This weekend, art took to the streets in a big way. With late night gallery tours, heritage walks, workshops and treasure hunts across 18 cities, Art Fervour’s AF Weekender became the first ever pan-India event on the art calendar, and marked a shift in the country’s cultural landscape.
“The art ecosystem in India is considered to be an elite space, monopolised by intellectuals and collectors,” says Art Fervour founder Nivedita Poddar, a Kolkata native who studied Art Market and Art World Practices at Christie’s in London. When she founded Art Fervour in March 2019, Poddar hoped to create recreational experiences around art that didn’t demand prior expertise in the field, and used emailers and Instagram to reach young audiences. The first edition of AF Weekender, held in February 2021, was entirely digital, and included talks by eminent personalities such as Debottam Bose, India’s first art lawyer, and Kiran Nadar Museum of Art curator Akansha Rastogi. Nearly 1,700 people attended.
The end goal, however, was to bring people into galleries, museums, or even the streets, to engage with art first-hand. When Poddar announced this year’s Weekender would be entirely in-person, she received interest from cities as far-flung as Santiniketan and Surat, Coimbatore and Leh. “One of the things I was not expecting was for so many emerging artists to get in touch with us themselves, to ask how they could participate,” she shares. “They want to show their work, they want to be out there, they want to push their boundaries.”
With an eye on the new
On the opening night (September 23), galleries and museums will extend their hours for AF Lates, which offers visitors the opportunity to drop by the gallery after work and, at select venues, even socialise over a drink.
Another popular feature is AF Explore, which will engage with more public cultural landmarks: the St+art India Foundation will host art walks through New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Coimbatore, while the India chapter of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) will lead heritage tours around the Old Fort of Delhi, the Nationalist Trail of Kolkata and the Nubra Valley in Ladakh. “The walks are a part of ICOMOS’ aim to host 75 heritage walks across the country to celebrate 75 years of India’s independence,” explains Poddar, “This will be an exciting new way to engage with our heritage and experience the histories our cities hold.”
Encouraging young buyers and new collectors is a key objective. And AF Weekender is doing this through artist studio visits and a mindful curation by galleries to include affordable art by emerging artists. “We’ve observed that young collectors seem to be exploring their tastes,” notes Poddar, “They’re experimenting with emerging artists, who are creating artwork within their budgets.”
While government sponsorship and public patronage is still wanting, Poddar believes that private citizens must take ownership of the cultural landscape. She is also hopeful that the explosion of NFTs will awaken a new generation of art collectors. “At the very least, it has started a conversation,” she says. “We are still a nascent industry, and there is so much space. I would be so happy to see more art and culture entrepreneurs. If we don’t bring that energy, who will?”
AF Weekender is on from September 23-25.
The freelance writer and playwright is based in Mumbai.