'Culture can become India’s most powerful strategic weapon': SK Munjal at Serendipity Arts Festival 2018
Sunil Kant Munjal is the man behind Serendipity Arts Festival 2018, which is being billed as India’s first multi-disciplinary arts event, with over 90 dynamic projects highlighting the country's rich traditions of music, dance and theatre, alongside culinary arts, craft, and visual arts exhibitions.
Led by Smriti Rajgarhia, Director, Serendipity Arts Festival will take place across 10 venues, promising to energise Goa and transform Panaji into a vibrant cultural space with multiple exhibitions, performances and immersive arts experiences. In an interview, Munjal gave us an overview of his efforts, and how the event stands out in the country's festival calendar. Excerpts:
What inspired you to launch the Serendipity Arts Foundation and subsequently the festival?
In our family, we’ve always held strong views on nourishing and strengthening India’s rich and diverse cultural roots and connecting these with the country’s future. We wanted a platform that could bring many artists, initiatives, and patrons together to reassert the value of the arts. The Foundation was set up to increase the interaction with the Arts for the public at large and to help revive some of the regions declining and dying artisanal skills.
This festival gives us an opportunity to make India’s intangible heritage, both contemporary and inclusive.
Serendipity Arts Festival brings many artists, initiatives, and patrons together through an interdisciplinary event. The objective is to challenge traditional boundaries and redefine engagement with the arts. So far, we have showcased skill, diversity and interdisciplinarity on a scale not attempted in the country before. The Festival is also designed as a people’s festival with higher access than usual and welcomes people of all ages, backgrounds and geographies.
From the last two editions, how does the festival get bigger and better this year?
We have over 90 projects across seven disciplines and almost 50% of the content will be commissioned, and we will have national as well as international events. This year, SAF has a new panel of curators in addition to the earlier ones addressing a variety of ideas. In this edition, our performing arts projects will address both traditional as well as contemporary and experimental practices in theatre, music and dance.
The Serendipity Arts Festival 2018 is bigger in scale, scope and variety. There are more projects, more artists, more research and more venues. The institutional collaborations both Indian and global have also increased.
How do you plan to take the dialogue beyond the eight days of the festival, and what are the events being planned?
The eight days of the Serendipity Arts Festival is only a window, but the work of the Serendipity Arts Foundation is year long.
The initiatives of the festival every year feed into the research programs for the Serendipity Arts Foundation to implement for the next year.
There are also other initiatives like education and research in different aspects of the arts especially in multi-disciplinarity.
There are also multiple Residency’s that will further get enriched in the coming year with the partnerships we already had and the new one we have recently struck-up.
What kind of efforts will be needed for the revival of many disappearing arts in India?
We need to enhance the abilities of artisans, artists and traditional performers, to garner institutional support and private patronage. The government must actively work with citizens and Corporate India to make visual arts sustainable.
Many more self-help groups and co-operatives in the areas of the arts need to be promoted in rural areas. These must encourage development and upgradation of skills in addition to continuing with traditional skills.
The most important aspect of arts, crafts and artisanal skills is that their end-product to become commercially viable and remunerative for artisans so that this can become the livelihood for their families.
This is an essential requirement for long terms revival of the rich cultural heritage of the region.
There is, of course, a growing need for private support in the arts, how do you think this can pan out, and what role can the government play in fostering this?
Culture and soft power can really become India’s most powerful strategic weapon in the 21st century.
India needs a truly facilitating policy environment that promotes culture, which will make it much easier to host world class art and cultural events in the country; through these events, the world gets to see our traditional artists and the incredible skills that they bring.
For this, the private sector, citizens and the government must genuinely work together in unison, and with passion. Flow of financial resources into this sector must be encouraged, and the government at the centre, state and civic level must remove all forms of bureaucracy and red tape when it comes to permissions and use of public facilities.
The mantra of facilitation must seep through all levels of government; often, there is strong intent at the top and middle levels, but on-ground facilitation remains poor.
Promoting culture is not the responsibility of a single person, or one entity. It is a national responsibility.
What is required is more cohesion, along with purpose. Multiple ministries and government departments currently handle different aspects of art and culture; their efforts must become more coordinated, with active and sustainable private sector partnerships.
Do you plan to take the festival beyond Goa may be in the other parts of the country or even worldwide?
This festival may be based in Goa, but it is both national and international in appeal and scope. Currently, we are growing the Goa festival with the objective of making it bigger, and more impactful every year.
In addition to what the Serendipity Arts Foundation does as a celebration of arts through Serendipity Arts Festival, there are also other smaller events which are held in other cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Dubai. Over a period of time, we hope this will expand in scope and size as well.
There has been a great deal of talk about the hosts of the Serendipity Festival actively helping artisans and craftspeople to sustain their practices and actually become profitable with their work. Tell us a little about how you are also mentoring artistes while providing a platform to host their work.
The festival gives artists and artisans an incredible platform to showcase their skills and abilities. The previous two editions of the festival activated 1300 artists and artisans.
Throughout the year, the Foundation also works with emerging and acknowledged artists from across regions and organises exchange programs and residential programs aimed at skill development and livelihood enhancement.
We conduct both short-term and longer period programs. For example, last year, we conducted a week-long workshop with Kashmiri artisans which familiarised them with market demand during the Christmas holiday season.
Then there is Dharti, a three-month residency that allows artists to create and collaborate with peers, and to connect with the artist community at large. Besides the artists, the residency also has a critic so that artists can get feedback, make necessary changes, and ensure their work is more acceptable in the market.
We have also initiated the Barefoot School of Craft, an experimental design project that explores collaborative design processes between architects and artisans of Goa to address sustainability, environment and market linkages.
Serendipity Arts Festival 2018 is on in Goa until December 22, 2018.