The Bangalore based India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) is an independent, philanthropic organisation that supports arts and culture projects across India. It is endeavouring to showcase its grantees' work in different cities and to build closer ties with other local institutions and organisations that support the Arts. For the time being, IFA's focus is Mumbai and it will be in the city on 7th and 8th April 2012 with a two-day festival that will feature theatre, films, music, photographs. There will be discussions and conversations as well as a workshop. Arundhati Ghosh, Deputy Director at the IFA talks to us about IFA's initiative to explore connections in Mumbai; she also talks about IFA's New Performance Programme and of the challenges that the organisation faces. Sponsorship for the Arts has never been easy but the IFA has been making sincere and the much needed attempts required for promoting the Arts.
Over a period of time, it seems that the IFA is particularly keen to develop a closer relationship with Mumbai. Are there similar plans for other cities too?
IFA makes grants across the country. In fact the 300 grants we have made in the last 16 years spread across 23 states. However, when it comes to showcasing the work, some of it has depended on where the grantee has shown it, and at other times when IFA has been able to organize a showcase. Since we have our office in Bangalore, a lot of the showcases have happened there. However, we felt we need to move to other cities to show our work and that's why we have this plan chalked out for Mumbai for the next year where we will showcase a series of our grant work in association with partners like Prithvi Theatre, Gallery Project 88, Mohile Parikh Centre at the NCPA and Arts India. But doing this is expensive...we needed to hire staff, set up a small office and we have to bring down the grantees from across the country. We want to do the same in some other cities as well but it's a question of the funds and bandwidth that we can handle. Right now, the focus is Mumbai.
What is the IFA looking for when it makes grants under its New Performance programme?
IFA's New Performance programme supports performance practices that are reflective and seek to create new modes of presentations. They could be taking risks to explore new themes or be experimental in the way they straddle different genres of performances. They could also be looking at engaging with changing contexts or new ways of connecting with audiences. The works could be site specific or which might visualize known spaces in new yet unexplored ways. All these various new ways of looking at and thinking about performance can fall under this programme. Performing arts groups and individuals working in or across music, dance, theatre and puppetry can apply. The programme is also open to light or set designers, sound artists and writers working in the area of performance.
Once the grant is made and apart from the regular reviewing/appraisals that may take place, does the IFA intervene at any other level?
It would depend on the grantee. Sometimes grantees come to us for advice or to discuss how they might access institutions that might be interested in working with them. In these cases, the IFA intervenes as per the needs of the grantee. There are other times when a project is not going the way the grantee had imagined it would, and then s/he would discuss the various options with us. We are always open to giving advice, suggestions and recommendations but finally it is the grantees' call. Because it is essentially their project.
You have been hosting plays and art events in Bangalore by groups and people that have not necessarily been your grantees. Also, there has been a concerted effort towards marketing your shows and your various programmes. Is it because you want to change the popular perception of your foundation as being predominantly a grant-making body?
There are only two reasons for us to host plays and other art events. Either they are the work of our grantees and we are showcasing them for a larger audience. Or else, they are high profile cultural events and we are doing them to raise funds for our organization. The fundraising events are marketed to raise funds, while the grantee showcases are marketed to let people know what we do...where we spend out grant money. This is important also for people to fund us and support us - to know where their money is going.
Today, IFA is not just a grant making body. We also take on projects ourselves where we feel that the project may not be used to this kind of funding or when there is too much pressure on the field to administer the grant. So we engage in foundation administered projects where we look after those projects ourselves. We also create platforms for artists and cultural practitioners to meet and share ideas with each other and we publish Art Connect, which has become an important art journal for many people.
Have you created a regular audience for your shows in Bangalore? How has the local community responded?
Yes, we have. Most of our shows here go packed. The community has been extremely supportive and encouraging and we hope after seeing our work, Mumbai will also support us.
What challenges does the IFA face?
Many. It's impossible to talk about all our challenges in so small a space. I will mention a few. Firstly, funding the arts has always been a difficult proposition. In a world that gives little and where most of that little goes towards the more traditional developmental causes like health education and livelihood generation, IFA finds itself in a very lonely place. Very few people realise the need to support the arts. And even among those that do, the arts are so subjective that there are always differing points of view on what exactly should be supported. Such dilemmas may not exist for education or health.
Secondly, there is the question of mission v/s money. It is often a chicken and egg situation in funding. One often realizes that in order to become an effective change agent you need long term strategies ....deep interventions that will perhaps take years to bear fruit...and yet the entire world seems to have moved to a game of 'short term results' which makes it very difficult to work in the arts. Sort term returns are often short lived returns as well - but how does one talk about that? So there is very little of long term thinking in funding and we find it difficult to get long term commitment from funders for our work.
Thirdly there is the issue of not having enough funds to showcase our work the way we would want to, which I have already talked about. Fourthly there is the problem of always falling short of being as accessible as we would like to be. We have our programme notes written in different languages and we travel all the time to take IFA to far flung places, but India is so large and there is so much cultural work happening all over the country and one is always feeling that we have not done enough. This feeling of dissatisfaction actually keeps us going...so it's a good challenge to have.
I could go on as the challenges are limitless. And we are forced to keep innovating all the time. We have to develop new ways to reach people, new ways to raise funds, new ways to support the field. That's the only way we will stay relevant.