The Three Questions at CultureCon 2020

In a burgeoning sector such as ours in India, CultureCon 2020 addressed three questions that we considered vital to the core of arts and culture in India.

The germ of the idea of the conference was watered with plenty of discussion and nurtured by a small team of passionate arts managers. For the first edition the focus was intentionally  restricted to three key areas of engagement: organisation, labour and money; three pillars to a successful and thriving industry. Three sessions on Day 1 of the conference were designed to explore these three aspects in detail amongst a gathering of arts professionals.

The Organisation Question

Following a fascinating talk by Yudhishthir Raj Isar, the keynote speaker, the organisation question was the first to be addressed. The session’s panelists represented  a range of organisations that included Dolly Rateshwar (Co- Founder, The Dharavi Dream Project), Nirupama Kotru (Joint Secretary, Ministry of Culture), Padmini Ray Murray (Founder, Design Beku) and Ratish Nanda (CEO, Aga Khan Trust for Culture). 

The session was introduced and moderated by Parmesh Shahani (Head, Godrej India Culture Lab and the Co-Curator, CultureCon 2020) who invited  each of the participants to talk about the work of their organisation in the cultural sector. Dolly’s work with the Dharavi Dream Project was at once heartwarming and inspirational while  Ratish’s presentation of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s scale of work was a revelation. While Padmini brought in the perspective of the workings of small and new organisations like Design Beku, Nirupama emphasised the Government’s active interest in seeking more private and public partnerships on several cultural projects.

Parmesh followed the presentations with questions to the panel on the future of organisations;  each advocated for organisations with a focus on community and collaborative in nature.

The panel discussion was followed by a Q & A session which saw interesting questions being raised like how does one reach out to the government if other organisations were interested in collaboration. There were also questions on the ways in which organisations engage with the community, to which Ratish Nanda opined that most engagements need multiple meetings and dialogue with the members of the communities, often long and tiring processes. But this he mentioned was the only way ahead.

The People Question

After a short lunch break we delved back into the conference with a session critical to CultureCon. The People Question, moderated by Dipti Rao (Head – Research, The Art X Company) comprised a panel of Neha Paliwal (Director – Projects, Sahapedia), Pooja Sood (Director, Khoj International Artists’ Association) and Rishi Kumar Vashist (Director, Centre for Cultural Resources and Training).

Neha Paliwal started with questioning the approaches and the methods that the industry takes when it comes to dealing with the workforce they employ. Pooja Sood talked of how through ARThinkSouthAsia, Khoj has  tried to create an ecosystem where they train arts managers and build a network of professionals across South Asia. Rishi Kumar Vashist through explaining the work of the Center for Cultural Resources (CCRT) shed light on how they skill artists and students to take up artistic careers through fellowships, workshops and other training programs supported by the Government of India.

The Q & A session saw the attendees criticising the poor pay scales and the lack of standard HR policies in the industry. But it was interesting to note how the speakers with their respective organisations maneuvered these challenges with progressive policies, which might not necessarily compensate pay, but be of value to the employees in different ways.

The Money Question

The final and the much awaited session of CultureCon was preceded by an energetic breakout session on #metoo in the cultural sector, that will be addressed in a separate post.

One of the key agendas of the session was to examine the near-continuous and critical lament of funding in and for the arts. For this, the session had a diverse panel with Arundhati Ghosh (Executive Director – India Foundation for the Arts) representing a grant making/seeking body, Deepika Sorabjee (Head, Arts and Culture, Tata Trusts) heading the arts and culture wing of a philanthropic organisation and Sanjoy Roy (Director, Teamwork Arts) who leads a private for profit arts service company.

The session moderated by the Co-Curator of the conference Rashmi Dhanwani (Founder, The Art X Company) saw Arundhati explain how IFA has clear policies in place for whom to approach for sponsorship or the guidelines they follow while offering a grant. Deepika spoke about the importance of building value to the work that cultural organisations do and how to present these results with funders in a tangible format. Sanjoy talked of the conscious decision to register Teamwork Arts as a for-profit entity and his continuous attempt at proving to the world that the arts are a profitable business. Sanjoy also shared the financial structure of Teamworks Arts through which he showcased the amount of money the organisation raises through sponsorship as well through the income generated.

After the presentations by the panelists, a round table discussion followed, the format of which allowed anyone from the audience to join and bring forth their perspective thereby breaking the    hierarchy between the speakers and the audience.

Finally, if you have any questions that you think we should focus on for the next edition of the CultureCon 2021, do let us know in the comments below! 

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