Being On State Assistance Doesn't Have To Mean Scrimping On The Arts

Jan 7, 2019

Updated on Jan. 8, 2018 

Massachusetts residents getting state assistance can now show their benefits card to buy discounted museum or concert tickets — and in some cases, get in for free.

The Card to Culture program is an unlikely partnership between two state agencies.

In the program's first year, about 173,000 people receiving food stamps or cash assistance used their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, issued by the Massachusetts Department of Tranistional Assistance (DTA), to see an exhibit or hear music, according to the Mass Cultural Council.

Working with the DTA is the lynch pin, said Anita Walker, executive director of MCC. The agency promotes the program in its benefits brochure.

"One of the EBT card holders wrote to us and said, 'It's hard to describe the feeling of being able to do something "normal" when everything else isn't,'" Walker said.

The MCC works with 400 arts and culture organizations in the state. Walker said many frequently talk about how to engage audiences that don't typically come to their venues. People who take advantage of the "free day" or free tickets tend to already be going to arts and culture events, she said.

"The fundamental riddle,” Walker said, “is how do you reach the people who you don’t know. This has always been the big barrier.”

It's up to the venues how big a discount to offer, but with 800,000 people on state assistance at any given time, Walker said for the arts groups involved, they could really reach new audiences.

Correction: The Mass Cultural Council originally told NEPR that about 220,000 people receiving food stamps or cash assistance used their EBT cards through the first year of the Card to Culture program. The correct number is about 173,000.