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Managing / mismanaging culture
- Madhavi Puranam

May 15, 2015

(This editorial by chief editor Madhavi Puranam in the Nartanam - Quarterly Journal of Indian Dance - issue Volume XV, # 1, Jan - March 2015 has been reproduced here with permission)

The first issue of Nartanam of this year is a first for our banner in more ways than one. It is our first special issue on folk forms, a first issue with colour plates, and a first to have been backed by the vision of a bureaucrat, accused in a variety of ways for heaping attention on the Performing Arts of Odisha. Ashok Kumar Tripathy, a dynamic Indian Administrative Services officer of Odisha, with a rare cultural sensibility, empathy, and vision steered at least half a dozen performing arts festivals in Odisha including the Konark and the Dhauli, to become the most prominent festivals of the country. Tripathy roped in the best of the state's artists and pooled in their sensitivities to curate these festivals.

As Secretary, Odisha Tourism and Culture, Tripathy's far reaching strategy of ensuring that the visiting media was exposed to every cultural nuance and form of Odisha when they were covering these festivals brought in criticism that the media was lavished with unnecessary attention. The local press resented the national press being sought after. But for the inclusion of Nartanam as a media guest covering Odisha festivals, we would not have gained ready access to the regional scholars, photographers, libraries, archives, artists, and art forms of Odisha. It has helped us put together the content of this issue written by the best of the regional scholars of Odisha at such favourable and competitive production costs that no publishing house or government can envisage. Nartanam is bringing this issue with 50 colour plates to showcase the vibrant folk colours though we cannot afford the high costs of colour printing.

The returns for the money spent on various counts under culture cannot always be tangibly evaluated. Culture demands a work style which is not bureaucratic in nature. In a country where the culture budgets are far lower than most other countries we are also clueless and apathetic to administering / managing culture. It's time that Indian society, especially the arts community, takes some time off their individual trials and tribulations, and reflects on what ails our Ministry of Culture (MoC).

We raise here a few issues along with the ones highlighted by a High Powered Committee (HPC) set up by the MoC, through an Office Memorandum (No.8/69/ 2013-Akademis) dated the 15th January 2014 to examine the issues related to the mandate, composition etc. of the cultural organizations viz. National School of Drama (NSD), Centre for Cultural Resources &Training (CCRT), Lalit Kala Akademi, Sahitya Akademi, Sangeet Natak Akademi, National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Indira Gandhi National Centre of Arts (IGNCA) and Zonal Cultural Centres (ZCCs) etc. and to suggest measures to monitor their performance.

The most pertinent question is whether the MoC is equipped to deal with its mandate of administering culture. Can the MoC which deals with matters of intellect, aesthetics, and creativity, be run the way most other Ministries are run? Does it have the expertise and manpower to deal with its mandate? Even the simplest of its duties are not discharged efficiently. To mention a few:

- Funds are released by the Ministry quite late to the institutions under the MoC; in several cases the second or last instalment is released during March and hence the Akademis are in a rush to spend it before 31st March. This affects the quality of the programmes organized at very short notice.

- If one goes to the website of the MoC, the link leads to 21 schemes of the Ministry and the latest minutes as well. It shows that several meetings have yet to be convened for the financial year 2014 -15, and grants have yet to be disbursed.

Here are the observations on three significant schemes which affect the maximum number of artists:

1. The pensions meant to benefit the old and often suffering artists are pending disbursal. In fact, the concerned committee meetings have not been held after December 2013. The irony is that the pension amount for an aged artist is about Rs.3500-4000; not even the cost of a five star dinner for a VIP.

2. The Salary Grant Scheme enables a cultural organisation/institution to support its artists by paying a small monthly sum to sustain them. During the last financial year, funds were released on the last working days of March and early April 2014. This financial year the meetings have not been held so far.

3. Junior/Senior Fellowships have not been awarded since 2012-13.

The following are points to be noted from among the many raised by the HPC.

- The allocation for Culture has ranged from 0.12% in 2009-10 to 0.13% in 2014- 15. If we add the budgets for the Ministries of Information and Broadcasting and Sports, we reach the grand level of 0.68% of the total Government budget in 2009-10, which has declined to 0.38% in 2014-15. These figures are abysmal.

- The Resolutions setting up the Akademis are a broad statement of intent. But a renewal of their focus is required. In modern management terms, a vision statement followed by a mission statement would be useful to bring clarity to the role of each Akademi in today's context.

- An Akademi is intended for academic work. In the three Akademis, research is intended to be an important area of activity. But the Lalit Kala Akademi does no research, the Sangeet Natak Akademi only a little, and the Sahitya Akademi, despite the presence of Universities in the General Council, does not do much research work.

- The recommendations of three previous Reports, which have gone into the functioning of various institutions of the MoC, especially the three Akademis, do not appear to have been implemented with diligence. The three committees were:
Bhabha Committee: set up by Order dated 3 March 1964; report submitted on 22 October 1964; Khosla Committee: set up by Resolution dated 19 February 1970; report submitted on 31 July 1972; Haksar Committee: set up by Resolution dated 24 March 1988; report submitted in July 1990.

The mandate, structure, and the working of the MoC and its institutions must be reworked and implemented with renewed vigour. It is time that all our savvy artists and intellectuals who have sat on various committees and failed to make a dent on the stagnant MoC and its institutions and the ones who will form the new committees pull up their socks to contribute to nation building. We at Nartanam, do our bit, by voicing our concerns.

To conclude, I draw attention to a point to ponder. How cultured are we even as we articulate our fiery concerns to the point of being aggressive cultural activists?

On a recent trip to Kerala, an experience that struck me was the meeting with a renowned Kalaripayattu guru. An introduction to his Kalari, its history and a few demonstrations notwithstanding what caught my attention was the understated fine fibre of culture and the finest aesthetics of an artist in his manner and word, even as he displayed his skill with fierce Kalari moves. Today when aggression is the mainstay of being articulate and powerful - be it a politician, sportsperson, or an artist - moral fibre seeped in culture is a rare novelty and more so with culture taking the back seat in the overall blueprint for the nation. Such a suicidal blueprint must be scrapped. Not next year, not next month. But now.

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