Seven decades of independence is a good enough time to review our policies, structures and schemes that govern our cultural existence. I shall attempt to put forth my views on this subject with respect to the performing arts, which is my area of interest, experience and passion over the past three decades.
I shall focus on the Central government schemes. Since our federal system allows for each of our states to design its own approach to culture, I believe the Central government needs to lay the ground for the way culture needs to be perceived across our land today, in ways that may be emulated and enhanced by the state governments.
What we have at the moment is a mishmash of various academies, schemes and grants that have no connection to one another. It is difficult to understand how this assorted array of endeavours aims to cultivate a vibrant cultural scenario across our vast and varied landscape.
Take the opening lines of the Annual Report 2015-16 of the culture ministry: “The mandate of the ministry of culture revolves around the functions like preservation and conservation of ancient cultural heritage and promotion of art and culture both tangible and intangible in the country.”
Where in this statement lies the vision of what our ‘5,000-year-old’ culture and our contemporary creative expressions mean to us today? And how do they affect our place in the world today? It is a banal statement of functionality with no vision for a future or the government’s role in it.
What I propose is that we re-envision the role of our cultural ministry in the performing arts. What we need to do is create systems that build a vibrant and dynamic scenario that conveys a sense of confidence in a modern India to ourselves, as well as to the world. This can be done by three distinct philosophies of nurturing, fostering and enabling, which I shall explain.
An important thing for us to remember is that we need to nurture, foster and enable not only the performing artists, but the environment that they belong to and most critically their audience, as all performing arts live only before an audience. Therefore, everything will have a three-pronged approach—of developing the artist, the discerning audience and the curator or manager who brings the two together.
By nurturing I mean the ‘care, encouragement and attention given to the art form that is growing or developing’. This should be in the form of training at the school and college level as well as for professional artistes and, most importantly, teachers of this very particular form of training.
To foster would be to encourage the development of and to stimulate, cultivate and champion the performing arts. This would be in the form of awards of different kinds, competitions of various sorts and levels, festivals, regular arts journals, translation and dissemination of performance texts, salary grants and pension schemes.
And to enable would be to ‘give some authority or means to do something, to empower or make it possible’, in the form of creating performance opportunities, development of tour routes, proactive and responsive performance venues, links to educational institutions that welcome the professional performing arts. And so much more.
To shift the reality of performing arts from simply surviving to now dynamically thriving, the government will have to seek new relationships with NGOs and individuals who are the real experts in the field. The government must no longer play the ‘patron’. A plan must be designed for the next 20 years with five-year phases, with clear-cut outputs and outcomes that must be measured and analysed on a regular basis, both internally by the government machinery and externally by private players.
For all this to happen, the chief ingredient is political will. Is anybody listening?