When the boom hit the contemporary Indian art market earlier in the decade, Mumbai-based artist and collector Ritu Khoda watched sadly as speculators bought masterpieces and kept them in godowns, waiting for a time to sell. Khoda, a 1995 graduate from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Calcutta, felt that to create a lasting change in the way people interfaced with art, she had to return to the basics.

Say no to the eraser: Artworks with ‘mistakes’ created by children at Art1st classes.

In 2009, Khoda formed Art1st with a committee of eight, including artist Yogesh Rawal and Shampa Shah, a five-time recipient of the All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society award. Their mission was to change the fundamentals of how children were taught art.

The committee has spent the last two years drawing up a curriculum. They have begun pilot programmes at the Gundecha Education Academy, Mumbai, and a few Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) schools. They’ve also set up labs at places like The Little Company, Bandra, and The Reading Tree, Thane. Their pilot workshop at The Shri Ram School, Delhi, will begin in July.

The children are asked not to start afresh if they make a ‘mistake’—the idea is to show them there is no right or wrong in art.

Here’s looking at art

In New Delhi, Flow Associates, a UK-based organization, is also working to address this gaping hole. Flow, which set up an office in the Capital last December, was started in 2006 by Bridget McKenzie, former head of learning at the British Library, and her colleague Mark Stevenson, a science communicator and author. It provides a range of interventions to support academic enrichment in schools based on the Flow Creative and Cultural Learning model. Though the organization has consulted internationally in countries such as Russia, Syria and the US before this, the New Delhi branch is its first international outpost.

Rose and Hilton are working at the ground level in India, conducting workshops for children as young as 5. One of their programmes, called Flow Families, takes groups of families for guided tours of museums such as the National Museumand the National Gallery of Modern Art. But like Art1st, their ultimate goal is on developing art and critical thinking modules for schools, for which they’re in talks with schools in and around Delhi.

How to shape a thinker

The Flow-Fica “Young at Art" programme is a six-session workshop that takes children through 100 years of Indian art, focusing on 10 artists from different art periods, looking at their technique and creating artworks to match them. Each workshop culminates with a gallery visit. “When we’re telling the children about the artist Ram Kumar, we make them create collage to understand his style," says Hilton, who is a specialist in the Philosophy for Children methodology, a global movement of educational practice which started in the US in the 1970s and aims to teach reasoning and argumentative skills to children.

Art and play: Hilton (left) and Rose at the Flow-Fica workshop for six- to nine-year-olds. Courtesy Fica

Tarana Sawhney’s seven-year-old daughter Noor, a class II student at Delhi’s Shri Ram School, attended the workshop. She says the methodology helped her daughter internalize concepts. “Days after the workshop, Noor saw a diary I had with an A. Ramachandran painting and remarked that it was probably from his Lotus Pond at Night series. She hadn’t learnt this by memory, she’d actually internalized the artist’s style!"

Khoda adds that the tools used in art appreciation shape a child to be a thinker, and build confidence. They also help in building vocabulary and powers of description. “Twenty years later, your child is not going to get out-of-the-box ideas if he or she hasn’t been encouraged to think that way early on. An art curriculum needs to give a child the self-confidence to own an idea and present it," she says. For this reason, Khoda and her team are also against “colouring books" which embed an idea into a child’s mind and say this is the way to do it.

Art1st’s Ritu Khoda (centre) with teachers.

“Parents come up to us all the time and say things like: ‘Thank you for doing the sort of thing our child left behind in New York’," she adds. “Parents have begun to realize the benefits of going beyond the cramming methodology."

The Flow-Fica Young at Art programme costs 3,500 per child; a Flow Families museum visit is priced at 2,000 for a family of three. For details, visit Flowindia.wordpress.com

To get in touch with Art1st, write to ulka@art1st.co.in