India has a rich heritage of arts, crafts and culture that has evolved with its long and varied history. However, apathy and neglect have resulted in the slow death of ancient art forms and in artisans drifting away from their craft. The arts, crafts and culture portfolio of Tata Trusts was set up to help conserve India’s tangible and intangible heritage and foster sustainable livelihoods for artists and artisans.
“We are focusing now on conservation of built heritage, and also art conservation, which is an urgent need in our country, where we have so many artefacts and museums that are deteriorating and we don’t have enough trained conservators to look after them,” says Deepika Sorabjee, head of arts and culture at Tata Trusts.
Support for courses in art conservation, film restoration and contemporary dance; digitisation of cultural texts and records; music education for poor children and communities; creation of cinema study capsules; exhibitions on architecture and housing; and a platform that encourages dialogue between stakeholders in the arts — these are some of the interventions that reflect the shift in the Trusts’ focus.
Efforts are also underway to make craft-based livelihoods respectable and lucrative. “What seems to work is the independent entrepreneur model, where individuals are not dependent on any organisation or medium to earn their livelihood,” says Sharda Gautam, head of crafts, Tata Trusts. Initiatives in reviving craft-based livelihoods include projects on natural fibre-based products in Manipur and dhokra metalware in Odisha, the pre-loom network in Andhra Pradesh and entrepreneurial training of young handloom weavers in Madhya Pradesh.
By bringing in technology skills for conservation, digitisation and capability building, Tata Trusts is attempting to preserve the vast pool of practices and pursuits that illuminate the country’s culture and heritage. The effort has gone a fair distance in enriching India’s traditions in arts and crafts, while providing succour to those who live by it.
Encouraging handloom artisans is an important feature of Tata Trusts’ ‘Craft-based Livelihood Programme’. The number of handloom artisans in India dropped from 655,000 in 1995-96 to 430,000 in 2009-10 (the latest available figures), mainly due to diminishing incomes, lack of access to markets and patrons, and the consequent migration to cities of the people involved in traditional livelihoods that are now in peril. The Trusts’ programme concentrates on equipping craftspeople with marketing and design skills, delivering direct access to domestic and export markets, establishing best practices, and introducing new technologies. The idea is to eventually set up craft design and innovation hubs that can improve the lot of craft communities in India, where the crafts sector is the second-largest source of employment after agriculture.
A classical music troupe at a festival held under the aegis of the ‘Kalapana Project’ in January 2017 at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai. Featuring performing artists from three organisations and ten craft groups from across India, this was the inaugural event of the project, which is all about providing a platform “to imagine the arts differently through current practices” and to bring artistes closer to the community, to new audiences, policymakers and influencers. Kalapana comes under the canopy of the arts, crafts and culture portfolio of Tata Trusts. It is a standout example of the Trusts’ effort to preserve under-threat art and crafts forms. The project does this by encouraging old and modern forms of performing arts and helping to sustain livelihood-based craft traditions.
Tata Trusts is jointly funding the restoration and conservation work currently underway on 10 monuments at the Qutb Shahi Heritage Park in Hyderabad. Under the ‘Quli Qutb Shah’ project, Tata Trusts has partnered the Aga Khan Trust for Culture to complete work on Badi Baoli, which is now open to public after restoration. The Qutb Shahi complex comprises 70 structures that were built during the reign of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, which ruled the Hyderabad region in the 16th and 17th centuries. The complex has been nominated to the World Heritage List and is being developed as an urban archaeological park.