A cultural dream for Los Angeles

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Yesterday, there was a story on All Things Considered, which got me thinking about culture here in Los Angeles.

An Italian government program to give every Italian 18-year-old 500 euros to spend on culture. The initiative, is built around a mobile app with the goal of attracting a younger audience. It’s being overseen by parliamentary under secretary Tommaso Nannicini, who described it this way:

The initiative sends a clear message to youngsters, reminding them that they belong to a community which welcomes them once they come of age. . . It also reminds them how important cultural consumption is, both for enriching yourself as a person and strengthening the fabric of our society.

Leave it to the Italians to remind us the importance of culture.

The initiative is being talked about as both an anti-extremist security measure and a cultural initiative. Born in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks, the initiative was proposed by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in November of 2015. “The Italian way is to spend a euro on culture for every euro spent on security,” he said at the time.

In LA, we do not, thankfully, feel the threat of extremism with quite the urgency of the Italians, but I can’t help but wonder if we are any less in need of a civic cultural initiative.

Imagine if every student graduating with a high school diploma from LAUSD were given $500 to spend on culture. What would happen?

Where would they spend the money? On theater tickets? At museums? On books?

How would our cultural landscape shift if suddenly the roughly 7,500 students who graduate each year were empowered to be ticket buyers? Would our theaters suddenly respond to the diversity of students with a diversity of work? How would an infusion of $3.75 million ($500 x 7,500) of student directed funding, or ticket purchases, change our cultural community? How would it change the lives of these young Angelenos if part of becoming an adult was engaging in culture?

Imagine if we extended the program to include every student graduating from a community college or undergraduate program in the Los Angeles area, then offered 50 percent discount cards or subscriptions to every graduate student, and for good measure $250 to every 6th grader with a free ticket for their “adult.”

What would happen to Los Angeles in 10 years if we believed in both our students and our culture this deeply?

(Photo: Bernard Blanc/ Flickr)