In all the discussions that we have had in this country about volunteering and voluntarism, the least space has been accorded to cultural volunteering which should be a natural act since culture belongs to the people and everyone is brushed by its golden touch. Yet, our protagonists of culture — our dancers, musicians, instrumentalists and theatre artistes — are seen as being different entities, who are somehow different from ordinary people. The popular misunderstanding is that they are all privileged enough not to need any volunteer assistance. Nothing could be further than the truth.
The arts in India have survived not through moneyed patronage or systems of support, but through the passion and grit of the individual artistes. Yes, the rajah-maharajahs of yore — and the systems of state patronage today — offer some oxygen. But in the main, the arts have survived through sheer dint and grit of the artistes themselves, despite the dire economics that dogs their every step.
And if volunteering is to be catalysed by need, then believe me, the arts in India need the most number of volunteers!
How can volunteers help the arts and artistes?
Since all the arts in India have developed from religious/spiritual roots, the support systems for their promotion did not develop at all, like they did, say, in the West. There impresarios and artist management companies professionally manage the entire gamut of art support services. The artist is fortunate enough only to create and perform.
But here nothing of that sort of infrastructure for the arts exists in our context. Here the artiste does it all alone. From research, creation, finding right accompanists, approaching sponsors and organisers for opportunities, finding venues and coordinating dates of their availability, designing costumes, sourcing fabrics, creating sets, supervising performance, handling pre-publicity and managing event publicity, arranging the intricate technical details for the show, light design, sound management, to performance and post performance winding up, the individual artiste does it all. Seriously. Exhaustion seems to be the perennial name of the game here!
The valiant artist’s struggle to perform is not at all appreciated in India. How many people realise their strife? Isn’t this reality situation crying for the urgent creation of volunteer cadres to support the arts?
Then again perhaps, part of the problem is with the artistes themselves. Many a time their egos do not permit them to articulate or accept that they need assistance. They carefully nurture their public image of “completeness” and ability to do it all. That is sometimes foolish. Artistes should create, and perhaps leave all the other nitty-gritty work to volunteers.
So this is a plea to volunteer for the arts. Support the arts. They need you. And even if you do not realise it fully, now, believe me, you too need the arts. The arts make living more beautiful in so many intangible ways. They remind us constantly that the human spirit was created to soar in amazing different ways. You will feel that pulse too if you volunteer for the arts. And if nothing else, do volunteer to be a committed member of the audience for arts.
The writer is founder-president of Natya Vriksha, Delhi. She is both a performer and teacher. E-mail: email@example.com