24 Sep 2021
One of the most significant disruptions has been the cancellation of the many artistic and cultural experiences that young people typically engage in at that age. School camps, balls, trips to the theatre, dance expos, poetry slams and taking part in mass cultural festivals provide many senior students with some of the best memories of their schooling years.
I remember how excited I was in sixth form going with my small French language class to the city to watch French films to test our skills, and visiting a French cafe afterwards to order our crepes and coffee en Francais. For English, we went to local theatre productions to see Shakespeare, and to watch local authors do readings at writers’ festivals.
These are classic experiences that our kids have missed out on due to recent lockdowns and restrictions.
For those involved in the arts and culture, the pandemic has affected their ability to stage events or conduct business as usual. School groups must provide a fair chunk of the custom that keeps many arts sector businesses and activities afloat, and they too will have suffered the loss of the outside-the-classroom business in recent times.
School excursions also undoubtedly contribute to the spark of interest from young people that may trigger a lifelong love for performance, fandom or a connection that is developed from these group experiences.
Engagement with the arts and culture is part of a well-rounded life to balance out the serious side of becoming an adult, and the sector should be encouraged and supported by public funding as an essential part of our society, not just a “nice to have”.
One way we could respond to both of these issues – supporting the arts sector and providing some recognition of the disrupted experiences of young people since 2020 – is to lobby government to fund a “culture pass”, in which young people are given a credit-loaded card or account to spend on arts and cultural activities or products as they see fit.
Countries including France and Italy have funded “culture passes” for their young people in recent years, granting 18-year-olds between NZ$500 and NZ$800 to be spent over a couple of years. The pass can operate on a pre-loaded physical card, or by way of a smartphone application. The French pass is a phone app, which, when the GPS is activated, will show activities or experiences that are available in the user’s vicinity.
In both nations, there is evidence the schemes are intended to expose young people to particular national cultural traditions and icons, as part of a push for social cohesion and national pride.
However, neither scheme restricts the application to such activities, and this has caused some pushback from critics, who have derided the choices of some card-holders who have used their funds to see Hollywood blockbusters or to buy maths textbooks, rather than museums, theatres, galleries and classical concerts. Young people have used their passes to attend rock concerts, to buy novels and take up streaming subscriptions.
I would support a largely open scheme – maybe with a list of approved providers, but clearly offering wide choice to cover the tastes of as many people as possible. Frankly, the freedom of young people to spend the funds as they wish without judgment is part of its attraction, in promoting independence and choice.
For some, such freedom would be the first time in their lives they had control over discretionary spending, and that provides opportunities for good life lessons in budgeting and priorities.
This could be a big equaliser for young people in families that have had a particularly tough time, where budgets simply would not stretch to attending the Matatini festival or a major concert featuring their favourite artist.
The development of a “culture pass” in Aotearoa could serve a dual purpose of exposing young people to the activities and experiences many have missed, whilst supporting the local arts and culture economies.
Governments around the world have instituted a number of economic response measures to both cushion the impact of the pandemic on the lives of citizens and the business sector, and to provide support for their recovery.
In the United States, the federal stimulus payments of NZ$2500 per person significantly boosted spending and economic recovery. A culture pass could extend our ethos of kindness to young people whilst boosting spending.