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Giving, bequeathing or donating to the arts has taken on a new dimension in India in the last 10 years—with “philanthropy" becoming the buzzword to describe this phenomenon. Such has been the rise of non-profit organizations within the art space that the London-based art market analysis firm ArtTactic has dedicated a whole new survey to it, titled India Special Report: Art And Philanthropy 2019.

The report mentions 32 new initiatives, which have commenced since 2008 in India alone. “(This is) more than double the number of philanthropic art projects and foundations existing pre-2008," writes Tarana Sawhney, chairperson, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) task force on art and culture, and board member, Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art, in the report.

The fabric of philanthropy in the art sector is extremely diverse, and one which is spreading beyond the centres of Mumbai and Delhi, with 53% of the projects in the last five years taking place in other Indian cities. One is also seeing foundations and trusts in all shapes and sizes, fuelled by different ideologies, come up. There is Maraa, a collective based in Bengaluru and Delhi, which focuses on the political and the creative, especially on democratizing urban public spaces and preventing sexual violence against women and adolescents.

One of the oldest in this set is the Gurugram-based Devi Art Foundation, which strives for innovation unconstrained by commercial limitations. Some of the alternative art spaces include Cona Foundation in Mumbai, which offers a platform for collaboration and residencies, and Khanabadosh, Mumbai, which describes itself as an “itinerant arts lab" to expand aesthetic considerations. The newest entrants to the world of art and philanthropy include the Kolkata Centre for Creativity, established by Emami Art, and the Shalini Passi Art Foundation in Delhi.

Parmesh Shahani of the Godrej India Culture Lab
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Parmesh Shahani of the Godrej India Culture Lab

Parmesh Shahani of the Godrej India Culture Lab in Mumbai points out that philanthropy movements have evolved across the globe by dissolving barriers between the humanities, arts, sciences and business, thereby making new connects through the holistic approach. “Certainly, the art economy doing well has helped but there are other factors, like a generational shift in family-owned business or those who have been professionally trained at institutes. They are being passed on to younger people who have a global perspective, and they are also exposed to the humanities," he points out. Shahani’s other insight is from Dasra’s India Philanthropy Report 2019: 10 years ago, 90% of philanthropy was directed towards religious causes; today companies are looking at widening their ambit to include welfare, education and the arts.

One of the leading voices in the field of art and philanthropy has been the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art, or Fica, based in Delhi. “Thirteen years ago, it was really a group of us coming together to envisage another organizational structure for the art field," says director Vidya Shivadas. Part of its vision was to streamline the various roles that a gallery plays—from publishing art to supporting artists and collaborating with other organizations. “But for me, personally, it was about stretching the possibilities of education, outreach and dissemination," she adds.

It is on a similar foundation of collaborative and cross-pollinated practices that the Godrej Culture Lab was set up nine years ago. In fact, Shahani believes that the Lab is not just an arts space but a knowledge space, which covers many colours of the spectrum: everyday lives, anthropology, gender, sexuality, urban-rural groups, the world of TikTok videos, Rajinikanth fandom, and more. Its forthcoming projects involve creating a Mumbai culture map, which will allow over 200 avant-garde practitioners to zoom in on a neighbourhood to check the latest events.

Feroze Gujral
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Feroze Gujral

For a lot of these not-for-profit spaces, philanthropy is more than just a “responsibility"; rather, it is a labour of love. Take The Gujral Foundation in Delhi, for instance, which was set up in 2008 by Mohit and Feroze, the son and daughter-in-law of the famous modern artist Satish Gujral. The foundation has its hands full with diverse ongoing projects in the field of art and design. It is currently hosting an exhibition, Memory’s Cut; Its Deep Embrace, in Delhi’s Jor Bagh, featuring the work of Remen Chopra W. Van Der Vaart; carrying forth an institutional partnership with Cept University in Ahmedabad; and conducting a lecture on Company paintings, titled Forgotten Masters, at the Wallace Collection, London—all this while continuing to support the Kochi Muziris Biennale and the Indian artists at the ContourBiennale in Belgium. “It is a different type of philanthropy because this is not a CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiative. It’s just Mohit and me giving back to the arts because that is where we come (from)," says Feroze.

It is the passion for art, from a young age, that fuelled Surbhi Modi, director, Floodlight Foundation, as well. She started the non-profit artist mentoring and management agency in 2011 in Delhi. The idea was to provide artists with an environment where they could fine-tune their practice, get curatorial support and technical guidance. Floodlight also seeks to broaden the base of art connoisseurship with projects in public spaces.

Meanwhile, as these initiatives gather steam, there is a need to start nurturing India’s next generation of philanthropists. Feroze points out that the notion of philanthropy as an act of benevolence has to be changed. “It is an investment, it’s like building for posterity. It is not about having a lot of money but having the right intent, we need small changes to do big things," she says.

Georgina Maddox is a Delhi-based writer and curator.

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