Could Germany’s bold new idea save the arts?

(Credits: Far Out / Robert Anasch / Jamakassi)

Music | Opinion

This week, Germany announced its innovative Kulturpass, which will be rolled out to all 18-year-olds to encourage them to become more involved in art and keep them alive for future generations. It’s a precautionary measure, which will hurt the nation’s pockets in the short term, but it could make an invaluable difference to the country in the long run.

The two simple goals of the government-funded program are to give all 18-year-olds $200, a royalty that can be spent exclusively to support the arts, giving the sector an immediate boost. However, the secondary goal is to change the habits of a generation by getting them to attend concerts, buy records and go to the theater rather than living vicariously behind a screen.

The current generation has seen their lives turned upside down by the pandemic, a situation that has taken away two years that they could have spent attending performances and consuming traditional culture. When the live shows returned, the majority of those in this age category were not among those in attendance. German authorities believe they need to experience the performing arts, hoping the Kulturpass will reconnect them.

Attendance at all levels has plummeted since the pandemic, and if this trajectory continues, the future of the arts will be in doubt. The country’s culture minister, Claudia Roth, told a press conference: “We want to interest young people in the diversity of culture in our country.”

Roth also described it as “the equivalent of a birthday present” for the 750,000 recipients in 2023, or 150 million euros. However, if 10% of them continue to invest €200 per year for another 60 years, it will contribute €900 million to the arts economy and shows why the program makes sense.

Germany is not the first country to experiment with this line of methodology, given that it was first created by Italy in 2016. All Italians receive €500 the year after they turn 18, which can only be spent on cultural activities, including theatre, music, books and cinema. Meanwhile, President Macron made it an election promise in 2017 and finally introduced the €300 culture pass last year in France. Spain also launched a similar program in 2021, following Italy’s success.

An interesting stipulation of the German Kulturpass is that online platforms such as Amazon and Spotify have been banned from the program. Therefore, young culture lovers should have fun in local independent cinemas, music stores or bookstores. Additionally, purchases will be limited in value to prevent them from spending the full €200 on a Taylor Swift or Harry Styles concert.

In Spain, it was a bit of a hit last year, with 57.6% of everyone turning 18 in 2022 signing up for the €400 voucher scheme in the first year. It now remains to be seen how many of them continue to support their local independent cultural organizations, if this is a concert hall or a bookstore.

Had the plans not boosted economies across Europe and helped improve the state of the local arts scene, the Kulturpass would not have been rolled out across Germany.

In Britain, even if the cultural scene needs growth, there is no point in dreaming that the current Conservative government has even thought of it. While it can potentially be hugely beneficial to the economy and embolden the spirit of a generation, the arts are nothing more than an afterthought for those in power.

Although it costs a similar amount to the disreputable Rwanda experience in Rwanda and has tangible benefits for the nation, the UK version of the Kulturpass is a non-starter. It is the most obvious answer to solving the inevitable problems that could sadly deprive Britain of its greatest export, culture, which Tories should try to retain.

Jessica C. Bell