‘Art, Community, City’: Concerns about public art

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'Art, Community, City' at Bikaner House | Photo by Abir Pothi

By Abhishek Kumar and Vinay Seth

On the penultimate day of the Delhi Art Week 2022, its Co organisers, along with the Culture Plus Foundation held a conversation themed, ‘Art, Community, City’ at the ballroom of Bikaner House, New Delhi. The talk took place among several panellists from different organisations with a stake in contemporary art talk — these included Sunaina Anand (Co Organiser, Delhi Art Week), Arjun Bahl (Cofounder, St+Art India) and Arunkumar HG (contemporary artist), among others.

While the speakers emphasised on the importance of having a community-driven approach to sustain the fine arts, what we found equally interesting was the open round after the talk, where the audiences were invited to extend the conversation. This round exceeded the official discussion in time, lasting for around an hour.

Photo by Abir Pothi

During the open round, the different opinions of the panellists as well as various attendees, converged on the emphasis on promoting art in Delhi and making the city a hub for artists. While discussing about community art, an important point was raised about the funds allotted for art at public places and in public buildings. The attendees and speakers both opined and agreed on the point that private organisations are doing plenty for the development of community art but the government is not doing much. During the tenure of the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, a particular rule was created for the allocation of funds to art in government spaces. The combined gathering of gallerists, art promoters, artists and others present in the discussion stated that some artists are doing much in the field of public art, but on a personal level, through creating public art when the opportunity arises for them. They said that they find it is wonderful that activities like street art, and murals on environment are taking place. But they also expressed the view that the survival of public art is a matter of concern as the number of artists taking interest is still relatively small in number. They suggested that we need more artists to step forward to create public art.

Some people in the room stated that the main reason behind the decline of public art is that at present, artists are not part of the commissions meant for public art promotion, and the seated officials don’t have a good idea about art. These officials need to be taught about art, they felt. As an example, the Delhi Urban Arts Commission was brought up, which has no artist in their team. At the moment, the body solely consists of architects.

Not only was the functioning of governing bodies criticised, but fingers were raised on the media as well. One of the panellists mentioned that earlier, newspapers used to have an exclusive column dedicated to art but now we are lacking that space in media. This space was crucial for the promotion of art, the panellist felt, since journalists play an important role in promoting ideas in the public sphere. (We at Abir Pothi are trying our best to fill this lacuna.)

While talking about galleries, Tariq Allana, a Co Organiser of the Delhi Art Week, said that an art gallery can be perceived as just an exhibition space or a business. If it’s for business then they can’t devote their whole time, space and effort in promoting art. Local art businesses need a platform to be recognized in the global market. He said that while the global art business is worth around 65 billion dollars, its Indian counterpart contributes around 200 million dollars, a mere fraction (a point earlier raised by Tariq in our discussion with the Delhi Art Week team). As far as art as business is concerned, a suggestion that was made in the discussion was that we need pro-art market initiatives from the government too. One person urged that we should learn from the Japanese government, which recently turned art tax-free in their country. According to them, tax-free art in Japan encourages more people to buy it.

At the end of the open round, two of the panelists, Yasmin Kidwai (Culture Plus Foundation) and Apurva Kackar (KNMA), announced that their organisations are collaborating to soon organise a tribal art festival , as well as a Nizamuddin Basti community outreach programme.

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