Updated: July 1, 2020 10:39:19 am
The artist community, too, has been hit by COVID-19, especially those in the margins in small towns and villages. The lockdown imposed by the government in late March has forced them to stay at home without any opportunity to earn. Since social distancing is central to the strategy to contain the pandemic, public performances and activities are unlikely to restart soon. This has left thousands of artists and artisans in limbo. Many of them, surviving precariously, could slip into poverty. They may even be forced to abandon art and craft and turn to unskilled work.
In the absence of a social security net for artists and artisans, in many places, individuals have come together to crowd-source funds and provide aid to needy artists. This is, however, insufficient. There is a compelling need to look beyond individual initiatives and work out institutional mechanisms to address this crisis. The production of art needs to be seen in the framework of the cultural economy and artists must be recognised as producers/workers in that economy. Art production — from temple artists, traditional and folk performers to modern musicians and gallery-supported artists — is an essential part of human existence and necessary for a society that is happy and at ease.
In an interview to this newspaper, Carnatic musician T M Krishna suggested a welfare programme on the lines of the MGNREGA to provide a safety net for marginalised artists and artisans. The government could step up to create opportunities for performance and teaching in schools, colleges and other public spaces. Such assured support would ensure that the less “market-friendly” art forms too can flourish and practitioners can pursue their vocation with dignity and self-respect. The existing support, including from government-sponsored academies, is limited to a small number of established artists, those who are engaged in art forms patronised by the social elites. Those living in the margins depend on religious festivals, carnivals, local markets to make a living. It is important that these artists are not forgotten in this time when the pandemic casts a lengthening shadow on their canvas and stage.
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