The Arts in India II

Sue Wardle & Jenny Sturt

28 Jun 2016


In her second blog, Arts & Creative Officer, Jenny, explores the dramatic contrasts between the arts organisations she visited with Sue (Deputy Business Performance Manager) on their trip to India with Wales Arts International and the British Council.


Mallika Taneja & Habitat Centre

One of the issues that became apparent very quickly is the huge disparity between the national institutions who receive government funding, and those organisations operating without - who are creating, funding and sustaining work in different and sometimes very innovative ways.

One of the artists we met with was Mallika Taneja, a performance maker who is part of a collective called 'Lost and Found'. The group creates art in and with neighbourhoods where there is little or no access, understanding or arts provision.

We also visited the Habitat Centre, which again, doesn’t receive government funding for its arts programming. First and foremost it is a conference and banqueting space, used throughout the day to accommodate businesses. However, after 6:30pm, it is used as a space for arts and culture and offers a consistent and quality programme of work. This programme, however, relies on artists giving their time for free in exchange for a platform for their work, marketing support and an almost always guaranteed audience. Amongst the group this sparked an interesting conversation about whether or not it was acceptable to expect artists to perform for free in the hope that the right people will be in the room to open other doors to paid performance opportunities.

I found it really admirable in hindsight that Vidyun Singh, who had set up and was running the programming team, had recognised the value of the resources that the Habitat Centre has, and had found a way to give access to them without financial barriers. I wonder, with Arts Council funding reducing, whether we might see more platforms like this in Wales in the future, and whether this is an acceptable approach to sustaining the sector?

The National Drama School

Whilst in Delhi we also visited the National Drama School, a large, government funded, resourced space (something very rare in India) that runs a three year Drama training programme for 26 students per yearly intake. We met with Abilash Pillai, Head of Arts, and one of the main directors of the course, who spoke passionately about the role the school played in training and nurturing future Indian stars who had an appreciation and strong rooting in traditional Indian theatre craft. Amongst those outside of the school, there appeared to be a huge amount of criticism about whether the national school was doing enough to really engage with contemporary India. When there is so little funding in such a massive country, questions around representation and equality of resource access are very high on the agenda and spark some passionate debate.


National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai

Our first meeting in Mumbai was at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA), a massive space near the coast with a huge amount of resource, a beautiful auditorium and a number of different spaces. Although it was the middle of the day, however, there were no one around enjoying the space.

From my own experience of working at the Centre, one of our main ambitions, and at times challenges, is that the space becomes a home for everyone, and a welcoming environment to be enjoyed, enabling everyone to experience the value of culture without a financial barrier. This is one of the things I would love to see us doing even more of, and I found it hard to comprehend why the doors to Mumbai’s NCPA weren't wedged wide open to welcome the public.

The Hive

In complete contrast to the NCPA, The Hive is an artist led space, run by a couple and used for the creation of new work, platforming opportunities and workshops for young people, as well as an office space for start-up businesses - not always creative ones. The space is sustained through a balance of free and paid engagement opportunities and a great café, but no government funding. Every square metre of the building was used to its absolute maximum, and really felt like somewhere people could feel at home. On Saturday when we visited, there was an open mic session taking place in the garden, alongside stalls selling work, a workshop with children painting and a theatre company setting up a show in one of the spaces. While definitely a very vibrant space, it felt apparent that access to the space was somewhat limited to a fairly narrow socio-economic class.

I am deeply passionate about the way art can change and shape people's lives and their experience of place and being, and my visit to India served to highlight a very universal challenge in the arts sector globally; how can we best communicate the value of the arts to all, and enable meaningful access to the arts, ensuring that the spaces created for everyone to enjoy really are accessed by everyone together?

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