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BLOT! is Avinash Kumar and Gaurav Malaker — an electronic arts collective based out of New Delhi. See some of their work on www.blottin.blog

Corporate funding alone does not a great artist make

here is some value in discussing the dilemmas of contemporary arts funding in India today. Taking care of BLOT! for the past seven years has put us neck-deep in countless such exchanges, each with a unique promise and flavour. (Of course, there could be considerable debate on whether electronic arts as practised by us can indeed even be seen in a mainstream artistic light in the first place.)

This is a four-legged debate, since it involves some mudslinging between artists, cultural agencies, sponsors and audiences. For this essay, let's address one of these concisely, since we were asked in detail recently by a music magazine about the role that certain international cultural agencies played in our progress as a successful arts collective.

Our responses brought attention to the catalytic role that this support can have for artists and musicians in India such as ourselves. It also reflected the sensitivity and openness with which the human face of these agencies engage with artists. A survey of the electronic music, arts and independent scenes, for example, would reveal ample positive opinion on the methods and impact of international cultural agencies in India. A similar dip into intermediaries such as collectives, festivals and local agencies would most likely also reveal a similar wave of opinion. Finally and most importantly, for the audience, these agencies consistently facilitate an inspiring window into other cultures and practices.

There is, however, some criticism of these exchanges. A few years back, an acquaintance of ours wrote an anonymous article slamming us, amongst other things, for the support we have received from corporate sponsorship and institutional grants. Her allegations were that there are very narrow, insulated spaces where this support could be sought, granted and experienced, and further, that agencies, artists and audiences involved in this exchange were guilty of creating and propagating myths to continue these micro-communities forward.

It is this outsider's view of the grant-receiving process that eventually spurns critics such as this, as they fail to see that artistic projects are composed of (arguably more important) soft aspects, and a view that holds financial support as a primary tool for realising artistic vision is restrictive in itself and should not be the one to base further judgement on. It is also an inaccurate view of the nature of benefits accrued by the artist, which are often as much financial as they are creative, emotional or social.

The patronage of the arts throughout history has been one with its own rules and protocols, which did not grant artists the free reign of creative bliss that is often projected onto analogous situations today. It was by abiding to the extreme expectations and resources of patrons that much art in history flourished. There was thus a context and prescribed agency to the arts, driven by factors as varied as there were patrons — wealth, pride, discovery, conquest, intellect, religion, passion, love, commerce. And there is a continuity in this type of patronage system even today. The criticism of the very existence of these protocols is therefore one of the human structures for socio-professional interaction, and not that of art alone. What these protocols could be, in the context of the arts today, is perhaps a more constructive direction for this circular debate.

What is often not spoken about in critique of grant-receivers is the vastness of competencies — often intellectual, practical and entrepreneurial — that the artist has to exercise to move his ideas into production, and that the resources for artistic production are almost never fulfilled by singular agencies, but by a cocktail of personal investments, collective sacrifices, external support and creative vision.

The problem with this nature of criticism of cultural agencies, their protocols and atmosphere is that it's often a very narrow perspective of the exchange between agency and artist. This criticism also assumes a very restricted and mainstream view on what the motivations and trade-offs of artists are, when they negotiate the dystopian landscape of offers available in an Indian city today.

Closer home, a dear friend has some critical ideas about cultural funding too. Her work in international humanitarian policy provides her a viewpoint of the larger rubric of international development with which cultural grants could be critically seen as attached. Her questions — "Is contemporary cultural funding then a form of neo-colonial 'soft impact' on regions outside of their own?" "Are we, as Indian artists, the cultural anglophiles of the present, ready to trade in our localisation for personal benefits?" I don't completely agree with her (but I see what she is saying) because the other forces that the artist possesses today are those of the market, and that of independence, and it is the artist's responsibility to navigate this tricky terrain with judicious choices. It is in the failure of artists and agencies in protecting themselves and the arts from such situations that this opinion may hold water even today.

The benefits of such a deep incision into the motivations and practices of cultural funding can only serve to be beneficial to artists, agencies, audiences (and critics). There is, of course, also an external, more commerce-led approach here, which is also closely connected to the situation of corporate sponsorship and brands as patrons for the arts today. We will speak about this next time!

BLOT! is Avinash Kumar and Gaurav Malaker — an electronic arts collective based out of New Delhi. See some of their work on www.blottin.blogspot.com and www.soundcloud/com/blot

 
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