Unplugged | Art

Residencies, retreats and destination festivals: the new ‘it’ thing for artists

Image: Getty Images/ iStock

Image: Getty Images/ iStock  

Most such retreats will book a spot for anyone who has the required time and money

The workshop mode — for writers, artists, craftspeople, designers, musicians, chefs et al. — was and continues to be a popular learning and exchange format. It usually entails intensive exposure and practice for performers of all kinds, newbies and old hands. There are also the one-off master classes from maestros and experts from various disciplines, during which much cogitation, questioning and discovery takes place.

However, the new ‘it’ thing to do seems to be the retreat or residency. Once a hard-won, all-expenses-paid, fellowship or sabbatical of sorts offered by various hallowed institutions, this coveted format was made available only to people who would have to apply and compete with others to land a berth. At the end of it, the artist-participant would need to show work of some kind that grew out of the residency. It was an enviable break from the mundanities and minutiae of daily living that are part of almost every householder-artist’s life.

It was also an opportunity to interact with other saadhaks, seekers, like themselves. These could be from diverse disciplines, and while you were free to pursue your own work through the day, many residencies required participants to exchange thoughts, ideas and beliefs during one designated part of the day. Most fruitful, all this came with the promise of time to yourself, yet not complete isolation. And the stipend or expenses paid part helped — materially, as well as in making the participant feel valued. Someone was saying, “Come, let me take care of the routine rigours of living, and you just luxuriate in your work.”

Festive atmosphere

However, quite suddenly, the residency/ retreat is all around us, and to get into one, participants need simply pay their way. Yes, some organisers say they must have some kind of body of work, and a stated intention about what they wish to get out of this retreat. However, most such retreats — or ‘destination festivals’ as they are called — will book a spot for anyone who has the required time and money.

And why not, really? (I ask, sensing a kind of snobby eyeball roll from many who immediately think of this as nothing more than a self-indulgent kitty party, an artsy assignation.) Why must everyone wait to be invited to some high table of learning based on someone’s notion of merit or on your ability to jockey for a slot at these creative meets? Why not just pay your way there?

Well, one does know that there is a difference in the two approaches, but whether you like it or not, this new phenomenon is out there, and possibly here to stay. One art teacher recently took her students, mainly women in their mid-40s, on a destination trip, in which was included learning to make sangrias, dance the salsa, and snorkel (talk about total immersion). Only, they had to come back with a thick drawing book quite full of sketches and paintings and tell the story of this trip, airport to airport, via their visual journals. And they had to pay their way.

Musical symposium

Later this month, there is going to be a residential festival in Goa at which Indian classical musicians and their audiences will stay together at a resort. There will be music performances almost round-the-clock. Food and conversations are expected to flow, along with music.

A group of artists recently went to a picturesque island in a river in south India. The person organising it was at first hard-pressed to find takers — even though it promised solitude, beauty, inspiring fellow artists, a complete change of pace from home. Many old-school sculptors and painters she approached simply said, “If you get us a sponsor for the 30k needed, we will come; else, our studios, albeit a small corner of our house, will suffice, as they always have.” The trip did materialise, however, perhaps with a different set of artists than who the retreat was originally aimed at.

No doubt, the travel and tourism industry will quickly wake up to this new ‘segment’ — the artist in search of inner indulgence.

The novelist, counsellor and music lover takes readers on a ramble through the Aladdin’s cave of Indian music.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 3:47:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/residencies-retreats-and-destination-festivals-the-new-it-thing-for-artists/article30585658.ece

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