'Unmute. Help': A Performers Guide to speaking up about Rights and Responsibilities of artists and Arts leaders
- Dr. Arshiya Sethi
August 27, 2021
On 11th August this year, a group of three people committed to the arts took a step that had never been taken before, though there was a palpable need for it. The group of three were Kolkata based Somabha Bandopadhyay, lawyer, dancer and activist working with transgender populations, Kolkata and Bangalore based Paramita Saha, dancer and Arts entrepreneur, and me, Dr. Arshiya Sethi, Delhi based independent dance scholar, "Artivist" (Arts and activism) and columnist of the arts.
Between us we represented three organisations, Sruti Performing Troupe which was set up by Somabha's mother, Manipuri dancer and Dance Professor Sruti Bandopadhyay, Artsforward, co-founded by Paramita, that designs strategic encounters between Artists and Business communities and Kri Foundation that works on Arts, Activism and Knowledge creation and which was set up by me 18 years ago. We also represent three generations.
But we are not ageists and so worked collaboratively, drawing on each other's specific capacities and strengths, to set up together, in the commons, a website called Unmute.help, an Artistes' guide to serve as an online, open access resource centre on Arts and the Law. It contains information and knowledge about the rights and responsibilities of artistes and arts leaders, empowering them to unmute and speak up about many issues in the arts ecosphere, around which there had been a conspicuous silence, till they began to be especially foregrounded during the pandemic.
Among these were issues like copyright, plagiarism, the importance and value of contracts, and the abuse of power including sexual harassment. In carefully collating the material available on the website, we are looking in a focused manner, not just on the rights of all artistes but also the rights of special groups of artistes like LGBTQIA+ artistes, child artistes, artistes living with disabilities and trauma etc.
The need for such a website emerged from a series of sessions we did on "Arts and the Law," “What they do not teach you in Arts school or Law school", in English in 2020 and in Bangla in 2021, and trainings that we did with the artist community between 2020 and 2021. This is the first such initiative and has been lauded not just by artistes, but legal educators and officers of the law. We really believe that this is an idea whose time has come, as the world has changed considerably during the pandemic, and such knowledge will prepare us better to deal with the new challenges already begun to be faced by the arts. While we cover many issues, we are prioritizing prevention of sexual harassment in the arts as in our combined experience in the arts that has a life and death impact.
We recognise that from 2018, there have been some meaningful and seminal initiatives that have been taken on #MeToo. In the last few decades occasional focus has been made by artistes on individual issues like copyright. Among the artistes who have been in the forefront of such efforts are Swarnamalya Ganesh, Shubha Mudgal, Aneesh Pradhan, T.M. Krishna, the Beej Collective, GATI and some others, and we salute them for taking the lead. This website draws on all collective efforts and serves as a one point 'go to portal' for all issues where arts and law intersect.
Additionally, it contains a training schedule, lists of partner organisations, media articles, media articles generated by the efforts and a list of counsellors and legal experts. We are fortunate to have access to the finest legal minds in the country at the Bar and in academia, as our resource persons. We also have domain experts and trainers who help us deal with complex and complicated issues. We assure anonymity if you have specific questions and we encourage you to unmute, even on the website itself, and carry forth the debate and discourse on these subjects. Your thoughts and ideas will help create a more ethical and sincerely nurturing environment in the arts, as your conversations will strengthen the protective net. Do click on unmute.help and let us know what you feel about this effort.
Dr. Arshiya Sethi, trained in Kathak, has served as dance critic, commentator, institution builder for the arts, having created both tangible and intangible institutions and equities. She has been a Fulbright Arts Fellow (2003-2004) and a post doctoral Fulbright (2016-2017). Her doctoral work has been on the link between politics and dance in the case of Sattriya. She is presently working on the intersection of dance and activism / social justice through her NGO, Kri Foundation (estd. 2003), and has extended her academic work to Indian dance in the diaspora.
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