Culture Needs A Plan

Institutions for the arts need professional managers for a turnaround

Written by Navina Jafa | Published:May 18, 2017 2:22 am

This paper reported earlier this month that state-funded cultural institutions have been asked to generate revenue amounting to 25-30 per cent of their budget initially and “eventually” achieve “self-sufficiency”. The idea will remain utopian unless professional cultural managers are inducted to lead these institutions.

The government needs to create a cadre of professional cultural managers which calls for professionals with a host of skills and training, among which is the requirement to be sensitive and knowledgeable about the wide, diverse and complex cultures and traditions of the Subcontinent. Such persons alone will be able to create business plans for these decadent institutions, provide a vision to connect them to audiences and “markets”, evolve practical strategies to conserve traditional knowledge skills and creative expressions. Only then can these organisations create self-sustainability and have renewed relevance. In their present form, these are white elephants.

Most of these institutions are now led either by artists (performing or visual) who have no idea of or training in administration, policy or management. Or, they are run or controlled by non-specialist bureaucrats. The few professional cultural managers are not motivated to join since they are unable to provide appropriate remuneration and, most importantly, ensure functional autonomy. The dearth of professional cultural managers is unlikely to be addressed soon; not one eminent management institute in India offers a programme in cultural management.

Most state-run cultural institutions across India have been unable to chart a meaningful functional role for creative communities or the preservation of their cultural traditions. Relevant outreach programmes have also not been created. Cultural ecosystems are rocked when a cultural skill or knowledge dies. It is similar to what happens when the tiger is endangered — the impact is felt all over the ecosystem. Several knowledge systems related to performing arts, crafts in India and communities that practice them now face the threat of massive deskilling and marginalisation.

There is no cultural policy that offers a holistic and realistic approach to this complex, contested terrain. Committees to formulate policies are mostly formed with artists and cultural academicians; rarely are cultural management professionals or cultural economists invited to join them. Not surprisingly, these committees are unable to evolve strategies to ensure sustainability and conservation of creative communities, and other manifestations of our rich cultural heritage.

In the absence of professional cultural managers, bureaucrats in charge of these institutions take up the task of making India’s great cultural heritage visible on the international map. For example, the Festival of India model has not evolved since its inception in the 1980s. Those in leadership positions can’t grasp the international discourse on culture as they are unfamiliar with its vocabulary. They fail to address conceptual frameworks while keeping in mind the Indian context and Indian artists’ interests.

For instance, there is great attention given these days to ideas like cultural mapping and the conservation of intangible heritage, both by government and non-government institutions. However, there is a dearth of people who actually understand these complex issues or have the capacities to collect such data, which will involve large sums of public money. There is also a shortage of persons who are equipped to develop strategies to use the collected data in a manner that the welfare of the bearers of tradition, many of whom are living in poverty, are addressed. Just passing directions to recreate themselves as sustainable organisations will not generate the desired results, nor will a choice of leasing the land and infrastructure of these institutes to corporates provide a new functionality to these cultural institutions.

There are, of course, people committed to the field of cultural management and economics. The question is, if the government will induct them as professionals, as they do with scientists, health professionals and economists? If the cultural sphere is not addressed in a systematic, detached and professional manner, we risk to lose huge capital. Culture is too precious to be left Ram bharose!

The writer is vice-president, Centre for New Perspective, an organisation that works on areas related to traditional skills and sustainable development

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