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The art of funding art
- Foundation holds out hope for artists

Barbra Streisand, in one of her brilliant albums of Broadway numbers, sings Stephen Sondheim’s witty Putting it Together that describes the predicament of the artist looking for funds so that his vision can come alive. For, as she argues, “If no one gets to hear it, it’s as good as dead.”

The researcher or the artist trying to strike out on his own to work on a project that can neither be pigeonholed nor attract buyers, ever, has faced a similar frustrating situation trying to persuade financers or sponsors to loosen their purse-strings.

Therefore, a sculptor/puppeteer, a painter/puppeteer and a shoe last designer/woodwork artist collaborating towards developing new styles of presenting puppetry to address marginal groups of children in Calcutta sounds like a pipedream in a country where even established artists find it difficult to work with integrity, given the demands of the marketplace. The same holds for a ceramic artist and a textile and fibre artist/writer, working in tandem to create an installation using clay and fibre. Without financing, it would not be possible.

It is in situations such as these that the Indian Foundation for the Arts (IFA) comes to the rescue of the artist or researcher, as it has in the past. Anmol Vellani, executive director of the IFA, was in town during the weekend to acquaint the people of Calcutta with the activities of what is claimed to be the country’s first independent and professionally-managed grant-making organisation for the arts. It is headquartered in Bangalore and it began functioning from 1993.

Vellani, whose father was a theatreperson of repute and who himself was with the Ford Foundation for nine years from 1986, says the IFA was created on the lines of the Ford Foundation to assist and support pioneering or innovative work in the field of the arts – ideas that would, perhaps, not be entertained by agencies that have a more conventional way of thinking.

For example, photographer Dev Nayak, who had sent a proposal for documenting the artisans of Kumartuli — a subject that has been done to death — was not given short shrift, says Vellani, because there was something in his proposal that struck him as being unusual. IFA took him on, and the brilliant result was there for everybody to see at the slide show presented by Nayak on Friday evening.

So, IFA is currently supporting digital art as well as a collaboration between a visual artist and an activist/writer towards integrating art, research and activism around the issue of communalism in the wake of the Gujarat riots. Even Ahmedabad-based institutions such as Darpana would not have done it, Vellani asserts. The process of collaboration between individuals working towards a certain goal, too, finds IFA support. A press handout describes IFA as a “clearing-house to bridge the gap between the arts groups and the donor community, as an advisory body to assist arts patrons to use funds productively…” Four main programmes cover IFA’s activities. These are arts research and documentation, arts collaboration and arts education. The latter is concerned with enhancing the role of the arts in education. IFA has also established a theatre development fund. All funds come without any strings attached.

IFA has been sustained by the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, Sir Ratan Tata Trust and other philanthropic bodies, corporate bodies and individuals.

IFA has supported more than 100 projects across 17 states with a commitment of over Rs 4 crores. On an average, 12 new grants are made each year, while the old grants continue. In 2002, the total amount awarded was Rs 14 lakh for six projects. Vellani says all proposals have to pass through a stringent process of evaluation, during which an applicant holds a dialogue with the board of trustees. Thereafter, the applicant can end up with a viewpoint quite different from the one he began with. Later, the project being funded is constantly monitored. The maximum time limit of the project is considered the deadline for completing it.

IFA’s website is www.indiaifa.org

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