Natya Kala Conference 2010
Dec 31: Panel discussion on Funding the Fine Arts
Text & pics: Lalitha Venkat

December 31, 2010

In the absence of patronage, artistes have to seek funding from govt organizations and corporates. Each speaker of the morning had different viewpoints to share and this made one realize what all goes into giving funds or receiving funds.

The first person to speak about funding, both as a giver as well as a receiver, was Her Highness Princess Parvati Bai of the Travancore royal family, who gave the keynote address. She has ample experience as she is involved in several socio-cultural and charitable activities, her family has been a patron of the arts, especially music, and they still conduct annual music festivals in Kerala. In the olden days, funding was done by royal houses and given to the most worthy people. Purses were given to worthy artistes. Today, established Trusts support the fine arts. Artistes live well and spend well, so they generally suffer economically when they advance in age. Her grandmother wanted to help such retired musicians by setting up a fund. But she passed away before that materialized.

"To be a giver is nicer than to ask! It is interesting to see their reactions. What do the sponsors want in return? They want advertisement banners on stage and all over the place. It looks so ugly. Also contributors want to promote their favorite artistes. If the artiste is good, one can consider it. It really is not easy being the recipient! Sometimes, it becomes a tangle. In those days, it was an honor to perform at certain venues. Nowadays, artistes travel by plane, they demand a/c accommodation, even for their companions. Since north Indian artistes demand huge fees, and get it too, south Indian artistes have hiked up their fees. It is interesting to see how times have changed and how sabhas deal with the funding to cater to such demands. There are still some artistes who perform for the joy of it and still ask if they can perform at our festivals.

Regarding the accounting system, the Raja of Travancore could give his donation to anybody, no questions asked. But ours being a charitable Trust, we have to account for everything. Accounts are available to be scrutinized by anybody. Some sponsors give a receipt to be signed for Rs.1 lakh but will actually donate only 75% of the amount. I've refused such offers. Our festivals are all free. So, there are what we call touching donations, like people donating bottles of pickles to feed visiting artistes or oil for lamps. A musician who is happy to perform for Rs.1000 in Chennai demands Rs.8,000 to 10,000 when he performs out of town. Plus accompanying musicians also have to be paid. Everyone wants high decibel level. We don't want the music to be an assault on the ear drums. Volume control will be wonderful if it can be achieved!

When royalty patronized the fine arts, it was a different scene. Every day was a festival those days. Now it is different. One sponsor wanted good review to be given to a particular artiste. So many conditions are imposed by a sponsor, most of them unacceptable. We have to deal with practical difficulties and let the enlightened professionals benefit the society with their wisdom."

The next speaker Anmol Velani has led India Foundation for the Arts, an independent philanthropic organization, since 1995. He spoke on how independent funders think about philanthropy in arts, what their thinking and perspective are. He cited an example "outside of the arts, yet has arts in it." When an individual photographer, not an organization, wanted a grant, how does a sponsor recognize that request? One cannot use public funds to create a private asset. When people cannot access private archives, why should the IFA create a specialist archive? Anywhere in the world, philanthropic organizations would make sure their resources go a long way. You get funds because of the influence you can exert and the network you can evoke.

Charity and philanthropy are overlapping categories. Charity is more about the giver. Satisfaction is derived from the art of giving. Little is expected in return. Philanthropy demands accountability as it deals with public funds. The recipient is expected to deliver and the project is expected to serve the public good and not the individual artiste's dreams.

Anmol Velani spoke about how IFA receives applications from artistes to arrange performances for them. "They are looking for patronage, not philanthropic support. We have to be able to identify quality (something subjective), reputation, who is good or mediocre, and spot what we can support and defend what we are doing. If we can't, we are in trouble. Come with an idea. We must not assume that arts must go on asking for support. Art producers, curators and appreciators initially rely on Trusts and Foundations. They build up corpus funds. If in 10 years, there must be a shift in fund raising, it requires stamina, patience and good relationships. These help in becoming a good fund raiser."

Industrialist Nalli Kuppusamy Chettiar is a donor to many social and academic causes. He donates towards many art organizations. About 50 years back, there were only 4 or 5 sabhas. It was difficult to get tickets as there were many people to fit into these small venues. One could not run a sabha on gate collection alone. Most sabhas did not have their own space then and only some have managed to build their own auditoriums now. If a sponsor comes forward to help a sabha buy land, they should not impose conditions. There's nothing wrong in expecting outside help. Speaking about the dance scene, he said there are so many talented dancers, but most don't get opportunity to perform. In those days, Venkatakrishnan started Shankarabaranam Trust and Viswanathan started Kala Mandir Trust to promote young talent in music and dance, many of whom are established artistes now. It's a good trend that now sabhas run special festivals for young talent in January. "I feel it is not beneath dignity to ask for sponsorship or donation to promote the arts," concluded Chettiar.

