By Sukant Deepak
New Delhi, April 15 (IANS) What theatre director Chakresh Kumar remembers most about his conversation with a veteran stage actor is her reaction when he called her to ask how he could help during this lockdown.
“It’s been 30 years that I have been doing full-time theatre in this region. You are the first one to ask this.”
There was quiet for a long time. Kumar transferred some amount in her bank account so that she could buy her groceries. That’s when it occurred to him that it is important to have a fund for freelance artists during this lockdown when all performances have been cancelled.
Even as the current lockdown in face of COVID-19 has caused much hardships for migrant labour, daily wage earners and others in the unorganised sector, freelance artists and craftspeople have not remain unaffected, especially those in the performance field.
Though it would not be fair to compare the steps taken for artists by developed economies like Germany and England who have pledged 551 million dollars and 192 million dollars respectively to artists during the ongoing global health crisis, there seems to be a deafening silence from the many state and central government akademis which do not necessarily have a funding deficit.
But all doesn’t seem to be lost considering some individuals spread across the country are coming together to provide assistance to artists in this time. One such campaign is ‘ADAA: Assistance for Disaster Affected Artistes’.
Not a registered NGO or organisation, but a group of six independent artistes and cultural practitioners including Shubha Mudgal (musician), Aneesh Pradhan (musician and scholar), Sameera Iyengar (cultural practitioner), Arundhati Ghosh (cultural practitioner), Rahul Vohra (actor, director and arts consultant), and Mona Irani (producer and casting director) who have come together for the campaign to assisting performers from all disciplines (music, dance, theatre), jugglers, acrobats, puppeteers, arts-related professionals like instrument makers, teachers of music, dance.
The campaign was conceived on March 20 and then the group had their first online meeting.
“It was quite clear to us by then that in these trying circumstances, lakhs of freelance artistes, who earned their livelihood through performances and regular engagements, would face the uncertainty of when and how they would be able to earn again. With meagre resources and savings to support themselves and their dependents, the coming months and a potential recession would be certain to present a very bleak future for them,” musician Shubha Mudgal tells IANS.
Starting out with a target of collecting Rs 35 lakh, Mudgal is pleased that by now they have been able to achieve 60 per cent already.
“Online and offline collections amount to approximately 23.5 lakhs. If we are able to collect the targeted amount of 35 lakhs, we would be providing 100 + artistes a sum of Rs 5000 every month starting May 2020 for the next six months. We hope this will help them cover costs of basic provisions and medicines for their families,” she says.
The identification of of the artistes is being handled by ten arts organisations in ten different states of the country. Each of these organisations have a track record of working at grassroots level with artistes in their regions.
They include Jana Sanskriti (West Bengal), Imphal Talkies (Manipur), Samudaya (Karnataka), Assam Cultural Academy (Assam) Sanatkada Trust (Uttar Pradesh), Pehchaan (Rajasthan), Yalgaar Sanskrutik Manch (Maharshtra), Chennai Kalai Kuzhu (Tamil Nadu), Nrityanjali Academy (Telangana) and Sarthi (Delhi).
Several artistes, students of music and art lovers including singer Shaan, the A. R. Rahman Foundation, and tabla player Sandeep Das have contributed to the campaign while many have chosen to remain anonymous.
Though ADAA has not approached the central or state governments, Mudgal hopes hope that government agencies will come up with large scale policies and relief measures for artistes and the arts community across the country, with the range, scope and vision that can only be handled and executed by policy makers.
Goa-based artist Orijit Sen, who has made ADAA’s visual identity says that it makes all the sense to help performance artists during this time as they are the hardest hit.
“Someone like me can work online, but all their shows have been cancelled. This is also the time for academies to think innovatively and see what they can do. Everything should not be left to the citizens. Now, my daughter and her friends have been feeding migrant labourers travelling on foot. I am proud of her, but think, is this not the responsibility of the government?”
Chakresh Kumar, who has been running a theatre group in Chandigarh for more than a decade now has already managed to collect around Rs 55,000 for the ‘Tricity Artist Fund’.
“It may not be a huge amount but we have already managed to disburse around Rs. 35,000. We are catering to artists who are at the bottom of the economic pyramid. I am glad people are coming forward and donating for their (the artists’) ration, rent and other basic needs.”
Kumar says that this is an ongoing exercise and will carry on till the lockdown is lifted. “The Tricity is small, so it is easier for us to identify the artists who really need the money.”