New Delhi, June 5 : The pandemic has proven to be a trying time for the art and crafts communities across India. The lockdown has brought every performance, festival and corporate occasion to a standstill, which has had an especially devastating effect on folk musicians, dancers, visual artists and sculptors, weavers, puppeteers, technical engineers, and designers, all those who rely on regular incomes from these festivals, weddings, shows, exhibits at craft fairs, and public gatherings.

#ArtMatters, an initiative by the Teamwork Fine Arts Society, is working towards creating awareness about this new reality faced by various artistes across India and developing support channels for them. Since its inception, over 100 industry leaders, artists and art enthusiasts have participated in the #ArtMatters campaign, extending their support towards the cause through donations, video appeals and testimonials. In one of its recently held virtual meets the aim was to highlight the difficulties artistes are facing and how the larger fraternity can join hands to advocate effective change.

The panel featured Laila Tyabji, Chairperson and Founder of Dastkar, Dadi Pudumjee, Founder of The Ishara Puppet Theatre Trust; Sanjoy K. Roy, Managing Director of Teamwork Arts, renowned Kathak dancer and choreographer Aditi Mangaldas and Jehan Manekshaw, Founder of Theatre Professionals and Head of School at the Drama School, Mumbai.

Padma Shri Laila Tyabji, who has been working to create a sustainable sustenance model for craftspeople across India said "Art matters, and so do the artists and craftspeople who make it. All of us need to stick together and bring forth their issues to light." Sharing his thoughts on the initiative, Sanjoy K. Roy, Managing Director at Teamwork Arts said, "ArtMatters began as an advocacy campaign to highlight the contribution of artists and artisans to our syncretic culture, tradition and daily life. Since then the campaign has grown to support artists and artisans who have been impacted across the country." More than a hundred million individuals across the country earn their primary or secondary income from the art they practice, perfect, and perform. From the Manganiyars of Jaisalmer, to the Bauls of Bengal, the puppeteers and magicians of the Kathputli Colony in Delhi, to the weavers of Benaras, and a number of dancers, theatre practitioners, musicians, painters, and photographers, these artistes and numerous art forms are celebrated in the proud declaration of India's cultural diversity.

"We artistes have been far too long used as cultural diplomacy all over the world. It is about time that the powers that be look into the millions of artists who in these times need a helping hand. Civil society is doing all it can, but where are the ministries (government), the academies and others who we have performed for?" asked Dadi Pudumjee, one of India's foremost puppeteers and President of UNIMA International stated.

Covering the various verticals that the performing and visual arts landscape provides, #ArtMatters has been working towards mobilising industry leaders, art connoisseurs and art lovers in order to build a single umbrella of communication that underlines the difficulties faced by the community while raising sufficient resources for the affected artistes.

An educator in the field of theatre, Mumbai-based Jehan Manekshaw shared, "As leaders in our space it is upto us to take all the relationships and networks we have formed over the years and point their eyes into the direction of these artists, at least until the government is in the position to take over. Also what I feel as a mentor is to keep teaching and to keep exploring new ways to reach out to potential students. The biggest challenge is to see how we can translate a form that is all about the physical space and be able to educate via technology." #ArtMatters is currently working with multiple artists, artiste communities and organisations across the country. Since April, it has collaborated with Rajasthan Josh Sidhar Vikas Sansthan, which is raising resources for families of folk musicians in a village in Jaisalmer, the Brahmaputra Cultural Foundation, which is helping artistes and their families in Assam, and the Vimor Handloom Foundation, which is working with weavers across the country. Other noteworthy partners include UNESCO, FICCI and ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations).

Design studio Raw Mango and celebrated Kathak exponent Aditi Mangaldas rooted for raising funds for the artistes who have been left without any source of income during the pandemic. With the objective of spreading awareness about the difficulties being faced by the artiste community, they have collaborated on a series of short films by Mangaldas, performed by the members of the Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company - The Drishtikon Dance Foundation, that brings together the original work 'WITHIN' and their current creative impulse, from within the confines of their homes. During the press meet, Aditi, lamented on the current state of affairs and shared her motivation behind creating these films.

"Belonging to a small community of artists in India who are privileged, I felt compelled to offer an artistic experience rather than just make an appeal. Do consider this as an offering to bring you something to cherish and cheer on our community. We hope that you will open your hearts and donate for the wonderful artists who are struggling to survive in these unprecedented times," the dancer commented.

As a part of the larger campaign, Teamwork Fine Arts Society is also organising a fundraising concert that will seek to drive donations for our unsung folk heroes. The concert will be a cinematic voyage-from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from the sandy deserts of Rajasthan to the hilly terrain of Assam- that will take viewers across different regions, uncovering the cultural landscape through dance, music, art and craft, with some brilliant folk artistes, weavers and craftspeople alongside some of the most successful names from the Indian art community. The concert will give a glimpse of our country's rich and vibrant traditions through beautiful performances and compelling interviews with the artistes.

(IANSlife can be contacted at ianslife@ians.in)

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