Brazil: Pay the poor to see a movie?

Mother and child enjoy a museum in Rio de Janeiro.

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is known as a man of the people. His idea of Brazilian culture is not theater and dance, but soccer and barbecue.

So it was a surprise when President Lula announced recently that he will give poor Brazilians 50 reais a month (about $27) to spend on cultural pursuits.

The money will come in the form of credits redeemable for anything from CDs and DVDs to cinema and museum tickets. It will go to some 12 million of Brazil’s poor, pending approval by Congress.

The idea is the latest in a series of handouts for Brazil’s poor and was welcomed by both the arts crowd and by officials, who say it will boost local spending.

“Where workers are demanding culture,” said Culture Minister Juca Ferreira in announcing the program, “there will be an increase in jobs, creating micro economies.” He said vouchers would pump up to $3.8 billion into the economy.

For now, it’s mostly Brazil’s urban elite who can afford to sample the nation’s cultural riches. Some 96 percent of Brazilians don’t go to museums, and 93 percent have never been to an art exhibit, according to the Culture Ministry. Some 78 percent have never seen a dance performance. Even cinemas are present in only 408 of the country’s 5,564 municipalities.

Lula chided lawmakers about the lack of movie theaters, then joked about his personal reason for wanting more Brazilians to go to the movies: He is the subject of a forthcoming biopic.

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