European Countries Are Giving Teens Free Money for Culture

For Europe’s growing population, old age now has the added benefit of hundreds of euros to spend on culture—whether it’s high-profile opera performances or action-packed comic books.

Earlier this month, Germany became the latest European country to announce a culture pass for young people to use on books, trips to the theatre, music, museums and movies. All young people in Germany who turn 18 in 2023—an estimated 750,000 people—will be eligible for the €200 ($208) pass. The credit will be available for use over a period of two years and citizens can make purchases through the app or website.

“My hope is that KulturPass will get young people to go out and experience culture, to see how diverse and inspiring it is,” says German Culture Minister Claudia Roth, who oversaw the initiative. “They can see a pop concert, go to a museum, or see a play. It’s all culture.”

Roth says the motivation behind the pass was twofold. The first was in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which deprived young people of cultural activities amid waves of lockdowns and school closures. But he says the second—and long-term—reason is to provide more relief to Germany’s struggling art sector.

In June 2020, the German government allocated 1 billion euros ($1.039 billion) as emergency aid for arts and culture as many stayed at home due to the COVID-19 restrictions, which was increased by a further 1 billion euros in February 2021. The pass is product of an additional investment of 100 million Euros ($103.7 million) and could be followed by additional funds for 15- to 17-year-olds, if successful.

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“After two years of this tragedy, [and now] “Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and its impact on energy prices and inflation here in Germany, many cultural institutions are struggling with empty seats, low numbers of visitors, audiences that are reluctant to return,” says Roth. Now, he hopes the program will “start” a return to the cultural landscape and bring new audiences to national institutions.

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But Germany is not the first EU country to launch such a program.

In March, Spain announced its €400 ($415) Youth Cultural Bonus for 18-year-olds to spend within a year on events and physical media. Similar to the German initiative, the vouchers aim to revive a creative industry that has suffered under years of funding cuts and then a crisis.

In a statement sent to TIME, a representative of the Spanish government said that the program aims to “promote the trust that creates the habit of eating traditional products in young people so that, as adults, they continue to use traditional products regularly.”

A total of 281,557 young Spanish citizens, including legal residents and refugees, were eligible for cultural aid when the 210 million Euro ($217.7 million) project was launched.

The statement added that “instilling freedom” among its young citizens was a key element of the plan, which allows consumers to decide—within reason—how they spend money. It has a maximum limit of 200 euros for live art and a limit of €100 for purchases of physical or digital products.

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The German and Spanish culture ministries say they were inspired by the success of the French culture fund model, which was launched by the country’s Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak in May 2021. For more than a year, French youth aged 18 have qualified. for a culture pass worth €300 ($312) to use within two years through the program that hosts cultural offerings from more than 8,000 businesses and arts institutions.

Like New York Times be considered, French youth were more interested in Japanese manga. Statistics from the organization that runs the Culture Pass program recorded that 75% of all purchases were for books and two-thirds of book purchases were for manga, which is a popular form of media in France.

Some French critics have taken up the dispute over how much freedom young people should have with what they buy. “A child from the projects will rely on what he already knows. I can’t even for a minute imagine a child using a passport to go to listen to a Baroque opera,” Pierre Ouzoulias, a senator of the French Communist Party, told New York Times.

But others say the passes, even when used in the media rather than high art, have a lasting social impact by encouraging young people to have a connection to life and culture. They don’t just reduce young people’s budget constraints on cultural spending but affect a wider range of “preferences and behaviours,” says Elisabetta Lazzaro, a professor at the University of Creative Arts in London.

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Manga purchases may not benefit French artists financially but French consumers have as much as €100 in online media releases, which are produced by French companies, and any video games purchased must be from a French publisher.

Indirectly, any further spending on culture could help to develop one of the most important sectors in Europe. In 2019, the cultural and creative industries contributed €509 billion ($529 billion), or some 5.3%, to the EU’s GDP, according to Culture Action Europe, a leading network of cultural groups.

A series of new cultural passes has emerged in Europe. The UK has free admission for all to national museums, while other countries such as Belgium have long boasted free tickets for children under 18 and reduced cultural tickets for students under 26. Meanwhile, Italy became the first European nation to introduce a cultural passport in 2016, worth €500 ($519).

Despite reported attempts by Italy’s populist leaders to cancel it in 2018, the fund has been approved by the culture ministry in a change in government.

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Write to Armani Syed at [email protected]


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