (Mark 8:36; the Bible).

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