Americans Need A Cultural Stipend?

Via Marginal Revolution, we learn Brazil’s Congress has approved a monthly Cultural Stipend for poorer workers.

“Now we are creating food for the soul; Why would the poor not be able to access culture?” the minister said.

Suplicy said the new incentive, approved by Congress and endorsed by Rousseff late last month, is expected to be introduced some time this year. “The money will be put in the hands of the worker who will decide how to spend it, by going to the movies, to the theater, to an exhibition or the museum,” she explained.

Other possible uses include purchases of books, music or DVDs.

Employers will cover 90 percent of the cost of the stipend but can then deduct the amount from their income tax. Workers will pay the remaining 10 percent, but can opt out if they choose to do so.

The first time I read about it, I thought it was a government funded program and might be hard to implement on a national level in the U.S.

However, since it is largely employer funded, the plan could actually work quite well in the U.S. since it allows the businesses to write it off their taxes much like companies and individuals can write off charitable donations in the U.S. I am not sure the government would have to create any new laws to make it possible. Though their encouragement would certainly help. The arts community could just make a big push for companies to declare their participation.

I imagine it would be great publicity for companies since they could collect testimonials from employees about the enjoyment they derived from books, music, performances and museum attendance thanks to their employers’ involvement.

Since employees have to contribute a little bit toward putting money on their culture cards, it gets potential audiences in the habit of paying to participate but doesn’t place the entire burden on them.

Granted, audiences may not end up using the money to purchase experiences at non-profit arts organizations. This won’t absolve arts organizations from the responsibility of making their offerings relevant and interesting. But along the lines of my letter to the president post, it starts to institutionalize the idea that all citizens should participate in cultural experiences.

When I did think this was a government program and was trying to devise a way to adapt it to the U.S., I thought about the dividend Alaska pays to its citizens from the oil proceeds. With that in mind, I was going to propose NY State use some of the tax money it collects from its great native resources- Broadway and Wall Street- to offer these cards to all citizens of NY. The population of the state has been dwindling so I thought it would be a great way to reward those who stayed and hopefully stimulate arts organizations in other parts of the state.

I suspect much of it would find its way back to Broadway. Though parts of Rochester NY are one of America’s Top 44 ArtPlaces so I wouldn’t count other parts of the state out.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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