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Analysis of Sansad TV Discussion: Art in the time of Pandemic

Context

  • Due to the pandemic, how we make, experience and share arts and culture has changed radically with multiple lockdowns and social distancing.
  • In March last year, a devastating 26% of the arts sector was facing permanent closure in India.
  • The uncertainty of a third wave threatens recovery for the arts in India and the uneven pace of the double vaccination between nations has massively curtailed international travel for artists and cultural tourists.

How does Covid-19 affect Indian Art?

  • Beyond the immediate threat to life, the COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected livelihoods and the economy.
  • The culture and arts sector has been one of the most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The pandemic has forced cancellations and suspensions of some of the biggest cultural events organized all across the nation which serve as a medium for education, promotion platform and transfusion of heritage.
  • There have been delays and cancellations of major national and international festivals as well affecting the movement and livelihood of thousands of artists.
  • Some art forms have fared okay with visual arts and the private art market sustaining. While the performing arts, theatres, music venues and festivals have been largely closed to live audiences.
  • In India, some festivals moved online to retain public profiles and continued international collaboration. However, the loss of ticket sales and sponsorships has had a serious impact on their balance sheets.

Which Steps were taken by the government?

  • Several steps were taken by the govt during the pandemic to help artists and organizations through grants under various scheme components of Kala Sanskriti Vikas Yojana to conduct events on virtual mode.
  • In view of the prevailing conditions, the Ministry of Culture issued guidelines in October 2020 to help artists/organizations who have already been sanctioned grant under various scheme components of ‘Kala Sanskriti Vikas Yojana (KSVY)’ to conduct events on virtual mode.
  • All efforts have been made to release the funds to already approved grantees under various financial schemes of the Ministry of Culture.
  • Under the scheme of Repertory Grant, the exemption has been granted to organizations from mandatory inspection for release of yearly grant.
  • Under the scheme of ‘Artists Pension’, an exemption has been granted regarding submission of the mandatory annual income certificate by the pensioners.
  • All the ZCCs have encouraged the folk artists/artisans to get registered with their member States in order to avail the schemes announced by the States.

How Creative Economy Impacted?

  • In 2019, when Covid-19 started to spread and much of the world went into lockdown in the spring, the creative economy was among the first hit.
  • It was no different for India, where the creative economy has always been integral to its artistic vitality, social enterprise, civic pride, and economic wellbeing.
  • The pandemic in many instances brought arts companies to a complete halt and artists income fell off the radar within weeks. From macro to micro the creative economy impacts national GDP and artisans’ livelihoods
  • It’s a mixed picture but nonetheless, it’s a very worrying, bleak one for many arts sectors, companies, and artists in India.
  • The creative economy feeds other economies – transport, hotels, tourism, restaurants. For example, In 2019 pre-pandemic 2.58% of West Bengal’s GDP was earned from the annual arts and culture festival. This festival is integral to the economy of the state and the livelihoods of the tens of thousands of artists, designers and artisans.
  • So, the pandemic created a perilous future for the formal and informal creative economy.

 If cash and cash flow is king – what next for the creative industries?

  • Many individual creative professionals and artisans are living with short-term survival and hand-to-mouth existences. 22% of the creative industries have lost 75% of their annual income.
  • Some sectors are adapting to digital and live business models, while some of the workforces is leaving the creative economy and changing careers permanently.

Digital revolution

  • Arts practitioners, organisations and institutions around the world have met the challenges posed by the pandemic with agility. For many, the pandemic accelerated the transition to the digital medium; the act of self-preservation often leading to innovation.
  • The Internet brought to the forefront unique opportunities for artists and institutions to interact with each other in a varied manner, forging collaborations and creating newer outlets for the arts.

Loopholes in the digital medium

  • With the digital medium, geography might have become history, but it comes with its pitfalls: global competition, reduced attention spans, digital fatigue.
  • Also, in the race to stay relevant, most virtual programmes were offered free, or for a token fee; this would later pose a problem in an underfunded sector as the pandemic progressed. Both institutions and individuals have had to rely on their own financial reserves for existence or exit.

The great divide

  • The divide between the two Indias — those with and without digital access — has been a serious challenge.
  • In urban India, artists reached online audiences with greater ease, as virtual performances, talks and art walkthroughs became the norm, and Zoom, YouTube, Facebook Live, and Instagram were the new venues. But it’s quite difficult for the artists who reside in remote areas of the country.
  • Within arts and culture, an informal sector in our country, the challenges faced by the performing arts, museums and fine art, and the vast crafts sector, contrast sharply with other sectors such as design and film.
  • As the pandemic unspools, most artists find themselves at a loose end; for some, it is a question not merely of existence, but of survival.
  • During the lockdown, folk artists would call, begging for work. For rural artisans, who depend on the village economy and physical markets to sell their art or craft, the lack of work also exacerbated existing social problems such as alcoholism and domestic violence.
  • Much folk art is also crafted around religious festivals, with musicians hired to play and religious souvenirs bought and blessed in temples. With public festivals cancelled and temples closed, the doors closed to this market too.

Absence of a policy

  • Due to the absence of a central culture policy in India, most initiatives are driven by individual passion and non-profit organisations that struggle to survive.
  • Although States such as Kerala and Assam are case studies for their support of the arts, the picture is otherwise grim; the creative economy is shrinking, organisations are closing permanently, and arts professionals changing careers.
  • The most affected are freelancers and large organisations with major overhead costs. Many have diversified into teaching and conducting workshops for a living.
  • In contrast, countries such as the U.K. with its Arts Councils, and Germany with its grants for innovation in the arts during the pandemic, ensured that the arts would not just survive the pandemic, but thrive.

Way Forward

  • Unprecedented global challenges necessitate unprecedented action.
  • There is an opportunity for the creative industries, financial institutions, and governments to come together in India, but this needs to be agile, substantial, and soon.
  • Access to emergency loans and grants for artists and artisans and creative companies are still urgently needed 18 months on; prioritising timely disbursement of government grants and businesses CSR financial support are critical.
  • It is clear India’s self-reliance and innate arts entrepreneurship will be key to the future. Substantial concerted government intervention and investment for the arts is critically needed now.
  • While private corporate support will strengthen a healthy mixed creative economy for India’s arts and culture. But the clock is running, and time is short.

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