Mumbai and its Multiplicities, The Money Question
19 March 2020
As the day and the conference drew to a close, the final session of Culture Con 2020 dealt with one of the most pertinent questions that the cultural sector in India is faced with today- the Money Question.
It would not be an understatement to say that money rules our world (I’d blame late capitalism!). Money has become one of the primary ways of determining the value of a variety of resources and assets, ranging from tangible ones like products to intangible ones like brand identity. Valuation is a tricky area when it comes to culture as a whole and the culture sector in particular. Since value determines the funding which in turn defines the profitability (or lack thereof) of the organisation, addressing these concerns is necessary, especially in contemporary times when the arts are flourishing but funding nonetheless remains a struggle.
‘The Money Question’ segment of CultureCon consisted of curated presentations, case studies and a round table panel discussion touching upon the issues of funding, the challenges of funding in relation to non-profit models, as well as sustainable and mixed models for for-profit cultural organisations. Furthermore, this segment also briefly discussed the ethics of funding and concerns around accountability. The speakers for this session were: Arundhati Ghosh, the Executive Director of India Foundation for the Arts (IFA), Deepika Sorabjee, Head of Arts and Culture of Tata Trusts, and Sanjoy K. Roy, Managing Director of Teamwork Arts. All the speakers as well as the audience brought unique perspectives regarding funding, philanthropy and grants to the table. Rashmi Dhanwani, Founder of The Art X Company, moderated this session.
Why fund the arts?
One of the key concerns that came up repeatedly during the session discussed the problem of lack or inadequacy of funding in the cultural sector. Whether it was Tata Trust or Teamwork Arts or smaller culture collectives and organisations, funding was proving to be a challenge for them all. Deepika Sorabjee from the Tata Trust gave some perspective on the funding for culture within Tata Trust, the Corporate Social Responsibility initiative of the Tatas. According to her presentation, even a trust as large as Tata still allocated only 1-2% of their CSR funding to the arts and culture portfolio while giving precedence to education and healthcare. These concerns further raised questions of the reasons why funding the arts was crucial to culture and therefore to the society, that is, what value does the arts and culture have for the society?
Value of the Arts
Value can take both tangible and intangible forms. The session saw insightful discussions on how to attribute value to the work done by various cultural organisations as well as artists, and what kind of value to attribute- tangible or intangible. Quoting Ratish Nanda, CEO of Aga Khan Trusts, Deepika Sorabjee stated that culture gives “a good way of life”. Further elaborating on this intangible value of culture, she discussed how arts and culture can provide additional employment to artisans and labourers, thus raising their incomes.
Sanjoy K. Roy, on the other hand, put forth a question in response, asking- how do you measure the value of the intangible aspects of art? In trying to quantify, measure and define this value, you run the risk of compromising its essence. However, at the same time, the arts do need to show and prove that they can create tangible wealth along with intangible wealth, that is, create economic growth as demonstrated by parameters like the GDP along with factors like goodwill and ‘a good way of life’.
Arundhati Ghosh summed it up quite nicely by saying that the value of the arts might be intangible but it can nonetheless be articulated. It is this articulated value that can be pitched to investors and grants committees. According to Pooja Sood from Khoj, the artist becomes the best person to make this pitch because their passion is then palpable to the investors and other concerned stakeholders.
Who to fund?
Coming from the investor’s and the grant maker’s point-of-view, Sorabjee examined the questions related to international sponsorships and funding for cultural organisations. While sufficient theoretical knowledge about the cultural sector in India is available, there isn’t a clear basis for its application. When international investors want to fund cultural institutions and organisations in India, the question of trust arises, and more often than not, these investors end up donating to well-established institutions like state-run museums. With Tata Trust, Sorabjee said they looked for excellence, multiplicity and marginalised voices when it comes to provide funding. Arundhati Ghosh also put forth IFA’s mandate of funding art centered around the issues of caste, class as well as other minority intersections. According to Roy, Teamwork Arts’ Jaipur Literature Festival is free and open to all which ensures visibility and representation of the margins and minorities.
Different Models of Funding
Since Ghosh, Sorabjee and Roy all belonged to different kinds of cultural and funding organisations, they employed diverse models of funding. Ghosh’s IFA holds fundraisers and accepts donations but with some conditions attached. For instance, the donors don’t get to decide which projects are funded. Tata Trust focuses on conservation, arts education and training, and performance arts and crafts. They receive corporate funding from various Tata Trusts. Being a cultural organisation themselves, Teamwork Arts employs a sponsorship revenue model while a non-sponsorship revenue model is also in the pipeline.
Ethics of Funding
Another interesting discussion that arose from this session concerned the source of the funding and its ethical implications. Whether or not funding should be accepted from corporate and other organisations with less than ethical practices, was a key concern with Roy arguing that what is done with the money is what matters as opposed to Ghosh who called for greater accountability and said that the culture sector should assume responsibility for the consequences of its choices.
Q & A Session
This segment had a unique format wherein anyone from the attendees could join the speakers on a table and put forth their views and questions. This led to some interesting perspectives being discussed. Among these were Revanta Sarabhai who brought up the issue of developing a sustainable model for arts not dependent on grants or NGO funds. Smaller cultural collectives and organisations have to look for alternative creative models of funding to sustain their work. Samprati Lavana from the Lab team wondered about the sustainability of one such increasingly popular model- crowdfunding. In response, Rashmi Dhanwani argued that crowdfunding is a decent model for short-term projects but it isn’t sustainable in the long-term.
The session concluded on the consensus on the need for sharing of resources and research by and among all the diverse stakeholders for the sustainability and growth of the culture sector as a whole.