An art festival in Thane could change the urban mindscape dramatically.

A city is merely a stack of building blocks and public-utility spaces, till it is bound together by a cohesive thread of something that appeals to its every citizen. The bond becomes even stronger if that thread is created using collaborative and collective efforts of the citizens. It is with this in mind that the Upvan Art Foundation, a non-profit organisation from Thane, a city just outside Mumbai, joined hands with the Thane Municipal Corporation to host the ambitious Upvan Arts Festival (UAF) early this month. The first edition of the festival was hosted as a three-day soiree in the picturesque Yeoor Hills around the promenade of the scenic Upvan Lake. With an array of visual and performing arts on the agenda, UAF’s aim was to preserve and promote art and culture through established as well as deserving names, and to simultaneously engage with the local community for collaboration. The idea was social cohesion through artistic endeavour.

At another level, the Festival endeavoured to bring in myriad footfalls into a small city that has been in a transmogrifying phase over the last few years. From a conventional historical town, Thane has lately been developing into an urbane, cosmopolitan centre that houses a cross-section of demographics. An art and culture festival such as UAF serves to bring this varied populace under one roof, providing them with a multifarious platform where they can join hands and shape the character of the city they are living in. While there are quite a few art, culture and literary festivals happening across the country, especially in recent times, the UAF stands out for the way it has become a conduit between society and art, managing to capture that elusive to-the-masses factor at its best.

Rucha Mehta, Director-Curator, Visual Arts at UAF talks about the thought behind the concept: “An event of this magnitude becomes an interesting point of departure for the thought on the history of Thane’s existence. The idea is to provoke and recreate the cosmopolitanism (which was its essence through ages) through art and to define a more democratic and inclusive platform for social cohesion. A public event of this dimension creates an opportunity for the city to make its existence more significant and reiterate its cosmopolitan nature through collective and collaborative efforts. It helps define the city’s inclusive identity which is otherwise ruled by a complex lattice of politics, economics and bureaucracy.”

So what did the collaborative, conversational and connective conclave consist of? For one, the entire promenade of the lake was dotted with more than 300 stalls selling pottery, ceramics, fusion art, woven art, wearable art and so on. Interspersed with these were food stalls. “Food is as much art as anything else; we hosted cuisines from authentic Maharashtrian to contemporary Italian and Parisian. We also had zero-mile foods — dishes made from ingredients grown in and around Thane only, and love cooking sessions,” says Sharmilla Iyer, one of the organising committee members.

Artistic stalwarts like Dr. Sudhir Patwardhan, Sunil Gawde and Gigi Scaria held discussions and talks, along with workshops on disciplines such as origami, pottery, Warli paintings, film appreciation, and more. Programmes like ‘Mapping the City’ asked children to draw their interpretation of the city’s map should be like. There were dance performances in various genres ranging from Lavani to fusion, while in music the festival was elevated to another level altogether by the performances of luminaries such as Ustad Zakir Hussain, Roopkumar Rathod, U. Srinivas, V. Selva Ganesh and Rashid Khan, who held the lakhs of visitors spellbound.

“I have been coming to Upvan Lake for so many years but never have I seen it in this avatar,” said 27-year-old Priyamwada Jog. “The lake is a favourite spot for morning walkers but never have I seen so many different people congregating here.

For 11-year-old Shriram Faase, the joy was in getting to create so many different things. “I made a pot in the pottery workshop, I learnt origami. It was fun learning these things with other kids my age. I made so many new friends.”

The organisers added a touch of magic to the ambience with laser beams and strobes, and fairy-lights and lanterns strung from trees. The effect was nothing short of a fairyland, to which Thaneiites flocked in droves.

The UAF brought a small city together on a common platform by creating a space that was diverse in essence and yet unified in its being.