Exploring options for sponsorship of the arts in some meaningful way, my daughter and I came up with the same, safe choices for her client: supporting emerging artists through acknowledgement and/or a one-time grant, announcing still more awards in an already crowded arena, organising a launch party for an associated event, or proclaiming its interest in the arts by way of hoardings and advertisements. All of these had a been-there-done-that jaded feel, and none of them addressed the situation India finds on her hands: a lack of interest in the arts, an apathy the more astounding for the pride most Indians take in their cultural heritage. The reality is so dismaying, no cultural policy can hope to bridge the divide. Therefore, if people will not come to the arts, the arts must find the people.
It is this columnist’s belief that corporate houses can do more than governments can in creating an ambient cultural atmosphere, if only it would open its eyes to the opportunities available. Leave aside CSR, which has taken on worthy objectives such as environment management, schools for girl children and so on, the private sector does not necessarily need to empty its wallets to enjoy the benefits of cultural patronage.
Corporate sponsorship of art can help boost artistic development in the country
All that corporations need to do is show their support for the arts. Imagine making it mandatory for banking and financial sector employees to attend one art opening, museum visit or cultural performance once a year. Companies can invite artists to their offsites, or training programmes, as an attempt to both learn as well as be sensitised to great art. We are in awe of artists and performers, only we don’t make the effort to trudge to an auditorium, or gallery, unless we’re spurred into action. The solution then is obvious: invite them amidst ourselves instead.
India’s public sector has been known to offer employment to sportspersons. Isn’t it time it considered offering the same opportunities to artists, or performers? This can be emulated by the private sector too. With the number of business houses in the country, it is a matter of time before hundreds and thousands of talented visual and performing arts professionals are pitched against each other in trying to achieve levels of excellence in the promotion of the arts. Should Reliance, Infosys, Flipkart or DLF offer jobs, and exhibitions, to artists, imagine the boost the arts community would get. Not only could it easily snowball into a movement, it could as easily contribute to other employees wanting to engage more closely with the artistes. Organisations that employ thousands of people would turn them each into influencers, who in turn would go on to influence their families and friends, bringing about a social revolution in the appreciation of the arts.
It is so simple, it could actually work. Government mandates in this regard might be suspiciously viewed and lead to lobbying. Much better therefore that the state stay out of it. But industry associations could consider this as a form of encouragement, or enrolment for membership: sponsor at least one artist or performer or cultural activity, whether on a rotational, annual basis or, preferably, as long-term employment to be able to groom and encourage talent as one might any other employee in the company. There could even be a way for HR to assess the potential, growth and success of such individuals.
Most Indians remain as ignorant of their own classical music and dance forms as of theatre, painting and sculpture. If the corporate houses could contribute their bit by way of minuscule resources, they would end up not just instilling pride in the company but also a culture of artistic development in the country.
Kishore Singh is a Delhi-based writer and art critic. These views are personal and do not reflect those of the organisation with which he is associated