‘We have 4,000 engineering colleges and only 20 art schools’: Rajiv Mishra

In 2016, 3 premier art institutions in Mumbai — Sir JJ Schools of Architecture, Applied & Fine Arts — were permitted to apply for autonomy. Rajiv Mishra, director of Directorate of Art and principal of the school of architecture, tells the Indian Express about the state of affairs

Written by Priyanka Sahoo | Mumbai | Published: June 4, 2018 4:24:46 am
Rajiv Mishra says autonomy will help develop new courses. (Express photo Ganesh Shirsekar)

It has been over a year since the colleges applied for autonomy. What is the status now?
The JJ institutions were given the permission to apply for autonomy to the University Grants Commission (UGC) through the University of Mumbai. The inspection of our colleges was done by the local inquiry committee of the university. A report has been prepared by the university, which will be officially forwarded to the UGC and then a UGC team will come here, officially look at it and grant us autonomy. Over the past six-seven months, there was no progress and everything was in limbo. Now that a new Vice Chancellor has come in, we are going to speed up the process. The status is that a UGC committee is likely to visit — we do not know when — based on the programme finalised by the current VC.

What difference does autonomy status make to an institution?
Autonomy is gaining freedom and helping an institution develop new courses based on the current requirements in the industry and do professional development courses. We will be able to have our own syllabus, own course curriculum. Plus, we will also have the benefit of applying for funds directly to the UGC and the budget will improve.
We will be able to have our own appointments. At the moment, the appointments are delayed and done through MPSC – 70 per cent of staff positions are yet to be filled. Then we can get eminent architects, designers and artists on our board. Once we get autonomy, we are also thinking of applying to RUSA to form a cluster university.
Why has it taken over a century for the institutions to get university status?
We are a 1857 institution, which was one of the best institutions when it came to art and architecture education because we were designed on the lines of the Royal College of Art, London. But after independence, due importance was given to the school at Shantiniketan, the Bengal School of Art, because it was neglected during the colonial rule. And Shantiniketan was converted into Visva-Bharati University. But JJ School of Art and Architecture did not get its due and got neglected.

What do you mean when you say JJ didn’t get its due?
When the National Institute of Design (NID) was established in Ahmedabad, the founder members came to JJ to study how art education works. When they established the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA) in Delhi, it also became an institute of national importance. But all the staff members at SPA Delhi and NID were staff and students of JJ. So we always say to people: “JJ toh sabka hai lekin JJ ka kaun hai?”
We felt shortchanged. When we were responsible for giving resources to everybody, why is that we are being neglected? Every such institute is flourishing using us as an example because we are the seed of the growth of art and architecture education in Asia. But we are where we were. We feel that all the other engineering colleges established by the British have become university already. But it is the School of Art and Architecture established by the British that hasn’t.

There’s been more focus on science and technology and engineering than on arts.
Due to the technology revolution, education has bent more towards digital technology, IT sector and engineering application. So we feel that the purpose of science is to know but the purpose of engineering is to apply that science to do. When you need to do something, you need to design and when you need to design, you need an artistic bent, someone who understands aesthetics. For example, the CSMT is an iconic image of Mumbai. It was designed by F W Stevens, a visiting faculty of JJ. But today the heritage structure is considered an engineering marvel. It’s not like that.
If you have 4,000 engineering colleges and only 20 art schools, who will pay attention to you? But now things are changing because people are realising the value of art and architecture education. The current education minister understands the importance of Sir JJ institutions and decided to allow us to become autonomous.

In this day and age, are there misconceptions about employment options for artists?
I feel there is no understanding about architecture and art education. Architecture is the only professional course where there is zero per cent unemployment.

The city has tried many ways to display art – subways, railway stations… Do you think people appreciate art?
We are lacking patrons of art. Art is now treated in a more elitist way. People think that art is a very rich affair. People in Mumbai are more worried about their bread and butter. So whenever they get time to spend on art, they prefer Bollywood films, some prefer theatre. But they do not know that the background required in a theatre is done by an artist. They do not know that a lot of artists are doing the set designing in films.

What is happening with the Kipling bungalow?
The Kipling bungalow is being restored by the state archaeology department. We want to convert it into an art gallery where the works of the alumni of JJ School of Art will be displayed so that it becomes a monument for people to see the glory of the school. It is still being restored. It is at the fag end and should finish soon.

Will it be open for public viewing?
Yes. As the campus involves educational institutions, we also do not want it to become a thoroughfare where education is affected. It will be open to public in a restricted way like on the weekends.

How do the JJ institutions engage with the public?
All government departments want us to do things for them. So if you want to design the Mumbai Metro logo, MMRDA got it designed by us. JJ School of Architecture is doing the textile museum for BMC. Fine Arts school is doing a lot of work for district collectors all over Maharashtra. Branding, envelope design, station design is done by JJ School of Applied Art. By working for the government, we engage with the public. It’s just that nobody comes to know about it.

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