Cultural development initiatives supported by the Government of India so far have not substantially promoted contemporary art practices and festivals. The new draft policy announced by the Ministry of Culture promises to change this. It proposes to extend financial support to established large festivals such as the Mumbai Khala Goda art and Chennai music festivals to help develop them into international events. Non-government organisations can get assistance to the tune of Rs.15 lakh in cash and Rs.35 lakh in kind. But, when compared to similar efforts elsewhere, the approach lacks imagination and vision. For instance, the McMaster Report (2008), which looked at how public subsidy could promote excellence and internationalise the arts and festivals in the United Kingdom, recommended that the top 10 organisations be identified through peer review and funded steadfastly for 10 years. What is clear is that token annual grants accompanied by cumbersome procedures will not attract, much less nurture, creativity. Nor will it make any difference to the quality of cultural festivals. A long-term guarantee of sustained funding will go a long way in creating a stable environment to implement ambitious plans.
Worldwide experience shows that artistic excellence emerges and world class festivals flourish only in an ambience of good cultural infrastructure. Multiple investments are required in wide-ranging areas, including audience engagement. Many successful festivals have creatively integrated themselves with city development and dovetailed with the local economy. In India, there is unfortunately no sign of a comprehensive national cultural policy four years after a committee was set up to formulate it. Where annual government spending on cultural development is low, it is all the more important to ensure that what is provided is wisely spent. Given the late start in supporting contemporary cultural practices, official policy must concentrate on supporting artists, widening the audience base, and subsidising performance of the classical, the folk, and the contemporary to optimise public engagement. There must be quick learning from progressive innovations like ‘A Night Less Ordinary', a scheme by the Arts Council of England that encourages young audiences to attend performances by providing thousands of free tickets to those below 26 years of age. A fact-based professional review of existing institutions and ongoing programmes is an imperative alongside new schemes.