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How grateful should we be to sponsors who support the arts - especially Dance?
- Anita Ratnam

January 15, 2014

(The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors themselves)

The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is openly wooing NRI investment and closer to home, the august Music Academy has had the benefit of Sreedhar Potarazu's generosity over the past 8 years. He is the CEO of VitalSpring Technologies based in Washington DC. The annual January Dance Festival has seen VS as the title Sponsor of the event. This year, on January 3, 2014 on opening day of the festival, Mr. Potarazu delivered his annual speech. Except this time he seemed a man on a mission. And nobody knew what it was. Adopting a belligerent, mutinous look, he took to the microphone and spoke about the media and critics as being ungrateful of his munificence???? Really??? Thank you, Mr. Potarazu, for your continued support of dance. We know your daughter Deepika, the Kuchipudi dancer who is trying to make her mark on the Chennai scene, no doubt fueled by your paternal love and resources!

However, have you ever thought of THANKING the artistes who perform at the festivals that you sponsor? In fact, does any sponsor actually thank the ARTISTE for the chance to be associated with the arts? NO. It is the other way around. We dancers, scrape, prostrate, kneel, kiss hands, backsides and brown nose ourselves to the point of humiliation.

Does the Music Academy, flush with funds, actually NEED a Potarazu to conduct its annual acclaimed Dance Festival? Does not Potarazu realize that he needs to THANK THE MUSIC ACADEMY for making his name known to the rasikas of Chennai? If not, he would be another NRI wealthy businessman, and we know many, many of them, living in large suburban homes, garage filled with fancy cars and homes with the latest gadgets. YAAAAAAWWWNNNNNNNN...

On January 7, 2014 THE HINDU carried an OPEN LETTER TO SREEDHAR POTARAZU written by the paper's veteran critic Leela Venkataraman. We bring you this entire open letter and have also learned that Mr. N Murali, President of the Madras Music Academy, has spoken firmly to Mr. Potarazu about his unacceptable tone and choice of words.

Open letter to Sreedhar Potarazu:

What do you think of this incident?
How does a sponsor of Indian origin, who brings his generosity from other shores compare to homegrown supporters like Nalli Kuppuswamy Chettiar, who supports more than 25 sabhas in Chennai?
How can support be quantified or measured?
Can a sponsor insist or be allowed in the core programming of prestigious festivals?
Speak up!

PS: There is a whole other issue of Indian hospitality being used and misused by foreigners for personal gain. We have one talented photographer from New York in mind. But that is for the next edition of ROSES and THORNS.

We are listening... So speak up!

Response to the Open Letter by Ms. Leela Venkataraman
Open Letter by Dr. Sreedhar Potarazu
It was an appeal to critics


Time to take an overall perspective on these issues though it is difficult to conclude anything from the available information on the specific matter.

Generally I observe a particular trend. There is increase in cases where genuine artists are being disrespected directly or indirectly or are not being extended adequate support, remuneration, opportunity etc. All those involved in arts (other than artists) are getting back their contributions in cash or kind. In fact, by serving the artists, society is doing good for itself. My simple guideline: "Let the stages be only for the artists and art."

Money and resources must be given due respect, but importantly knowledge should be respected even more. It will be very nice those involved with arts... organizers, sponsors, volunteers, support staff, chief guests... respect the artist in the true sense. As Anita mentioned, it is artists (those making a livelihood) that are totally left out of the equation and from the economics. Support to performing art and artists is wealth in the form of goodwill and is recognized thus by custom, tradition and even business.

We hear and read good things about Mr. Sreedhar and his contributions towards promoting arts. Hope this would continue into the future and I believe, in fact, I am sure that this one incident is in fact just a misunderstanding.

- Bhavanvitha (Jan 19, 2014)

The relationship of an artist and "supporters" has always been a thread in a needle type! One can function on its own but when in synergy both create magic! Both should and must acknowledge the effort of each other to continue creating the magic.

This relationship was even there during the Raja - Maharaja's era! Why quantify or measure this bond? If one really wants to do it, then the person should re-visit the real objective of him/her "adding value" to this relationship!

- Mahesh Kedlaya (Jan 21, 2014)

In his response to the open letter from Leela Venkatraman in The Hindu, Sreedhar Potarazu says:

"My personal philanthropic commitment to the arts and the artists is steadfast, and I will continue to do everything in my means to help further the cause of members of the artistic community globally who dedicate their lives for the sole purpose of invoking divinity through their work. To these gifted artists I humbly bow down and honour them for what they do every day to make the world a truly better place for all of us."

Several years ago, I witnessed him, firsthand, grab and slap a dancer across the face in a public forum following a performance. Therefore, this comment is not honest and I question how truthful he is, and also how clear and pure his fundamental intentions are in his "philanthropic commitment(s)," At the time, I did not know who this offending person was - Sreedhar Potarazu. Regardless of the reasons for his actions against this person - who happened to be an artist - they were in poor taste. I find it difficult to trust or respect a person who claims to "humbly bow down and honour" artists on one hand, and then commit such felonies on the other. No person, artist or not, should be treated this way.

In light of the discussion context of onshore and/or offshore support, I firmly believe a sincere philanthropist is a person who is first truthful to herself/himself, and is thus able to support the "artistic community globally." One cannot choose behavior based on which side of the oceans she/he is on - consequences may be that the support might lose its value worldwide in the long term. Making "the world a truly better place for all of us," takes strength, commitment and discipline, yes. But for it to be enduring, it requires integrity and truth. Altruism is both principle and practice. It's more than a simple fundraising exercise of writing checks. Many people could do that.
- Anonymous (Jan 25, 2014)

No one ever mentions how often Indian organizations - from sabhas, teachers, musicians, videographers fleece NRIs. How everyone wants to come abroad to earn big money, but NEVER contribute to foreign economies because of their stinginess, the way that NRIs contribute to Indian economies. There is a very bad sense of entitlement by Indians to their so called "art, " and people hate to see NRIs doing it faithfully, doing it well, and getting credit for it. I personally think all NRI organizations should stop funding Indian artists and focus resources on artists at home.
- Anon (Jan 31, 2014)

I was distressed by Mr. Potarazu's approach and heartened by Leela Venkataraman's dignified corrective. What happened to the beautiful saying of Indian culture at its best: "One hand shall not know what the other hand gives away in benefaction"?
- PN, Trichy (Feb 4, 2014)

It is most unfortunate but a glaring fact that Indian classical dance still relies on patrons ... or shall I say Indian art itself relies on rich patrons. The paradox of this whole situation is that while there are patrons who fund these festivals, we outside Chennai get to know that all the sabhas charge artistes and the artistes never get paid. In fact, we from outside Chennai have heard of a rate card charged by different sabhas. So the question is, what exactly do these patrons patronise?
- Anon (Feb 10, 2014)

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