If the NEA needed any more reasons to look inadequate, Brazil just offered one: the government has decided to give Brazilian workers a stipend of $25 a month just for “cultural expenses” — that’s anything from books and movies to tickets to art museums.
According to the Agence France Presse, the new policy is a way to provide access to culture for all Brazilians. “In all developed countries, culture plays a key role in the economy,” Brazil’s Culture Minister Marta Suplicy said. “Why would the poor not be able to access culture?”
Ninety percent of the stipend will be covered by employers, who will be able to deduct the amount from their income taxes. Workers pay the remaining 10 percent out of their own paychecks but can opt out if they prefer. The benefit can go to workers earning as much as five times the minimum wage, but it’s up to employers to choose the benchmarks. The $25 culture stipend will be paid through an electronic card, which will limit the spending to cultural goods.
Not only is the new stipend good for those who consume culture; it’s presumably going to benefit cultural creators as well. Suplicy noted that it could inject up to $3.5 billion into the cultural sector. Similar to how a tax credit or refund might bolster household spending, the country is hoping that its new policy will give cultural enterprises new energy.
On Twitter, novelist Hari Kunzru predicts the sudden interest of international hipsters in Portuguese and a mass exodus out of hoods like Williamsburg and Shoreditch to Brazil. He notes that the projected $3.5 billion is seven times the UK’s arts council budget. The cultural stipend isn’t exactly a grant program, however; it just frees up Brazilians to spend a little bit more on the arts. And which arts those are, exactly, isn’t determined. It could just mean bigger movie box-office takes rather than a a sudden flowering of art exhibitions.
Although giving $25 to US workers for cultural consumption would be fantastic, the amount might not go too far in New York City’s museums — adult tickets run $25 at MoMA, $14 at the New Museum, and $22 at the Guggenheim.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.