Brazil has a new prerogative: promote culture. The government will begin giving out “cultural coupons” worth $20 a month to individuals that make up to $300 a month. The money, loaded on a magnetic card, is designated only for purposes broadly termed cultural – though that category could include dance lessons and visits to the circus in addition to books and movie tickets. Why? “What we’d really like is that they try new things,” Culture Minister Marta Suplicy said in a telephone interview. “We want people to go to the theater they wanted to go to, to the museum they wanted to go to, to buy the book they wanted to read.” In all, the government wants to refine citizens taste.
Brazilians pick up an average of just four books a year, including textbooks, and finish only two of them, a study published last year by the São Paulo state government showed. Almost all of Brazil’s 5,570 municipalities now have a local library, but only one in four has a book shop, theater or museum, and only one in nine boasts a cinema, according to the government’s statistics bureau. “This is innovative and cool, and no one in the world is doing anything like it,” Suplicy said. “My hope is that it will be revolutionary for culture here. It provides an opportunity for people who never had it and, at the same time, has an impact on cultural production.” So far, 1,300 companies and 356,000 people have signed up for the program, and government officials hope as many as 42 million could eventually enroll. State-run companies are obliged to join, and ministers are actively encouraging unions to demand the Vale Cultura in their annual wage negotiations.