culture stipend
Ask an average Brazilian what they like to do in their free time, and 85 percent will tell you they turn on the TV. Brazil’s Minister of Culture, Marta Suplicy, is working to change this phenomenon by making arts and culture more accessible to Brazil’s poorest. Through a 2013 program called Vale Cultura, Brazilians are being offered a rechargeable, state-issued culture stipend that allows them to participate in cultural events for free.

The target enrollment set by the Ministry of Culture is 42 million. As recently as February, 356,000 Brazilians had already enrolled in Vale Cultura.

The 50 reais provided monthly by Vale Cultura, equal to about $20, is enough to buy books, movies, newspapers, dance lessons or tickets to theaters, cinemas, museums and circuses. The card can be attained by Brazilians who earn up to five times the country’s minimum wage. Employers have the option of signing up for the program, under which they provide 90 percent of the stipend in return for a tax break on that amount. Employees can opt in or out, paying the remaining 10 percent out of their own paychecks.

A video created by the Ministry of Culture to introduce Vale Cultura clearly points out the need for this kind of program to foster deeper cultural connections among Brazilians: 96 percent of Brazilians have never been to a museum, 78 percent have never attended a live performance, only one in nine cities has a theater and three of every four municipalities lacks a bookstore.

Minister of Culture Suplicy believes that the Vale Cultura program will even the cultural playing field, providing a feeling of social inclusion for people of lower socioeconomic classes. Suplicy, a member of the Workers’ Party, is hopeful that by offering poor Brazilians “food for the soul,” art and culture will become more democratic. She also claims that the stipend program could introduce as much as 25 billion reais, or $3.5 billion, into the cultural sector.

Yet the culture stipend has attracted criticism as well. Some charge that it is simply a populist ruse put in place by the Workers’ Party to garnish mass support. It could also cost Brazil close to $10 billion a year at a time when protests over the allocation of public funding are already raging. Suplicy replies that “[t]he point is social inclusion. But I am under no illusions that it will happen quickly. It is a big challenge, and it’s going to take time.”

Others believe the policy should be given a chance. After all, the Workers’ Party has a record of imaginative social policy-making, including the Bolsa Familia program which provides monetary incentives to poor families who faithfully send their children to school. Bolsa Familia is said to have lifted upwards of 20 million Brazilian families out of poverty. Similarly, Vale Cultura has great potential to lift poorer Brazilians out of cultural stagnation. The program won’t be without those who misuse it, but providing the poor with access to art can equalize cultural opportunities and enliven societies.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: The Art Paper, The Guardian, Hyperallergic
Photo: The Guardian

For decades, Brazil has been considered an underdeveloped nation with inequality, crime and dirty slums. Yet Bolsa-Familia, the country’s largest welfare program, has in recent years transformed Brazil’s poverty predicament for the better. Launched in 2003 by former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the program has benefited almost 50 million Brazilians and become a guide for numerous similar programs worldwide.

According to the World Bank, Bolsa-Familia is a primary reason for Brazil’s most contemporary social improvements. On the condition of sending their children to school and to regular medical exams, underprivileged Brazilian families receive an equivalent of about $35 each month withdrawn from a state-run bank by each family’s mother. Not only does this promote investment in children, it also empowers women to take financial responsibility for their households.

Bolsa-Familia is responsible for about 28% of Brazil’s poverty reduction. In the decade between 2002 and 2012, the proportion of Brazilians living with less than the $32 equivalent decreased from 8.8% to 3.6%.

Yet even with such extreme improvement in the lives of Brazilians, there is still more work to be done. When asked what they like to do for fun, a shocking 85% of Brazilians answered, “watch television.”

In an innovative effort to develop cultural expansion within the country, Brazil has developed a program known in Portuguese as Vale Cultura. The program constitutes a rechargeable coupon worth around $20 per month, available to Brazilians who make at most $300 per month.

While some may argue that both Bolsa-Familia and this new Vale Cultura program drain state funds and promote a dependency on welfare, various reports have noted otherwise. Of those on Bolsa-Familia, 12% have been able to give up the benefit, which accounts for less than 0.5% of Brazil’s gross domestic product. Such extensive success at such a low cost gives reason to believe that Vale Cultura may be an exciting opportunity with little risk.

Brazilians, according to a study conducted in Sao Paolo in 2013, on average only pick up four books per year and finish only two. The country is relatively isolated, despite its recent economic successes, and the poorest Brazilians are disproportionately underprivileged when it comes to cultural sophistication. Vale Cultura is an attempt to remedy this conundrum.

It will take time, of course, for Brazilians to develop a taste for this newly available culture. But culture minister Marta Suplicy is not disillusioned by the time it will take for this program to see success. The purpose is for people to try new things and to attain access to the cultural attractions many Brazilians previously ignored.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Photo: The Guardian
The Washington Post, The World Bank, The Guardian, BBC

A new program in São Paulo, Brazil is providing the working poor in Brazil with access to art and entertainment. This “cultural coupon” is awarded monthly and has a value of around $20. Vale Cultura, as it is known, can be used for a wide range of cultural experiences including theatre and movie tickets, books and art classes.

In an interview with the Guardian, Culture Minister Marta Suplicy said, “We want people to go to the theatre they wanted to go to, to the museum they wanted to go to, to buy the book they wanted to read.”

The goal is not only to enrich the lives of Brazil’s poor, but also to create consumers of cultural media.

The cultural coupon is only part of a larger strategy in Brazil for combating poverty known as Bolsa Família. Bolsa Família fights extreme poverty by providing poor Brazilians with monetary transfers onto a magnetic card. The program focuses on families whose monthly incomes are between $17 and $34 and supplements their income anywhere from $5 to $33 per month.

It might seem culturally adverse in the United States to consider direct monetary aid to the poor, but Bolsa Família’s results are undeniable.

According to the World Bank, “BF has been key to help Brazil more than halve its extreme poverty – from 9.7 (percent) to 4.3% of the population.” The project now aids approximately 14 million families and has put a dent in the transference of poverty from one generation to the next.

The cultural coupon seeks to build on the success of Bolsa Família by expanding the government’s ambition. Currently, the program is only available to people who earn well more than Brazil’s minimum wage, but the program looks to extend its reach to over 42 million people.

Currently, the program is extremely popular with many businesses (small and large alike) that offer Vale Cultura cards to their employees. Still, program representatives remain levelheaded with their expectations and argue that cultural participation and inclusion will be a slow process.

With that said, Brazil still faces many difficult challenges in its fight against poverty. Bolsa Família and Vale Cultura have made a substantial difference in the lives of millions of Brazilians, but their success should not mask the realities of extreme need.

The World Bank estimates that 13% of the population lives in poverty. Particularly in rural areas poverty maintains a firm hold. People in rural areas remain far from aid and are often adversely affected by deforestation and corporate monocropping.

Programs like Bolsa Família and Vale Cultura aim to strengthen the most vulnerable Brazilians.

– Chase Colton

Sources: The Guardian, The Washington Post, World Bank, World Bank News, World Bank Countries
Photo: Hanneorla Hanneorla