Arundhati is the Deputy Director at India Foundation for the Arts. She also independently consults for not-for-profits with over 15 years of experience in the areas of organisation set-up and strategy, communications, resource mobilisation, media relations, donor management, evaluation and programme management.
She hates air conditioners and hair products.
SHOW ME THE MONEY!
I had once heard an art auctioneer smirk at a funding organisation at a party and say, “I don’t believe in philanthropy. If the artist is good enough, the market will find a way to support him. Everything else is a hospital, keeping should-be-dead art on life-support.” I wanted to point out to him that if that was the case we would never have heard of Kafka or seen the wonder of Van Gogh. However, the wine was too tempting and it seemed rather pointless to explain why the arts need funding, free of the market, to someone who thinks that building his own archive and creating a market based art fun is a form of supporting the arts.
This argument is not a rarity though. In the years that I have been raising funds for the arts, I have heard versions of this argument many times. Some are blunt like my auctioneer friend who wants to leave it to the market entirely. Others, with a bit more empathy, ask why the arts need any more funds when besides the government there are today enough private corporations and galleries who support the arts. There are, however, a number of assumptions made and realities ignored in these statements.
To begin with, most people talk about only the visual arts, which the market has favoured, indexed and completely seduced into its arms. Private entities – galleries and foundations – have emerged with unseemly haste to make hay while the sun shines. However, one does not see a plethora of such ‘private investors’ for other art forms that the market is yet to glance benevolently at. Not even to support those ideas in the visual arts which might find some difficulty in hanging themselves from a buyer’s wall or make such provocations that lead righteous minded right wings to desecrate its identity. I was talking to a gallery owner who had turned down a couple of artists who wanted to do some experimental installations at the gallery not because she disliked their work but because she felt these pieces would not have any ‘sale value’, exciting
Now, there have always been artists who have created for the market. But there have also been a set of artists who created for the sole reasons of expressing themselves regardless of the market. This group matters because their work critiqued and challenged prevalent norms, setting new paradigms for being. If the market decides all, this group will disappear.
One certainly condemns government funding and government funded projects for their red tape, lethargy and nepotism. I remember when a foundation wanted to support an outreach programme at a museum with the help of an art historian it took the director over a year to approve the project! However, has other kinds of private funding like support from corporations, the so called new royalty in our societies inheriting the priviledge to patronize the arts, really made much difference? Corporates only sponsor art that is celebritised and glamourised, creating favourable brand impressions among its target audience. This is also because the arts, not on their CSR agendas, are supported through marketing budgets.
So, what gets left behind? A lot. For example, theatre that is not in English, performances that have no screen stars, arts in small towns where the market is still not ‘rich’, dance that is experimental and bold, poetry that has a niche market, infrastructure for the arts that need to be set up across the country, spaces for residencies, seminars and forums for the exchange of ideas and experiences among artists and the general public, art that throws challenges at the accepted ways of looking at life and living, art that disturbs and provokes – and so much more. What is also not funded by these private investors is archiving and documentation of the arts which the public can access, systemic changes required in arts institutions, training of professionals to run them and long term initiatives that will enable their sustainability.
So, while private investment profits from the market, and the market takes care of its own, and the government still flies the same people to festivals abroad, and brands bond with their customers at cultural dos, and my art auctioneer friend counts the paintings in his basement – what is required to fill the yawning gap still remaining is private independent funding for the arts – funding which has no vested interest except the interest of the arts at its core; funding that responds to the field; funding that frees the artist to create what they want to; funding that makes the arts accessible and free of responsibilities to prove that it has developmental and other values over and above its own intrinsic worth – funding that comes out of a sense of shared adventure to see the seen in a new light and discover the unseen.
PS: Incidentally, the market has recently bitten my dear auctioneer friend rather rabidly and rumour says his market dependent art fund is not doing so well. Didn’t an astute investor once say ‘Hedge your bets?’!
[Arundhati can be reached at aru[dot]connect[at]gmail[dot]com]