Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Arts Infrastructure Initiative

Shakti Maira
The Hindu, Sunday, Nov 06, 2005
Most people equate the arts with art products or events — performances, exhibitions and institutions. Yet the exhibitions and performances are only the visible face of the arts, they are just the "means", not their "ends". The purpose of the arts is broader and deeper — they are the medium through which a society thinks, feels, remembers, imagines and communicates. The arts are a vital social software and intrinsic to the "infrastructure" of the nation. They are the means through which something very important occurs — the transmission and transformation of values and shared meaning across people.
Consider what being Indian would be without the telling and enactments of the Ramayana or the Mahabharata? Without the cross-pollination of weaves and designs of sari weavers from Bengal, Banaras, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu? Without common ragas, taals and bhakti sangeet, and without the Taj Mahal, Khajuraho and Ajanta? Without the Chola and Bastar bronzes? Without Madhubani, Warli, Rajput and Pahari miniatures? Without lingams and shikhars? Without the Tagores and Mahashweta Devis? And without the Hussains, Anjolie Ela Menons, Pandit Jasrajs and Amjad Ali Khans, to name but a few?
The arts form the web of ideas and values that make us a people. They are the channels that sustain our histories, that shape our attitudes and sense of identity. The museums and auditoriums are just one part of a larger network of cultural communication that integrates us and makes us civilised. The arts are social infrastructures, no less important than the infrastructures of justice, trade and commerce, roads and railways. If there is a call for greater investment in infrastructures, the arts must be part of that demand.
To begin with, we need a different mind-set towards the arts. If we could view the arts as an important part of our common social infrastructure, then we can think of the kind of partnerships we could create between private and public capital, between industry and government. The answer is neither low-performing government arts institutions nor market-driven and commercially motivated arts institutions. It is something that I imagine we have the brains and hearts to do in India — a model of shared responsibility and co-operation between the players, and with the more dominant role for industry through recent economic liberalisation — it must step-up to bat for the arts.
To begin with, they will need to foster interest and conviction in their members for the value of the arts in long-term business success. They will need to encourage their members to deepen their engagement in the arts beyond the PR or vanity motivated sponsorships of art events. They need a broader and wiser perspective on the work that needs to be done in the arts infrastructure — including research and documentation through fellowships and teaching chairs in universities; the archiving and maintenance of arts heritage; art education in schools (that should interest industry as it is a powerful way to develop much needed skills of spatial and lateral thinking, creativity and problem-solving, communication and teamwork); specialised training (through support of gurukuls and art colleges); hosting of events in India and abroad of classical and contemporary arts.
Working in a co-operative model need not preclude those who have a special love for the arts to take their own initiatives, as a multinational company did many years ago in classical music. But the main thrust should be collective, well organised, and managed through a new initiative of enlightened industry associations. Few cultures have achieved the development in the arts that India has. We need to support, market, and celebrate them in India and beyond. The returns to the bottom-line are implicit and will undoubtedly follow. Shakti Maira is a contemporary artist and author. E-mail him at:

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