R Krishnaswamy is the Hon. Secretary of Narada Gana Sabha and President, Federation of City Sabhas. He was an ardent rasika of music and dance even as a college student. He spoke on how dance was funded 50 to 60 years back and the lack of art management. There are only 15 recognised sabhas in Chennai that present programs 12 months in the year. But in last few years, many sabhas have mushroomed. These organizations have cropped up just for getting funds and making money. They present a 3 or 4 day festival once in a year, conduct it in hotels or marriage halls and thereby cheat the public. "Unless they register, they should not be recognized. When we apply to derecognize such sabhas, they smartly present a program immediately, get a minister to attend and get the application quashed. These sabhas are illegal and should be shunned by artistes and public," he said vehemently.

After Kamala's arangetram till 1966, the public supported her shows. Artistes commanded this reaction, so funding was done by the art lovers. Same for Vyjayanthimala. In the 60s, demand came down. "We collected from rasikas and conducted our programs. Expenses were nominal. Nowadays, a dancer wants 60 spotlights for a solo. I request artistes to minimize expenditure for their shows. From the money we make, 60% goes to artistes, 25% for advertisements, rest for the staff. If we are left with 5% it is a big deal for us. Public sector organizations have come into funding now. They collect 400 tickets and out of that, 200 seats remain empty all the time. If you go for such funding, your reputation is lost."

Krishnaswamy is annoyed that artistes don't consider the stage or what is available at the venue before going on stage to perform. Among musicians, every artiste wants his own audio system. This season also it happened with two artistes. They constantly asked for the volume to be raised that the audience walked out saying blood was coming out of their ears. The artistes should improve themselves if they want to attract crowds. As for dancers, it is impossible to give opportunities to all 3000 dancers in Chennai. That is why Narada Gana Sabha started Natyarangam, its dance wing.

"Education is necessary to attract audience. Then we don't need to go asking for funds. We are self financing. We have been funded by the rasikas. We do not need to beg anyone for funds. Each organization should become self financing and create its own funds by improving its performance," concluded Krishnaswamy, giving the audience many points to ponder about.

A Sambandam is the Secretary of Chidambaram Natyanjali. Just like the Natya Kala Conference is entering its 30th year, the Chidambaram Natyanjali Trust will also be celebrating its 30th year. Funding the fine arts is of two phases: organization which manages the events and funding the artistes. "We are on par with the sabhas. It is critics like Leela Venkataraman and Nandini Ramani who wrote about our festival and made it known to the world. The daily coverage by Doordarshan also gives publicity to the fest.

Taking dance back to its roots is the basic concept of the Natyanjali Festival. We do an aradhana once a year for 4 to 5 days. About 7,000 to 10,000 people come every evening to watch the fest. That's why it's conducted only once a year. We don't do anything the rest of the year. Even after 30 years, we have no funds. We start with zero and end with zero. We build the stage, provide food, accommodation, sound and lights and it costs a minimum of 5 lakhs without payment to artistes. Food donations are taken care of voluntarily by Trust members and local philanthropists. Mr. Dhananjayan has himself contributed a lakh for our festival. I thank all the artistes who have performed free for us. The idea to become self sustained in 10 years as mentioned by Mr. Anmol Velani will not work here.

We were once sanctioned 5 lakhs by the Central Govt, but what came down to us was just 1 lakh for which we submitted the accounts, that however was not forwarded by the agency, so even that stopped coming. Corporates want their banner on stage, so we had to decline despite being in deficit. One can get sponsors for a commission but whether art should stoop to such a level is debatable. Recognised sabhas have reached corporate status with standing and stability. If sports persons can receive patronage from corporates, why not artistes? All artistes and event managers should jointly move the corporates to provide patronage for one event a year. Funding agencies spend more on travel allowance of officials and other stuff than on artistes and genuine organizations.

We have to educate the people about our traditional arts. People who don't know dance attend our lec-dems to learn about the dance forms. If people are made aware of what we are communicating, the media will also come to us. Chidambaram Natyanjali has inspired organizers to organize similar festivals in many areas on a smaller scale. This shows people are interested. With our connections we are able to manage." This is self sufficiency on a different level.

Writer and cultural representative Uttara Asha Coorlawala was the only non-funder on the panel. She spoke on dance and personal power. Dance teaches us to appreciate the gifts of living. There's always an agenda in the most transparent organization. This is true not only in India but everywhere. Dance is somehow related to power. During the Festival of India in UK in the 1980s, the British protested asking why Indian artistes were being funded and not local artistes. About 40% of UK residents are Asians, so why not fund them? In incorporating the Indian population, there seems to be an identity crisis. In UK, they want originality, so modern dance is favored. There is more money for the arts in England and Germany than anywhere else. The Army Marching Band in the US has more money than the National Council for Arts in the US.

