Finding able art administrators is a constant struggle in our country. This malady has caused serious setback to our much-needed art institutions
So many years after Independence, we still have no policy on training cultural administrators to head art institutions. Floundering between high profile artistes, who are not known for administrative skills, and bureaucrats — who may know administration but are totally clueless when it comes to matters of art, all art institutions seem to find themselves engaged in an obstacle race while looking for the right personto provide the leadership required for artistic creativity to thrive. Just looking around provides glaring examples of how our art institutions vacillate between high and low points depending on the person, who happens to be accidentally in charge at a point of time. Even our prestigious central academies are running headless. Open market recruitment has not helped the Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA) find the right Secretary, nor has the Government shown any visible signs of urgency in promoting the senior-most person from within the cadre, who has been officiating Secretary for some time. Lalit Kala Akademi is going through its own problems and is in a similar predicament.
Take an institution like the Kathak Kendra, which after late Jiwan Pani has had a series of directors of varying capacities, many totally unsuitable for the job. At long last, the institution has been able to secure the services of Chetna Jyotishi Beohar , who comes with the right credentials. Trained in the Raigarh Kathak School, she has depth of scholarship acquired studying under late Premlata Sharma, combined with requisite administrative experience and savvy to manage the volatile community of artistes and students. Her term, however, is drawing to a close. One hopes the Board and SNA authorities will have the good sense to extend her tenure as Director, for under her, the Kendra has acquired a sense of direction, which was sadly missing earlier.
It is the same story everywhere. In Bhubaneswar, the Odissi Research Centre, after the retirement of Kumkum Mohanty, who headed the institution for years — unable to persuade any worthy candidate from the dance community to take over as Executive Head — has handed over the reins of office in what is a dance training centre to a top level music artiste Ramahari Das. There are growing examples of State academies being managed by dancers, who may be star performers but who are unable to inspire cultural policies or display the drive for creativity or for that matter even encourage research and scholarship in the arts. Square pegs in round holes are what Government art institutions have come to live with. Why should artistes engaged in creative work be saddled with or given the power and responsibility to administer cultural policy laying organisations, unless the person concerned has retired from all active performance activities? One finds dancers in every committee. While one admires their ability to wear so many hats, those still active in the performance scenario, even with the best of intentions, are bound to have their prejudices which will colour their decisions.
Very much in tune with the general climate in our art bodies, is what is happening at Kalakshetra, Chennai. After Rukmini Devi left the scene, the institution has been racked by the shenanigans of people from various domains. Each with a personal agenda, the indeterminate scene has been made worse by some senior members of the staff, nursing a strong feeling of being the only ones, who should be consulted in the running of Kalakshetra, a right claimed by having been associated with the institution for years. Ex-director Leela Samson, carrying on bravely amidst bristling antagonisms, worked tirelessly for the institution for seven years, till she was forced to retire. Lack of administrative experience was cited as the main reason for hastening the end. It was certainly a handy peg for grievances of those, who felt they had been sidelined in the decision making
But the present decision of the Selection Committee deciding in favour of Bharatanatyam dancer Priyadarshini Govind is intriguing, for she is still actively performing, and is bound to be away for long periods. From what one knows of her, she has little or no administrative experience. But perhaps there will be others in Kalakshetra to look after this aspect. But in terms of providing art leadership, she represents the Vazhuvoor School and Kalakshetra, from what one has seen, has always been very particular about guarding its own Bharatanatyam vision patented by Rukmini Devi. So what her role will be has to be seen. I would be the happiest person if she succeeds in this venture, but seeing that persons made of far sterner stuff have found the going tough, I only hope Priyadarshini is aware of what she has to deal with.
Art administrators are the need of the hour. One hopes that the Government wakes up to this need and does something to remedy the situation.