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No capital, no interest, no demand:
the state of performing arts in Chennai

November 18, 2003

Usha Vasanth Kumar, Chennai

Art, architecture and culture blossom and flourish with respectful promotion and inspiration. The social scenario is parched with thirst for want of attitude and patronage from free-minded and passionate organizers who can awaken and kindle money and power to be canalized and channeled to feed and nourish both perishing and venturing art forms. It is the duty and the privilege of the kings and emperors of modern world - the corporate and large businesses, to wake up and understand the truth that in the present set up of speed, violence and unrest, art alone can soothe and restore disturbed minds to function once more in serenity and peace enabling the fountain of social success with attitude to overflow. Sincere cultural organizations should not be crippled by want of support cramping and stifling their functioning and making their end unattainable. They should be able to pay artistes, not receive payment from them, to be allowed to perform. With the wisdom of knowledgeable balancing of corporate businesses, organizers and artistes, the triangle of money, method and mind will centralize positive energy and spread the right vibration for a beautiful and peaceful social environment.

An effort to organize a festival invites business people, artistes and audience to join force and bring the ambience for a positive world. The organizing team attempts to involve business organizations, which are facing extreme competition in the commercial field. They weigh everything, not without reason on the basis of benefit derived. When they participate with cultural organizers they expect to get either goodwill or commercial advertising.

The surpluses of important and unnecessary cultural activities sometimes make them confused. They hesitate to come forward. If we use their logo in our brochures and posters, they will get mileage only if people come forward to buy tickets. If the programs are not ticketed we may not get enough sponsors to meet all the expenses and also pay the artists well.

Out of personal experience I would like to state that in the existing set up, business concerns are too preoccupied to commit till it is too late for organizers to organize and present shows systematically. Moreover there is a mixture of authentic and needless events taking place and as an organizer I find it extremely difficult to communicate conviction to these holders of wealth. The press too comes out with statements like, "we cannot publish this article. It looks like an appeal for sponsorship." In such adverse circumstances, the need to continue this mammoth task looses its passion.

From another angle, the reaction of the audience is extremely low for classical theatres, dance and music. They are not desperate to see these performances. They crave for something more exotic. Only with demand can we dole out the right supply. This is very true even in art.

Rare corners of culture have to be touched and artistes with no knowledge of marketing their uniqueness have to be tapped and presented. For this we need to be extremely well organized. We need support of other artists, sponsors and leaders from all walks of life.
We cannot predict how far we will succeed in our attempt. If we succeed against all adverse circumstances, we can show the fruit of our success as organizers. We have to be loyal to both artists and business heads that support us. We can only try with sincerity and create the confidence in audience to purchase tickets, so that sponsors and artists get to be known by people. This confidence will arise only if we are sensational and people will move forward voluntarily not out of sympathy but because of true interest.

T B Unni Krishnan, Chennai

The approach to cultural performances has a very definite trend in today's social setup.
Classical dance presentations are sponsored more because of sympathy than actual inclination or interest by corporate concerns. The question that automatically arises in the minds of business concerns that are approached - What benefit do we get by sponsoring this show? We wonder, what exactly do they get and what attempt has to be made to see that they do get what they term as mileage. That is because we realize that their satisfaction will feed the growth of culture.

Art needs material reinforcement for it to flourish. It needs wealth. But there is today no source. Rarely do we see a ticketed classical concert of dance or music for why should there be tickets when free performances of good if not outstanding class are in abundance.

The result? Ticketed programs are boycotted! There is no special interest, no real urge to see what may be totally outstanding in caliber. Is it because of the cultural abundance in our country? Too much of a good thing? Or is it because the standard has gone down? Considering everything, one comes to the conclusion that the standard may have improved not gone down. The connecting factor of all these analysis is extremely relevant. People who are dedicated and sincere need to be given a platform. They need to perform, be respected and paid decently for what they do. It is the reason for the birth of Marga. Talent is of course very necessary, but not the only criterion. Perseverance and love for their art form is the vital key for the artistes to be recognized.

Till Marga picks up and the world focuses its eyes on it, we need to combine such deserving artistes with relatively accepted performers. But a time will come when Marga needs to concentrate on those who already do not have a minimum of 20 platforms per year. That is our aim. We are two individuals attempting this. But this is definitely not sufficient. Great organizations and sabhas need to take up this work if they think justice to this task need be done. If individuals with absolutely no money, power or influence can do this, then organizations who have an auditorium at their disposal and quite a few members contributing, as well as sponsors who come forward valuing them as great organizers, should attempt this task. They should conduct audition for selection instead of rejecting on the basis of saying that artistes have applied too late or have come too early. The organizers should also pay them decently instead of developing the attitude of thinking that they are being given an opportunity.

Organizations like the Music Academy, Krishna Gana Sabha and Narada Gana Sabha having voice and strength should definitely not say they would present only those who have been presented time and again because only there tickets can be sold. So many artistes I personally know have applied and have not succeeded. They say it is of no use. So, should they simply teach a few or go from school to school desperately trying to make ends meet? Where is the justice? Recognition for good work is absent. This is absolutely not personal. It is general and the reason for us to take up a very difficult work and persevere despite our basic infrastructure. In three or four years, if our Marga Festival gains momentum and popularity we will definitely try to follow all that we are trying to achieve. But with the lack of response from various sects, I doubt if we as individuals can continue to struggle like this alone. So bigger organizations should wake up. They should do justice. This is not a solitary task, but should be a collective effort.

Srinivasan (representation from public)

Having been in US for over 30 years and retired from the Federal Government service, both my wife and I spend 6 months in India and 6 months in U.S. It is overwhelming for me when I see such talent in music, dance, and other performing arts with so many new artistes cropping up daily. The irony is that these talents are recognized more overseas than within its own origin. I personally feel that Indians residing overseas tend to miss their country and culture and therefore are prepared to participate in anything that is Indian and are prepared to pay a higher price due to the cost of air travel, hotels and other incidentals that the artistes have to incur, while I find that the majority of them in India would rather go to a dance or music performance when it is "Free", rather than have a price tag attached to it. Of this majority, a group I can accept cannot afford it, but there are those who have the means but would rather go when it is free. What this does in the long run is the artist is left to himself or herself to cater to their needs without much financial help or encouragement. In spite of this, I find a good number of artists, using their own means, to pursue their talents because of their interest to excel in their performance, which I am sure, will end soon for lack of financial means and encouragement.

On the contrary, I find in U.S., Corporations and big businesses taking special interest in promoting talent, be it sports or arts. I find except for a very few corporations in India, there is a void between the corporate world and performing arts.

In our day-to-day stressful life, none other than a good melodious vocal music, the visual impact of a good dancer, the soothing sound of a veena, violin, flute, etc. comes as a buffer to keep our sanity. Corporations tend to spend enormous amounts of money in stress management for their employees - I just hope that a portion of this could be diverted to performing arts as well. Sooner or later the artists will be fed up and give up for lack of encouragement and/or financial assistance. In as much as the media is doing their part by bringing the artists either on TV or radio and by writing about them, it is not enough unless Indian corporations and big businesses here take a lead in helping them. Before it is late, I wish all who have the means to help and want this industry to grow would give their helping hand for a very worthy cause.

Usha Vasanthkumar and T B Unnikrishnan are the artistic directors of the Chennai based Marga Dance Company. They have conducted the 3 day Marga Festival in 2002 and 2003 and hope to make it an annual feature.

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