Citi’s helping hand for art conservation

Citi’s initiative is not the only example of a corporate funding art projects, but there aren’t too many such


Restoration work of an exhibit in progress at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya.
Restoration work of an exhibit in progress at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya.

New Delhi: For the art restoration team at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), formerly the Prince of Wales Museum, one look at a 17th century miniature of Ibrahim Adil Shah II, a gum-tempera on paper from the Deccan’s Bijapur district, was enough to indicate that there was a long and laborious process ahead.

Restoring damaged or decayed art work requires extreme care and is consequently a slow and expensive process. The paint had dried up in the 300-year-old art work and was flaking at the slightest touch of the brush. It took several days for the work to be restored, a process the museum’s chief conservator, Anupam Sah, describes in his book Conserving the Collection: The caring path for 5000 years of our Art. The book was launched during the ongoing ConserveArte exhibition in Mumbai, part of a three-year tie-up with the Citigroup under which an exhibition of selected restored art works is to be organized every year.

Citi tied up with the museum in October last year as part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative. Protection of national heritage, art and culture is among the activities listed in the schedule. Few companies have so far taken steps to comply with the CSR rules mandated by the government. In fiscal year 2016, 91 NSE-listed companies spent Rs40.88 crore on social development-related activities, nearly 40% less than in FY2015 when close to Rs68 crore was spent, according to data analysed by NextGen Pvt. Ltd, a CSR consulting firm.

Citigroup spends a substantial portion of its CSR funds on schemes for financial inclusion and creating economic opportunity for youth. For art and culture, Citi India has set aside Rs4.77 crore from its total CSR-related spend of Rs39.25 crore in FY16. The total includes the Rs13.03 crore spent by the New-York based Citi Foundation on projects on financial inclusion and creating economic opportunities for the youth in India.

Citi has also tied up with the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai; India Foundation for the Arts, Bengaluru; and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Delhi, for a number of art and culture initiatives.

The company also has a separate Museums on Wheels project with the Chhatrapati Shivaji museum through which it showcases different exhibitions to low-income families within and outside Mumbai.

Exhibitions on Mohenjodaro and dolls of ancient India, which were previously only exhibited in the Chhatrapati Shivaji museum are taken to the smaller districts in Maharashtra, as well as areas such as Dharavi within Mumbai—since these are low-income households whose members wouldn’t visit museums usually. The travelling exhibition is an interactive and educative process spreading awareness about culture and heritage through replicas of art works on display in an air conditioned bus.

“CSMVS has a collection of over 70,000 objects which epitomizes the rich cultural heritage of our country. The museum is a living monument of our past history in many ways. It is our duty, I feel, to do our part in preserving this heritage through such a prestigious institution,” said Debasis Ghosh, Public Affairs Officer, Citi India.

“In the first year (October 2015-October 2016), of the 650-700 art-works we have restored, about 150 are of iconic value. Be it the Ashokan edict, the Gandharan Buddha head, or Akbar’s armour—these are pieces which demand their space in history,” says Sah, who has curated the 50 pieces on display at the exhibition.

Citi’s initiative is not the only example of a corporate funding art projects, but there aren’t too many such. The percentage of CSR funds going into art may be as low as 1%, said Arundhati Ghosh, executive director of the India Foundation for the Arts, a not-for-profit, grant-making organization supporting art practice, research and education in India.

“There is a conventional understanding of what is ‘good for the world’. In most cases that has to do with serving people less fortunate than us through health, education, etc. However, supporting the arts and culture does not have to come at the cost of this support. They can happen simultaneously with a portion of the overall funds available,” Ghosh said.

Ghosh pointed out that some challenges continue to plague the art and culture segment as corporates often use the scales with which they measure the impact of development projects to determine the impact of the arts. “No one is willing to invest in developing new processes that can truly understand the impact of the arts,” she added.

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