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French High School Grads Are Getting 300 Euros To Help Revive Culture Post-Pandemic

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This summer, high school graduates in France got a gift from their president. Emmanuel Macron has given every 18-year-old 300 euros, or about $350, to spend on culture. Recipients have two years to spend that money. By downloading an app on their cellphone, they can choose from a wide range of events and items, from concerts to exhibits to books. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports that this culture pass is a big hit.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Amanda Spiegel manages a bookstore in the working-class neighborhood of Montreuil on the east side of Paris. She says the culture pass has brought more business, and they're seeing a new clientele.

AMANDA SPIEGEL: (Through interpreter) 18-year-olds don't really come in the store often. They don't have kids. They don't have much money. They're into their studies and their social life, so they don't find much time to read. But we're really glad to have them, and in this respect, the culture pass is a big success.

BEARDSLEY: Macron introduced the pass just as museums and cultural venues were opening up after France's third lockdown via a short, snappy message on - what else? - TikTok.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "I'll take 30 seconds of your time," says Macron. "Whether you're into movies, museums, novels, video games, rock music or all of it, the culture pass is for you to spend how you want." The app was rolled out nationally after a test run reported 73% of young users discovering new cultural activities and 32% going to a museum for the first time, and books were ordered more than video games. Alexandre Laval says he heard about the culture pass on Instagram. He says he's going to use his towards buying a new guitar. Graduating senior Luc Landry says he might subscribe to a newspaper and go to the cinema a lot.

LUC LANDRY: Because in France, the movies are quite expensive.

BEARDSLEY: Landry says the culture pass is a great idea because the pandemic has been hard.

LANDRY: We had all these lockdowns and curfews, so for the students, I think it's quite a good idea because young people - they couldn't find a job or something to work. So at least they have 300 euros offered so that they could buy what they want.

BEARDSLEY: And that gives young people a sense of freedom, he says. The budget for the first year of the culture pass is 80 million euros or about $94 million, 80% of which is paid by the state. The pass prioritizes French creative businesses. For example, it can be used to subscribe to digital platforms as long as they're French, and for music buffs, there's Deezer, not Spotify. Some have nicknamed it the manga pass. Bookseller Spiegel admits their culture pass sales have tilted heavily toward the Japanese graphic novels.

SPIEGEL: (Through interpreter) We're not going to lie to ourselves. Seventy percent of our culture pass sales are mangas.

BEARDSLEY: Jenna Hemery works with the culture pass project. She says the mangas are actually opening the door to other genres.

JENNA HEMERY: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "Yes, a lot of young people go into a bookstore and buy a manga on their pass," she says, "but then they buy a second book that's in another cultural category." She says in its first two months alone, more than 600,000 18-year-olds have downloaded the app. In 2022, the culture pass will be extended to middle school students, who will get 200 euros, though part of their budget will be collective so their teachers can pool the credits and take the whole class out for a cultural experience.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.