It has recently been announced that the German government will provide around 750,000 teenagers with a ‘cultural passport’ in 2023. The KulturPass is a pilot scheme, which will offer those turning 18 next year €200 worth of vouchers to spend on cultural activities, with a particular view to supporting theatre and concert venues. The idea, according to German culture minister Claudia Roth, is to “get young people excited about the diversity of culture in our country” as well as jump-start the cultural economy as it recovers from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns.
The finance minister, Christian Lindner, described the pass as “cultural start-up capital” that its recipients can use within two years for everything from theatre and concert tickets to books or music. It will be managed via an app and a website that provides a direct connection to a virtual marketplace of everything from bookshops to theatres.
The government aims to champion smaller venues.
The KulturPass is intended mainly for experiencing live arts, such as theatre and concerts, but there will be limits. The pass cannot be used for individual purchases, as its purpose is to encourage 18-year-olds to spend their money across a range of activities instead of on a single ticket. The government aims to champion smaller venues, such as independent bookshops and cinemas, and niche music organisations, as places to spend the KulturPass. Online retailers such as Spotify and Amazon will be excluded from the scheme, and more information is to follow.
It is estimated that the German scheme will cost the government around €100 million, the money for which exists separately from the country’s annual €2.3 billion cultural budget. If it is successful, it could reportedly be rolled out to a wider demographic, and the most likely evolution is that it will be extended to young people from the age of 15 and upwards. It has been broadly welcomed by those in the German cultural sector – Olaf Zimmermann, executive director of the German Cultural Council, has expressed his support and called for a quick rollout of the pass. He described it as a “meaningful way to support both young people and the world of culture which have suffered in particular from the pandemic”, although he stressed the need to make the guidelines clear.
Germany is not the first European country to present such a scheme, joining three other EU nations in aiming to make culture more accessible to their young population. In October 2021, Spain announced that teenagers turning 18 that year would receive a €400 culture pass that could be spent on a huge variety of cultural goods. It followed on the heels of similar passes in France and Italy, but it was the first to be implemented as a direct reaction to the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns on these industries. Since the Spanish developed their pass, their government has reported that 57.6% of the eligible population registered for the scheme.
Italy’s version is a “culture bonus” of €500 for every 18-year-old.
France’s pass was a 2017 campaign promise from Emmanuel Macron – it was trialled across the country in 2018 after he was elected president, but the official rollout was delayed until 2021 due to the pandemic. Then, it gave every 18-year-old €300 to spend on cultural products and events. But it has now been expanded to over-15s, in two parts – a collective allowance of no more than € 30 per pupil per year available to teachers for class visits to exhibitions, films, plays, concerts, or workshops, plus from €20-30 that each teenager can spend individually. Italy’s version is a “culture bonus” of €500 for every 18-year-old, which has been maintained despite the successive changes in government and attempts to scrap it in 2018.
Based on the track record of the other European schemes, there is little reason to suspect that Germany’s cultural pass will be anything other than a success. Although these schemes are in large part Covid mitigation methods, they also speak to a fascinating dual priority on the parts of these governments – that culture is important, and that young people engaged with culture are important for the future.