Having watched the conference come together piece by piece, we decided to consider the case of the curators.
The inaugural edition of CultureCon was curated by Parmesh Shahani (Head – Godrej India Culture Lab) and Rashmi Dhanwani (Founder Director – Art X Company). Both Parmesh and Rashmi, with their expertise and experience, at building the Godrej India Culture Lab from 2011 and starting the Art X Company in 2015 respectively, had put forth a conference unlike any other in India’s recent past.
Talking about the idea behind the conceptualisation of CultureCon, both Parmesh and Rashmi interestingly, had very different viewpoints.
For Parmesh, the conference was about creating a space for conversations on कौन or who makes ‘culture’ and for whom. He said that the primary focus was to revise, question and come up with multiple meanings of culture.
Whereas Rashmi has, with her work over several years, been focusing on the idea of locating/defining the Indian cultural sector and on how to bring it together.
She notes that conversations around sector growth, issues, and cultural policy have found little resonance across academia or practice. Advocacy for the sector is largely relegated to funding, operational challenges, or contentious issues (such as the #MeToo movement or freedom of expression for artists) as and when they find space in current affairs; this Rashmi believes had led to several barriers to growth, both ideological and economic, for the sector.
Even though their personal reasons on what pushed them to create something like CultureCon may differ, it is hard to ignore the synergies, of their ideas, of multiplicities and togetherness, which is at the core of their work and at the heart of the conference.
While diving a bit deeper into the content of the conference, Rashmi talks of how she envisioned setting the context of the conference with a position paper which attempts to begin work on the critical task of creating a definition of Indian culture that is inclusive, democratic, and representative – and to then build consensus around it. She mentioned how she invited cultural policy activist, Yudhishthir Raj Isar, who through his keynote address framed the local-global link in articulating policy for the Indian culture sector.
Talking of curation, Parmesh says that they had carefully curated the speakers, the sessions and even the audiences, with a keen interest in bringing together an unexpected group of people and to see what magic can emerge.
It is the dialogue between cultural professionals who would not otherwise speak to each other that excited Parmesh. For him the conversations the attendees had offline, in the passages between the conference rooms, over a cup of chai; and of the many possibilities that a chance conversation on the sidelines and the margins can bring is what added value.
Both Pamesh and Rashmi believe that the end goal of the conference was to initiate a crucial dialogue around bringing the cultural community together in an effort to organise the sector and build the blocks needed to formalise the work of this sector in policy mandates.
But also in interactions, and in creating new knowledge. By which, we can say CultureCon 2020 was a success!