Saturday, 24 March 2012

Community Arts Projects Help Rebuild Social Capital

Did you know that taking part in community art projects can be directly related to the economic success of a business community? Our experience of working with different communities has led us to understand that there are many ways in which corporates can help improve struggling communities in the urban situation. It is to a general advantage that there should be healthy collaborations with communities surrounding the corporate setup.

Engaging culturally with underprivileged and marginalized communities also helps corporate staff become better professionals, individuals and leaders.

The links between the economic health of a community and the quality of its social bonds are becoming increasingly clear. Robert Putnam and other sociologists have supplied convincing evidence that strong social connections are necessary ingredients of economic success.

It has been found that communities that engaged in collective creative efforts developed their social capital by cooperating, sharing, and seeking and finding shared goals by developing ties on a cultural level. These connections serve these communities well in their other endeavors–from economic development to civic participation to healthy living.

Including young people as meaningful contributors in the social and economic aspects of community building must not be overlooked and cannot be left to schools and parents alone.

Within the arts, there is a vital yet lesser-known field of practice that strives to develop cultural understanding and civic engagement. Community-based arts practitioners bring members of a community together to solve problems, build relationships, and get involved in ways that rebuild social capital.

Our Own Community Arts Project for Students Aid Fund

Kala Bhavana, Santiniketan threw its doors open for wider interaction with art lovers during the first two days of December. The event was the annual fair, Nandan Mela, which commemorates the memory and legacy of Nandalal Bose, the legendary artist and teacher of Kala Bhavana who was part of the Bengal School. 

Nandalal Bose took charge of Kala Bhavan in 1922 and is considered to be the man who shaped the institute. The master-artist believed that a holistic structure to the practice and teaching of art was necessary for a healthy society, and he endeavored to bridge the gap between the fine arts and the living traditions. He proposed a revival of indigenous art languages for a newly independent India, and for sharing our practices with the public. Thus he aimed at rescuing art from hermeticism, and making it socially relevant. In his book Vision and Creation he emphasized on the importance of having an annual art fair for the community people. Way back in 1973, Nandan Mela was first conceived as an occasion to raise funds for students welfare. The entire proceedings from the mela (fair) go to the Kala Bhavan Students' Aid Fund. On this occasion the students learn things relating to art practice in addition to the prescribed curriculum.

Nandalal Bose's birthday is celebrated on 3rd December (he passes away in 1966). In the morning, on 3rd December every year, a candle-light procession (Boitalik) proceeds from the Kala Bhavana to Nandalal Bose's house early morning, to pay homage to him. Later in the day, students and teachers go out on a picnic to mark the completetion of the celebration.

Like all the other years, the 37th Nandan Mela this year, too, had a host of activities including art stalls put up by the Painting, Sculpture, Ceramics, Graphics, Design and Art History Departments. These stalls had artworks made by the students and teachers ranging from calendars to craft items, diaries, stationery, fashion jewellery, paintings, prints, saras (clay plates), and ceramics, wood and metal sculptures for sale at affordable prices. In addition to these were the annual art magazines, Nandan and Searching Lines for the discerning readers, Department of Art History brings out every year. For the savories, there were stalls of Indian, Thai, Korean as well as Continental dishes, as well as a Japanese tea stall. It is interesting to note that with changing times and sensibilities students come up with newer suggestions for the stalls. This year there had even been a nail art and tattoo stall, which was quite busy throughout the two evenings.

An amazing dance performance a fusion of ballet and contemporary dance by Viviane Capt, held the audience awestruck. Viviane is pursuing her PhD on the influences of Indian dance on western choreography at the Sangit Bhavan at Santiniketan. She is especially interested in exploring the connection between dance and spirituality, and is an ardent follower of the choreographer Maurice Bejart. The puppets for the stagecraft her dance were created by Pratik Bhattacharya, a young student in the Department of Painting. She proposed peace and love in the times of strife through her eclectic style, and it ended with her handing out flowers to the audience. In another recital by her, a labyrinth was erected, inside which folk music was played.

Installation practices are a part and parcel of Nandan Mela, and visitors get a taste of the nature of art practice in the public places by the students during their two-day visit. This year we had some innovative installations, one of them being Sudipto Mondal's T For? An array of images hung on a tree as part of this installation, which suggested that the 'T' could possibly be for Tagore, tree, Twitter, or tumi (you). Under the placard for Tumi hung a mirror in which viewers gleefully watched themselves, and became a part of the installation themselves. No doubt, it is an innovative way of hinting at our place in the larger scheme of things. Hope the visitors enjoyed the efforts.

Suchana Mela 2011; The Uttar Chandipur Community Society

The Suchana School on the outskirts of Santiniketan celebrated another edition of its Suchana Mela on the 14th of November 2011. The school is run under the aegis of The Uttar Chandipur Community Society, which is supported by the efforts of Rahul Bose and Kirsty Millard Bose. 

The Suchana Mela is an opportunity for the kids from the surrounding villages - who study in the not for profit school Suchana - to showcase their talent, celebrate community life and learn to be self-reliant. It is a major step towards empowerment for the underprivileged kids. 

The kids came up with art and craft that was for sale. They also brainstormed for weeks in advance as to what events should be planned for the day the school will throw open its doors to the surrounding communities. The games and interactive activities that the kids planned of course had a nominal ticket price; the funds go to the welfare fund for the kids. Here are some scenes from a very memorable evening: