Forging artistic connections

Ambika Shaligram
Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Arundhati Ghosh, executive director, India Foundation For the Arts, explains how art and commerce can complement each other and how we can individually support art and artists.

For someone who worked in the corporate world, before joining the India Foundation For the Arts (IFA) as a fund raiser, Arundhati Ghosh believes that the relationship between commerce and art should be one of support. Ghosh, who was in the city last week, at the invitation of Sahitya Rangbhumi Pratishthan, for the felicitation of theatre playwright Sunil Shanbag, emphatically says that art and commerce can go together. 

Quitting corporate life

Ghosh’s resume says that she has a degree in dance and is also a published poet in Bangla. However, she refuses the label of an artist and says, “Being a dancer doesn’t make me an artist. I haven’t dedicated my life to dance or poetry, so I don’t have the courage to call myself an artist. Over a period of time, I have developed a sense of what arts can do and what the role of art and culture in society can be. I think that makes me a good facilitator of art.”

Ghosh graduated from Presidency College in Economics and then studied management. “I used to work in the corporate sector. But then it got very boring. I left it  and joined IFA about 17 years ago, as a fund raiser. Actually, my work  in the corporate sector helped me to be a fund raiser. In 2013, I took over as IFA’s executive director,” she adds.  

What IFA does 

It’s essentially a grant making institute and makes grants in art research, art practice and art education across the country. So far, IFA has made 540 grants in the last 23 years. In terms of money, it would be about Rs 24 crore. Ghosh says that it’s small contribution. But she looks at the brighter side and says, “A lot is possible in this country, with small monies. For the last three years, we have made 44 grants in the fields of photography, theatre, music, literature, digital art. The outcomes of our grants can be in form of books, films, production, archival material, website and exhibitions.” 

Currently, IFA has put a lot of  focus on work that has been done in Indian languages, apart from English. “Firstly, there aren’t too many grant making organisations for art and culture. Therefore, those who are seeking grants for their work have to write their proposal in English. But how can you translate your idea, thought process stemmed in a particular language, say Marathi, Hindi, Bangla or Malyalam, into English? We have opened up our process, and said that you can write your proposal in any language and we will figure out a way of translating it. We also take our grant showcases to smaller places like Bareilly, Lucknow etc and meet more language groups and people who work in languages. It’s also a process of learning for us,” she explains.   

Process of grant

The IFA raises its own money, from individual donors, corporates, trusts etc. But the organisation is clear about one thing — the donors cannot dictate what grants IFA can make. Explaining the process, Ghosh says, “Artists, scholars write to us about their proposals. Internally, we have a discussion. Then, there is a set of external evaluators. The donor is not involved at all. Sometimes it can get tricky though. The donor might not like it if we make a grant in a certain area. However, we make it very clear in the MoU that all the grant making decision rests with us. If they are miffed, they take away the money and not support us next year.” 

The organisation also looks at the economy of the art. Ghosh, who has collaborated with Sanjna Kapoor’s Junoon to come up with SMART programme for theatre, says, “Our theatre groups do such fabulous work. But unlike in the UK, where the theatre groups have an arts manager, here the production guy and the director have to pitch in. The theatre groups go from one production to the other. So we put our heads together and planned a programme through which we can think about a little longer process — where do you want to see yourselves three years ahead?; what are the goals you want to achieve?; how can you manage yourselves better?”

When they were working on this, the talk was that management is very corporate thing. Ghosh avers, “I know the best managers are our mothers, our homemakers. Managing is a job. The corporate world has taken it over. So every time we say management, people think we are referring to corporate world. It’s not so. I think we are all managers, we manage our own lives. If we as theatre groups want to manage ourselves, we should be allowed to use the term.”

Shifts in the art world

As part of her work, Ghosh travels across the country, tapping new artists and new mediums of expressions. When asked about what’s happening in the Northeast, and in Kashmir, she replies, “A lot is happening all over the country in different places. In the last four or five years, we have made 15 or 16 grants in the Northeast. We are supporting the journey of Akhoo, a musician, who plays in a band called Imphal Talkies. Akhoo is a Meiti (tribe) and he is trying to understand the Meiti experience of the diaspora, and writing and playing their songs. In Kashmir, there is a whole new bunch of people who are writing songs, poetry and doing photography. We have supported a book, Witness, edited by Sanjay Kak. It is coming together of nine photographers in Kashmir, who have been documenting the last 25 years of living there.” 

In the course of her work, Ghosh has also seen a few shifts. “Firstly, many artists are trying to understand what identity means, what the self and other means, and how power plays out across caste, class, gender, sexuality and religion. Our current political conditions have made that very important. The artists are looking at dissent, resistance in the arts. They are relooking at our own cultural practices, and examining where they come from, what they mean and, how they have been transformative. Secondly, artists and communities are working together as equal voices. Thirdly, I am seeing emergence of small art addas in different cities like in Mumbai there is Mumbai Local, in Pune, you have Asakta’s Ringan. These addas bring like-minded people together and have conversations. We have a group called Mathu Katai, which in Kannada, means chit-chat. Then, there are alternative spaces coming up — 40-50, 100-120 seater. It’s either a space that has been repurposed or a space someone is supporting. These kinds of studio spaces have a new kind of warmth. Studio Tamasha in Mumbai has started a residency support for theatre groups. A lot of artistic connections across art forms is forged,” informs Ghosh. 

How to support art? 

When asked how can an individual support art, Ghosh says, “All of us, in one year, give some money to a social cause. I would appeal people to give a little bit of time, money, support to some art form. They could buy works of young artists; give a little more than ticket money for theatre plays; buy poetry. They say people don’t buy poetry books now. I will say, give new poets a chance. Support an art programme, or support an indie movie by buying tickets. Give them to your friends and let the film make some money,” she says on a concluding note. 

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