The egg-yolk yellow cottages of Goa’s charming Latin Quarter, Fontainhas, are punctuated by a wishing well. Those who asked for increased artistic activity had their wish come true when galleries and festivals began to open in and around the neighbourhood. Today, Goa’s burgeoning cultural scene is fast rendering it an aesthete’s destination.
From a beach-bummer’s paradise, Goa has rapidly morphed into a cultural destination. The spurt in activity ranges from new cultural centres to arts festivals, much of it centred in the state’s heritage precincts, from the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) at Maquinez Palace to the Goa Photo Festival at the Reis Magos Fort to the Sensorium Festival of Arts, Literature and Ideas at the beautifully-restored Sunaparanta. There is also a cross-pollination of creative disciplines, whether a reading at Gallery Gitanjali or a poetry reading at the newly-opened Museum of Goa, as part of the Goa Arts and Literature Festival (GALF).
In picturesque Fontainhas, the terracotta-hued heritage Panjim Inn complex is where Gallery Gitanjali is ensconced. Over the years, the gallery has become a central space for art exhibitions, book readings, theatre workshops, art history and film appreciation courses, book and film clubs, and has initiated several programmes, including ‘Zeitgeist’, Goa’s only art history club, led by artist and art historian Apurva Kulkarni. The gallery hosts, among other events, the multi-disciplinary ‘Fontainhas Fridays’ (first begun as a monsoon activity) and also recently introduced the Fontainhas Mehfil in association with the successful Assagaon Mehfil that brings together travelling and resident musicians in Goa.
Nearby, in Altinho, an old Indo-Portuguese home has been restored to its former glory and transformed into Sunaparanta by Dipti and Dattaraj Salgaocar. “It was set up as, and continues to be, a nucleus of creativity that brings together old masters and young artists, a place for conversation around art. Several artists come to Goa and have second homes here; Sunaparanta serves as the perfect place for these minds to interact with the local community,” says Isheta, the Salgaocars’ daughter and programme advisor for Sunaparanta, which houses exhibition galleries, an open-air amphitheatre for events, and a courtyard café. It also hosts workshops, lectures and other events, including the Sensorium festival.
“Our motive is to try and bring art into as many lives as we can and to work with others who can recognise this,” says Siddharth Shanghvi, honorary director and co-founder of Sensorium. For Miriam Koshy-Sukhija, director of Gallery Gitanjali, engagement with the audience and “creating a public more attuned to appreciating art” is a priority. The first step to democratising art, according to Koshy-Sukhija, is to make sure that the gallery opens to the road to encourage walk-ins. “The space is not just for art collectors,” she says.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Subodh Kerkar, artist and founder of Goa’s newest and largest contemporary art space — the starkly modern Museum of Goa (MOG). “The average child in Europe is exposed to contemporary art but in our country, public art is lacking,” rues Kerkar. “MOG is a platform for young contemporary artists and a voice for public art.” Its opening exhibition ‘Gopakapattanam’ was a collective narrative of Goa’s tumultuous history.
All three spaces are privately funded, and share a common mission of actively engaging with their audiences, especially students. “There are plenty of cultural activities in Goa today,” says Kerkar. “And they’re all happening in spite of the government.”
Among the various independent and non-profit activities is GALF, held at the International Centre of Goa in Dona Paula and initiated by its former director Nandini Sahai, eminent Konkani writer Damodar ‘Bhai’ Mauzo, and writer-curator Vivek Menezes. “The festival,” says Menezes, “focuses on what is often ignored by the so-called ‘mainstream’ — our own Goa, the Northeast and Kashmir, and across the border, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan, as well as genres like translation, poetry, and graphic novels.”
On the eve of the Goa Carnival this year, the annual Monte Music Festival opened with a mohan veena recital at the spectacular location of the Chapel of the Lady of the Mount. In a seamless transition, the following week, strains from the newer Sufi Sutra wafted through Kala Academy, Goa’s premier cultural centre. Goa is no stranger to festivals (especially music festivals), but in recent years, seekers of the arts have been treated to a cultural medley of sorts.
The success of festivals such as IFFI, Sensorium, the Goa Photo Festival, GALF, the Bravia Sadir Theatre festival, and Sufi Sutra, among others, ensures the inflow of new entrants. The first edition of the Serendipity Arts Festival, a 10-day affair that will showcase the visual and performing arts, is slated for the end of this year.
Meanwhile, the emerging relationship between food and culture comes as no surprise. Restaurants in Goa are also community spaces that are fast doubling up as cultural hotspots.
The Bengali-French cuisine Mustard hosted a supper theatre, where patrons watched an interactive play as they tucked into kosha mangsho .
Café Cotinga at The Tamarind shows alternative, offbeat cinema as part of its film club, while Mondays at 6 Assagao are when the restaurant space of Gunpowder turns into a performance venue for plays, music, poetry readings, film screenings and talks, organised by the adjoining store, People Tree.
Last year, Russian saxophonist Igor Butman and his quartet opened their India tour at the seaside amphitheatre of the resort Bay 15, near Sunaparanta.
And where there’s culture, there must be wine: Black Sheep Bistro, not far from Gallery Gitanjali, is where you can participate in an ‘educational wine dinner’ paired with a deconstructed puran poli or chocolate spaghetti. Meanwhile, Literati, the lovely bookstore with a café in Calangute, remains an old favourite.
The beaches aren’t far behind. Bookworm Goa, a charitable trust known for its unusual initiatives like the ‘Book Stop’, an open free library in Panaji, recently introduced ‘Theatre on the Beach’ when it moved its community theatre initiative to Miramar Beach. The success of these activities and the reason for Goa’s growing cultural landscape may be because of the increasing numbers of long-staying visitors and people from the creative fields who now call Goa home.
“Goa attracts visitors inclined towards the arts. It has always been a hotbed of travelling culture,” says filmmaker and public relations consultant, Sapna Shahani, who moved to Goa from Mumbai five years ago, and has seen the cultural scene evolve.
Fortunately, Goa’s inclusiveness is not at the cost of traditional culture; events such as the Tiatr competition at Kala Academy remain as popular as ever.
“The state’s citizens love art, music, cinema, and are open to ideas from across the world, but definitely reserve a special place in their hearts for Konkani culture. The steady boom in Konkani-language cinema is an example of this,” says Menezes.
There is no friction between high-brow and popular either. The Goa Carnival, held on the same dates as the Monte Music Festival, bears testimony to this. This year, like every other, residents and tourists thronged the streets of Panaji to watch the floats, parades, singers and dancers. Amid the revelry, a spiritual organisation urged people to give up alcohol and addictive substances.
The irony was not lost on the revellers in the land of feni , but this is Goa, and there’s room for everyone. And everything.
Janhavi Acharekar is a freelance writer based in Mumbai. She is the author of the novel , Wanderers, All.