When Indian dancers visit USA, how do they manage to give 20 - 25 performances on a tour, is what Uttara has been asked many a time. There is community support for Indian performers. Now You Tube is an archival wonder and it is free. It you get lots of hits, they even pay you. Akram Khan's videos are all on You Tube whereas there is nothing of Shobana Jeyasingh's work. She sells her videos. Uttara feels, for bringing Delhi and the rest of the world to Chennai, the Chennai sabhas are to be congratulated.

The last speaker was Rajappa, the regional director of ICCR that was founded in 1950 to foster and strengthen cultural relations between India and other countries. About 3000 artistes and groups are empanelled with the ICCR, but only a limited number of artistes and groups are able to travel and participate in international events. Foreign dancers are also given scholarships to study dance in India. As it is a govt organization, there are lots of formalities to be observed. He called upon young artistes to come forward and empanel themselves. Empanelled artistes are given Rs.10,000 per performance. The audience gave an incredulous gasp when Rajappa asked dancers to be generous towards their accompanists and S Janaki of Sruti stated clearly that dancers are most of the time out-of-pocket if they have pockets at all, so could ICCR raise the remuneration paid. Rs.10,000 is a huge sum as far as ICCR is concerned, but with a demanding orchestra and other expenses to be taken care of, dancers pointed out that a modest Rs.20,000 remuneration would be more helpful. Is it possible then to perform to taped music, so one could dispense with orchestra payment problems? That is no problem, answered Rajappa, much to the relief of many who could now consider that option.

The majority of questions were directed to Rajappa. Dancers wanted to know why they had not been selected even many years after empanelment to perform on tours, why only same artistes were being sent on tours, why their applications were not acknowledged, why their queries or applications were not attended to. One dancer, who has received no response from ICCR despite repeatedly trying to contact them wanted to give up dance in frustration. Another dancer countered this by saying she went directly to Delhi and met the Director General and that worked wonders! Of course the discussion veered towards artistes in Delhi being more favored for foreign tours than those from the south. “The selection process is too Delhi-centric! Everyone cannot and should not be lining up in Delhi and trying to meet the DG in order to be sponsored by ICCR. The percentage of dancers in Delhi is certainly much less than the percentage of dancers in India, why even just Chennai - the good ones. This calls for appointing good representatives in different regions, need for greater decentralization and the vertical power hierarchy to become wider and horizontal based.” This was one of the many points Janaki of Sruti raised during the discussions. It was not very comfortable to face so much of criticism directed at ICCR.

Critic Leela Venkataraman came to Rajappa's rescue. "Ultimately everything has to be sent to Delhi first for that's where the decisions are made. It is impossible to provide opportunity to all dancers as thousands are on the list. To be seen in Delhi in the Horizon series is important. If an official sees the performance and is impressed, you get offers. ICCR is clear that only if you are empanelled, you can be considered for a performance tour." Guru Dhananjayan pointed out that one can't expect ICCR to do everything and young dancers should not be in a hurry and could do well to concentrate on performances in India. Kiran Rajagopalan who is now in India for further training in Bharatanatyam is confused. He is from US, but he's Indian, so can he also apply to empanel in the ICCR? Lakshmi Ramaswamy, a Fulbright scholar, who has never been given an ICCR tour, feels conditions are more transparent in the US.

A senior dancer cautioned Nalli Kuppusamy Chettiar to be more discerning and to give donations only to organizations with good credentials. "Instead of blaming the organizers, the attitude of artistes should also be examined. Only if you refuse, the mushrooming of sabhas will be curtailed," commented Leela Venkataraman. Krishnaswamy suggested that just like corporates support sports persons, they could put dancers on a pay roll too. The many NRI dancers present had their own concerns. Why do sabhas treat NRIs differently? People think NRIs are so rich that they don't need funding and are asked to pay for performing by some sabhas. Whether artistes are from India or elsewhere, they need funding, said Ratna Kumar. Payment is asked not only of NRIs but of local dancers too, pointed out someone. One young man was of the opinion that it is ok to pay to perform as it's an investment. Like any other professional course, one has to invest in dance training too, if one wants to be a professional, said VP Dhananjayan, bringing the lively discussions to a close.

The attendance was good on all mornings and it was heartening to see many young dancers present in the audience. A well compiled conference brochure was distributed on the first day of the conference. On the whole, the conference gave a good feeling of having learnt so much over the week as well as meeting up with dancers from across the globe. It started on time and ended on time with a welcome tea break of ten minutes between the two sessions. It was a good idea to focus on one dance form per day. The choice of theme and the structure of the conference made the experience enjoyable without cramming too much into one session. These sessions highlighted the dedication and contribution of great gurus who have nurtured their respective dance forms, working so much on technique and aesthetics to make it suitable for the proscenium. Above all, the conference has been an eye opener on all that lies behind a performance!

Congratulations to Shanta Dhananjayan and to all the volunteers who ensured smooth running of the conference. Thanks to positive feedbacks, she may feature other dance forms in the next year's conference.

Lalitha Venkat is the content editor of