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Fundas of funding

Anmol Vellani, Executive Director of the India Foundation for the Arts, makes a case for independent philanthropy to support the arts

— Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

Anmol Vellani: `Both existing private and public support come with people not thinking about the arts first, but their own interests.'

THE INDIA Foundation for the Arts (IFA) is bringing a Motley production to Bangalore for the second time as a fund-raising event. The first production, Ismat Apa Ke Naam, premiered in Bangalore in 2003, was a powerful presentation of three short stories of the inimitable Urdu writer Ismat Chughtai. And the production slated for January 22 and 23 also brings on stage three well-known short stories, this time by Premchand and Kamtanath, directed by Naseeruddin Shah.

IFA is an independently managed, grant-making organisation which has been supporting various Indian arts for over a decade now. While the organisation is largely funded by endowments, it also organises corporate-supported events to raise money. As curtains go up on Katha Collage, Anmol Vellani, IFA Executive Director, speaks about various aspects of corporate funding. Arundhati Ghosh, who handles marketing for the IFA, fills in on the nitty-gritty of the exercise.

Excerpts from the interview:

This is the second time you are bringing a Motley production. Is there a special synergy between Motley and IFA?

Anmol: There are two things. They like what IFA is doing. And we feel that the kind of theatre they do works well with IFA's image. You could do a bhangra rap event to get large audiences. But that would give people a wrong impression on what IFA's fundamental work consists in.

You have managed to find an impressive number of sponsors for the show. Is that easy it involves a celebrity like Naseer?

Anmol: It was actually hard. Even though there are many sponsors, all sponsors together aren't covering the cost of the show. So, it's very important to have sell-out houses to emerge in the green. There may be many reasons for that, including it being the end of financial year and too many theatre events happening this year. Also, there has been an overexposure of Motley in Bangalore. They have come some four times in the last one year.

Arundhati: When we brought them for the first time in 2003, Naseer hadn't visited Bangalore for nine years. So, even from the sponsors' point of view the novelty value has decreased.

That's what makes the business of sponsors tricky, isn't it? You have to take into account things beyond the artistic value of something.

Anmol: Yes, we have got our fingers burnt many times. We perhaps need to plan and position events better, think of what works better in which city and so on. It's not easy. We plan to do four events every year and that's going to be a lot of running around.

Is it as hard raising funds for the specific projects you support?

Anmol: Well, it's a little less dire than you might assume because there is an endowment in place created by three organisations. The earnings for all our management costs and for a large percentage of our budget are met by it. We don't need to keep raising money for all the grants we make. It's for about 20 per cent that we have to raise from outside every year.

Arundhati: Five years back, the interest we got would make for all the grants we were making. But with the falling interest rates, the money we get from there is growing smaller. So our variable amount will need to become bigger as the years go by.

In one of your articles, you talk about how government support comes with political pressures and bureaucratic hurdles. But doesn't corporate sponsorship also come with many strings attached?

Anmol: That was exactly my point. Both existing private and public support come with people not thinking about the arts first, but their own interests. So art becomes a way of pursuing a political agenda or a business interest. This is where we position ourselves. I was, in the article, trying to defend the idea of independent philanthropy.

But can strings be ever completely absent?

Anmol: They are, because we keep our fund-raising very much aside from grant-making. When we go to a corporate with a grant we have decided on, they either support the grant we have already decided to support or we don't take the money. And when we make fund-raising events, they pay for the event. But the money we earn from it will go into the grant we choose to make.

Arundhati: When we take a specific grant to a corporate, there is no negotiation on the content of the grant. We don't change anything to accommodate a corporate's business agenda.

Anmol: Even when we have an event, if they want changes that go against our values, we won't take the money. That's why it is more difficult for us to raise money through public events than an event-management group.

Arundhati: For instance, backdrop branding is one thing most corporates want. So, you have a huge logo just behind the artiste which goes against the spirit of the event. We do not allow any branding within the auditorium.

Anmol: It's not even a good marketing strategy! If the ad in the background irritates an audience, can they be expected to go out and have a positive image about the company?

Over the last decade there has been a sea change in the way we look at corporate sponsorships. At one time seeking sponsorship was seen as a compromise on artistic and intellectual integrity. We have now reached a point when we believe that events can't just happen without big sponsors!

Anmol: The reason partly is also the increasing cost of productions. Just look at what auditoriums used to cost (to hire) in the Eighties and now. Then you could get away without taking sponsorships. So, it was not just an ideological issue.

But a theatre or musical troupe that takes an ideological stand may never get any sponsorship, right?

Absolutely. Two things can happen. The group may not want it because of its own ideological position. They may feel compromised. Or, the content may be seen as too controversial or a critical by a corporate. We do take these factors into account when we do a public event. But it doesn't interfere with the projects we support.

(Motley's Katha Collage is being staged at Chowdiah Memorial Hall on January 22 and 23, 7.30 p.m.)

BAGESHREE S.

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