Free The Ground Beneath Artistes And Arts, Look Beyond Bureaucracy

To help maximise the creative release of artistes, and ensure their bigger success and audience, the government and the ministry must bring in experienced, trained and knowledgeable people who are passionate about our diverse narratives.


By Usha RK

For artists, ‘independence’ connotes the license to create freely from the format they have delved in, to spread their wings in the world marked with borders, to seek that flight of fantasy that the soul of their art aspires for. Creatively, there exists an independence that one constantly explores, but the word that torments the artist is ‘inter-dependence’. The stress on the word ‘dependence’ has been stressful for artists. Every medium, solo or group, depends on multiple elements and people to find its final vision.

The dream or plan that takes birth in the artist’s mind can find fulfilment only with the cooperation and support of numerous actions and people. Often, an artist gives up on the way, due to the unavailability of all that is required to bring his dream to fruition.

Exploring the dependency factor, I found myself enumerating the needs of a ‘dancer’, considering that dance has been my subject, and having learnt the form myself, I could take it from ‘dream to fruition’ with ease. The long years of training to enter the performing arena find you totally dependent on your parents, siblings, domestic help, friends, the innate car, costume, fluids, books, tapes, ipods, ear phones, etc.

After taking the support of all that is and are around you, the stress of which is undeniably a huge heaviness on the shoulders, you say, “I gotta give back some day to each”, one steps on the performance arena. It is ‘guru’ time all the way. Dakshina and Ekalavya personification is part of our upbringing, our culture and philosophy, so it does not feel like a stress, and inadvertently, one bows down in gratitude. Initially, it is the teacher who handles the programmes, venue, dates, organisers, arrangements — like sound, light, make up and costume etc., along with the most important element — musicians, without whom the programme cannot happen. The rehearsals, where to hold them, which area is suitable for the musicians, what dates and timings suit them, how many hours will it take, and if it is long hours, then can ‘mummy’ organise for some eats/snacks/idli/tea/coffee?? The teacher is at his or her wit’s end, trying to coordinate all this for multiple students.

The rehearsals have the capacity to get stuck, even if one single thing is not as per plan, the jigsaw puzzle must have all the chips in place and the failure of even one tiny element can have a domino effect, stalling the proceedings. The dancer requires a minimum of three to four rehearsal with the musicians, so that the performance goes off like a breeze.

The stress on the shoulders for the guru and shishya, along with the parents, continues till the day of the programme. The mind goes through multifarious thoughts and activities. Hope, hope and more hope. Hope the make up man comes on time and does a good job, hope the costume fits, hope the colour looks fine, hope the hair sets right, hope the bells make the right tinkling sound, hope health supports and one does not feel uneasy, hope the musicians come on time, hope the stage décor looks good, hope sound and lights are effective, hope the chief guest arrives on time and says some good things, hope guruji is happy with the arrangements, hope the shishya dances well and does not forget anything, hope there is a good audience; so many calls and sent emails and messages on whatsapp, and the list goes on. It is 9 pm, the programme is over, and the “hope” is dropped, finally, with a sigh of relief.

The most important aspect is the dependence on ‘vitamin M’. We have not explored this ingredient so far. An expensive art form, dancing is a huge investment-driven art to pursue. Many youngsters give it up due to the financial indulgence it asks for. We have, over the generations, seen and witnessed how a number of gurus have taught and imparted the art form to disciples without taking a single rupee, only because they found that the student had it in them and could make it as a professional in the times to come. Numerous such examples can be quoted. The sustenance in the field without a financial backing seems to be an impossible task. The support system is weak in some sense, not because there is no money, because we have not worked in the past six to eight decades in creating a healthy economy for this medium. The dancer is so dependent on funds doled out by the governments — state or central, fellowships and scholarships — private and governmental, funding from private parties, individual and organisations that are largely decided on a very personal note, and last, the perennially sought-after ‘performances fee’.

It is not as though there are no funds in the government coffers for arts. May be they get spread thin, considering the vast number of incumbents that need this support. Have we not heard some representatives of the political class ask whether there is the need to dole out grants? I fail to understand how such thoughts prevail. Is India not about its culture and arts? Internationally, we showcase the country through our dances, music and visual arts. Why and how do we hear such remarks? They must consider giving us better budgets. The salary grant for a guru, as per Ministry of Culture, is Rs 10,000 per month (approximately) for a senior guru, and Rs 7000 per month (approximately) for junior guru. This has remained stagnant for at least two decades, if not more. The high power committee reports that are made with huge costs remain as hard bound copies rarely executed.

How can the government relieve artists from being dependent? By increasing the cash flow into the field to make it a vibrant economy; include it in the various programmes of the Modi Government — Skill India, Make in India, Beti Bachan Beti Padhao, etc; by bringing arts into the main stream and including them in the context of small and medium industries. A continuous financial flow will strengthen the field and create a healthy atmospherics.

There are ways and means of making the sphere of dancing a profitable economy; better guru grants that can actually help the guru to sustain his expenses every month and better performance fees (where bureaucratic representatives, who have most often no clue of the depth of the art form, decide the bench mark and calibre of the guru or artist).

More could be done. Include small industries, like making of temple and appropriate jewellery and accessories, making of ghungroos and bells, making of head gear, costume tailoring, fabrics needed for costumes, make up materials, make up techniques and training for make up artists, flower- making and stringing required for dancers, making of decorative paint or ‘alta’: training of specialised dance musicians; workshops to develop the related content; subsidised funding to procure sound equipment; setting up more hiring agencies for sound equipment and lighting equipment — so integral to dance programmes; training for sound and light technicians; subsidised funding for setting up of more recording studios and training for editors and recording technicians to upgrade and keep up with the new techniques and equipment; encouraging IT and technology endeavors in the field of dance like online apps, websites etc, mobilising the media — Print and TV; promoting Indian art and culture on the same level as Indian cinema and popular forms; giving culture an important space in news reporting; training of art critics, supporting financially writers and authors in the arts field, making it mandatory to get government bodies and institutions to publish and print journals, books on the arts; training art institutions in IT-related technical programmes as part of the government’s endeavour towards making Indian artists IT savvy.

The government must bring in people who are passionate about the arts, to involve vociferously, and take charge of ringing in the moolah, to make it a cash flowing economy for the aam admi artists of India, rather than something that only the wealthy can pursue and indulge in. It is time for some introspection for bigwigs in the government. How can we get culture out of the hands or clutches of the bureaucracy and get trained, knowledgeable, passionate people who have spent considerable amount of time in the arts to work in this ministry instead of UPSC recruits, who have absolutely no clue about the arts and neither are they trained in arts management? Can just the passing of an examination with no education or knowledge of the arts be the criteria to work in such a specialised ministry? This subject needs to be addressed. The arts have suffered the vagaries of bureaucracy for decades. It is time for independence.


— Usha RK is a Delhi-based art consultant. In her recent assignment with the Ministry of Culture, her contribution in achieving the nominations of Varanasi as Unesco’s Creative City of Music, Yoga as humanity’s treasure in Unesco’s Representative List and the successful submission of Kumbh Mela and Sowa Rigpa, has been widely acknowledged. Her deep understanding and training in Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi and her immense love for music has led her to research in various aspects of composers and compositions in Carnatic music.


Feature image: Akshay Singh Jamwal