It’s in the interest of the industry—not just in the interest of their private gallery—to keep art production and engagement going strong in times of crisis, say gallery directors
"Extraordinary times call for new thinking," says Priyanka Raja, director of Kolkata’s Experimenter gallery.
On Wednesday, the gallery launched Generator, a cooperative art production fund. While the modest fund has been set up to award micro-bursaries $500-2,000 ( ₹38,000-151,400) to keep art production going, its terms are highly impressive. There are no limits on age, nationality, location or medium and Experimenter’s own artists are debarred from entering (“They have us," says Priyanka). Grantees will be selected by a jury comprising artists and a gallery directors.
Priyanka and her husband, Prateek Raja, co-directors of the gallery, tell me they had been toying with this idea for four years on the suggestion of one of their artists, the Berlin-based Pakistani artist Bani Abidi. The covid-19-induced lockdown prompted them to get it rolling. Several artists and art collectors have already agreed to come on board as patrons.
“We have been introspecting on our role and our responsibilities during this time of uncertainty. With a large part of the world currently under restricted, quarantined environments, we feel it is necessary to reach out to our audiences in ways that challenge geographic limitations and familiar templates," they wrote to art world friends in an email last week.
The Generator is only one of the many initiatives that have come up in the gallery’s daily 3pm Zoom brainstorming sessions. They have also announced Experimenter Labs, envisaged as an inclusive online platform, in addition to their on-site gallery programming, which is currently on hold. There’s an online learning program in the works, as are virtual studio visits and artist conversations.
Priyanka and Prateek are keen on a trust-based model where artists aren’t expected to explain how the funds were used, only give a basic report . “An emerging artist could well use the fund as living expenses and that is fair too," says Prateek, citing the example of the Netherlands’ MondriaanFund.
I ask Priyanka and Prateek for their take on the whataboutery that plagues such funding missions: How do you explain an art fund when there are people without food and shelter? “We have funded on-ground efforts in our personal capacity but it’s important to realize that art is an industry too. And it’s in the interest of the industry—not just in the interest of our private gallery—to keep art production and the engagement with the art world going strong," says Priyanka, adding that it’s crucial to set examples of undertaking initiatives that go beyond one’s own business. “We thought it’s important to protect our own artists—and we will—but what about the others… the ones with no representation or no market yet?" says Prateek.
The Generator is in the company of other global art funds. The American non-profit Artadia recently launched Artist Relief, an emergency grant for artists in dire financial circumstances, with various national grantmakers such as the Academy of American Poets, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, National YoungArts Foundation and others spearheading a $10 million relief campaign. It will provide individual artists with rapid, unrestricted $5,000 grants and other immediate resources. “$2,000 can mean very different things in the context of an artist in Dhaka and one in Paris and it is our goal to award the ones who are most deserving and also the ones who don’t have other avenues available to them," explains Prateek.
While it’s too early to speak about art emerging from this time, Priyanka is certain that something will. “This has impacted everyone and artists are human. I imagine it will show in ways we cannot see yet," she says. She shares notes from exchanges with some of the gallery’s artists. Julien Segard, who lives in a cabin near Marseilles with no electricity or running water—and whose last exhibition was a look at how nature and architecture coexist in urban spaces—told her, for instance, that “he cannot imagine making work again like he made before the lockdown."
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