Investing in our culture
More and more corporates are supporting India’s cultural heritage with tangible and intangible investments. Industrialist SK Munjal, the man behind Serendipity Arts Festival, a multi-disciplinary arts event, speaks about the importance of such support
Historically, India has had a rich tradition of cultural patronage. From ornate temple architecture under the Chola kings to the legendary musician Tansen, who was attached to the court of Mughal emperor Akbar, Indian cultural heritage has always found support in common people and royalty. There are several artistic lineages that have thrived under monarchies, which invested in the progress of art and culture. Today as well, even as culture flourishes with state support, individuals and corporates are taking up the mantle of being the custodians of our culture. Over the last 300 years, India has lost about 30 per cent of its cultural heritage (in arts and craft) for various reasons. Therefore, it becomes even more crucial for us to preserve and promote our traditional art forms.
As I was growing up, I enjoyed the good fortune to receive an education that exposed me to arts both at home and at school. Having learnt to appreciate the beauty in all artistic expressions at an early age, it was easier for me to devote my time and efforts towards the arts while being constantly involved with their propagation. I had the opportunity to experiment with the preservation of arts early in my life. In 1999, I helped launch a performing arts platform called the Ludhiyana Sanskritik Samagam. This experience made me delve deeper into the idea of preserving Indian heritage. Thus was born the Serendipity Arts Foundation in 2014, with the aim to reclaim dying artforms, widen the idea of inter-disciplinarity interaction among various art streams and offer artistes a platform to experiment. The mandate of the foundation and the Sependipity Arts Festival (SAF) is to cut across disciplines, regions and demographics and find ways to support the Indian arts ecosystem, and in the process bring greater national and international attention to arts and culture of the country.
When it comes to sustaining any artform, the need for patronage is acute. A joint and ideally unified effort must be made by the private sector, public sector and individuals with the capacity to promote the arts. While lots of efforts are being made from various quarters, a more cohesive and national action is required across states and regions through multiple initiatives. The private sector must be made an integral part of this process, through CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) of the companies. With large organisations that are working towards creating a better economic future for the nation and its people, it is always important to include within their organisational plan, a proposal to help build a society that develops in all aspects and not just economically.
Need of the hour
In today’s age, to make arts more engaging as a practice and profession, we need to build audiences and transmit knowledge and information through word of mouth. Only when the general public starts talking about the arts in their daily conversations would we be certain that we’re having an impact. This is where multi-disciplinary platforms are required to showcase our traditional and contemporary art and craft forms; to engage with and help artisans with design and process inputs; to connect them with markets both in India and overseas, and in the process, build sustainable livelihoods for them and their families. These unique festivals attract the youth and it’s only when youngsters immerse themselves in real experiences, can they appreciate the value of traditions and heritage. Exposure leads to inquisitiveness and this leads to greater interest and involvement in the future. Serendipity is one such multi-disciplinary platform that makes art inclusive and accessible to all.
Funding the change
However, preserving and promoting cultural heritage is not a simple task. The first hurdle is that it’s not remunerative — at least in the short and medium-term. Lack of funds is forcing artisans and craftsmen to give up their skills. A festival like SAF is not just about valuing the arts and crafts, it’s also about creating real economic opportunities for artistes. India needs millions of new jobs every year; a requirement that can’t be fulfilled by agriculture or industries alone.
If through programmes, events and festivals we can help make art and culture highly remunerative; by connecting the arts with the market and helping with technology and ideas, there is a possibility that we can create a self-sustaining industry. This sector requires visible financial support, so corporate philanthropy and impact investing must be actively promoted.
I foresee significant changes in the arts ecosystem and certainly, the value attributed to art will grow. What we are attempting at SAF is just the tip. We need similar movements in every state to make any actual impact. There are many fantastic initiatives being launched around the country and each one of them, irrespective of the scale or the focus, is important to bring back arts and culture into our daily conversations.
The fourth edition of Serendipity Arts Festival was held at Panaji, Goa from 15-22 December 2019. (serendipityartsfestival.com)
Corporates across the country have realised the value investing in culture, and have slowly but steadily increased their funding of the arts through varied initiatives.
Godrej has set up centres like the Godrej India Culture Lab within its campuses
ESSAR has created bodies like Avid Learning, which organises workshops, panel discussions, and other programmes to foster creative learning across cultural fields
Apeejay Group has incorporated culture into its commercial activities: the Oxford Bookstore chains routinely have book readings, while the new Park Hotel chain conducts an annual cultural festival
Mahindra & Mahindra sponsors festivals like the Mahindra Blues festival and set up awards like the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards to maintain a sustained engagement with the cultural sphere