Voices from the Field: Funding Scenarios for the Visual Arts in India

Written by Aileen Blaney
Researched by Aileen Blaney & Jigna Padhiar

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In the period since IFA’s establishment in 1993, new players have entered the funding field alongside the departure of older ones. Concurrent with market liberalisation, changes in the conditions of making, selling, collecting and showing visual art have been unrelenting ─ international sales of Indian artists have skyrocketed, a raft of new galleries and museums have opened their doors and the initiation of India Art Fair in 2008 and Kochi Biennale in 2012, both firsts of their kind, marked a new phase in the maturation of a growing arts scene.

This fact-finding exercise has the twofold objective of: seeking to identify the organisations forming the backbone of funding and support for the visual arts in India, offering an analytical viewpoint on the terms of their engagement with the artist community; and, ascertaining existing needs of contemporary visual artists in this country and the infrastructural contexts in which they are situated. With this aim in view we have focused on the period between 2010 and 2013, asking if there have been any significant changes in the funding landscape, particularly in terms of who is funding what and how. Equally, we are interested in determining why certain practitioners and organisations have succeeded in getting a slice of the funding pie where others have failed or succeeded to lesser degrees. Institutional ideologies and mission goals, which by necessity are inherent in each and every organisation, have a role to play in how these entities view and interact with the field. A greater understanding of what these encompass will enhance our ability to situate ourselves in relation to the agents responsible for the shifts that periodically occur in the funding ecosystem.     

By speaking to key, strategically located individuals and organisations in three of India’s major metropolises – Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore – we have gained glimpses into the broader picture of cross-country challenges and concerns for both those seeking and dispensing funding.  In finding answers to a range of questions, whose breadth go beyond our capacities to solve single-handedly, we have wanted nonetheless to bring the Extending Arts Practice (EAP) programme – through which we support artists who undertake to bring a new set of questions coupled with critical reflection to their work – into contact with the currents pulling funding organisations in retrogressive and progressive motions.  The EAP programme is entering a review process this year that forms part of IFA’s effort at ensuring the programme remains consistent in its ability to map on to the blind spots in funding for visual art practice that is breaking new ground. We are confident that this will reenergise and, if necessary, refocus our efforts to support the development of experimental new work in contemporary art that is bold enough to go beyond and/or build upon conventional forms and methods.  

We have chosen to break this document into a number of key areas reflecting the most urgent questions that we have been asking through the course of research with respect to the role currently played by funding and cultural organisations in the visual arts sector. Analysis will filter out of the data collected, a critical understanding of the (i) common concerns (ii) divergences and (iii) key challenges, marking how funding bodies and support agencies operate. There are important distinctions between these analytical categories; while common concerns identify what are widely perceived as being the key issues affecting the vitality of the arts scene, divergences bring together the exceptions to the rule, and key challenges mark out those areas which IFA might want to consider as part of its review process. Key findings of this study are drawn out and integrated into a conclusion that brings us up to date with what is being done and, equally, what is to be done in supporting the continued development of a vibrant contemporary visual arts sector.   

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