For three years, the Ministry of Culture has run an experiment. Anyone turning 18 is offered €500 credit to spend on cultural products and services.
So far, the so-called Culture Pass scheme has been trialled in a handful of departments, with the aim of rolling it out to the whole country.
The economic effects of the pandemic have now called it into question.
It is easy to argue that the Pass is a waste of taxpayers’ money. It is not means-tested, so it goes to young people from well-off families as well as the have-nots. It has also been taken up mainly by students, who make up 91% of recipients. In any case, why should anyone of any age be subsidised to buy culture?
If you can see past those objections, there is something important to learn.
Look at the statistics of the Culture Pass and something odd stands out.
The average recipient spends only €150 of the allocated money. Either young people don’t want to consume much culture or they find it hard to spend so much money on it.
The truth is young people (with few exceptions) have got into the habit of entertainment being available 24/7 and out of the habit of buying nourishment for their minds and souls.
Technology encourages them to regard culture as free and valueless. Theatre and cinema have been eclipsed by streaming services.
You can see all the museum and art gallery exhibits you want online. And why would anyone want to buy a book and take the time to read it?
Culture is being redefined by the giant companies that control the content reaching smart phones. They would like us to believe in two myths.
The first of these is that choice is limitless, when it is actually restricted by the whims of advertisers.
The second myth is that the consumer is in control. What this reduces to is a permanent mechanism for escaping difficult or challenging thoughts.
If you have the means to click or swipe away from that which bores you, why would you want to risk crossing the threshold of a theatre or sit down to read a book?
The digitalisation of every human activity favours formulaic culture provided by mass producers at the expense of the small-scale, idiosyncratic creator who is being squeezed out of business through an insufficient number of “likes”.
The Culture Pass may have its flaws but it is a well-intentioned antidote to the shrivelling of culture.
It offers the twin benefits of enabling poorer people to access culture and directing funds towards creators and performers who are doing their best to make art.
All the scheme can achieve is to give young people the opportunity to go out and dare to have challenging new experiences. After that, the future of culture is in their hands.