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A Mumbai-based arts collective, stayIN aLIVE, has rapidly taken up the creation of emergency funds and grants to help artists in distress

There have been numerous ruminations on artistic practice and its connection with slowness, stillness even. The creative process cannot be rushed, they say. Artists cannot be pushed to create, they say. But the empathy of an artist’s soul cannot be stemmed either. It has manifested in the way the arts community has swiftly come together to respond to the distress of artists in the current pandemic crisis.

Deemed non-essential, any substantial help from the government for the arts and culture sector is unlikely to arrive soon. The numbers have been alarming to say the least. The handicrafts industry has been set back by INR 8,000 crore in UP alone, while 60 million livelihoods from the events and entertainment sector have been affected, according to a recent report. Another report pegs the economic losses for the events and exhibition sector at an eye-watering INR 1 trillion. Demands are being made, but even if the government takes heed, it appears that it would take some time.

In the meantime, several arts collectives have sprung into action, making the effort to sustain artists and culture practitioners in these dire times. Culture Wire checked out one such collective – stayIN aLIVE – that has put together artist emergency funds to begin with. It is the brainchild of Roshan Abbas, who brought together like-minded partners such as Art X Company, Alok Parande, Artist Aadmi, Big Bang Music, Gully Gang, Kommune, KWAN, OML Entertainment, Paytm Insider, Priyanka Khimani, Shark & Ink, Tabhrasa, Tarsame Mittal Talent Management, Tape A Tale, Third Culture, Unmute, and Women of India.

stayIN aLIVE: To do and to be

Abbas, well-known media figure and founder of Kommune said, “The initiative hopes to educate, support, and inspire live performance industry workers and performers. At the very basic level, it will provide an emergency fund, but over time, it will evolve into a foundation that works across the board to help the industry figure best practices, build collaborations, and also create a bridge to the government to build support for the arts.”

“It will be the first-of-its kind support structure for the community of performing artistes,” noted Megha Desai, marketing professional and founder of Tabhrasa. Desai, who is leading public relations and the some programming in this initiative, believes that the structured nature of this unique programme will help optimise artist outreach and audience engagement.

Since its launch in mid-April, stayIN aLIVE has been organising ‘live’ digital performances, working on generating funds, registration, getting artists and other supporters, and finding partners. Kommune did a play titled ‘Lockdown Love’, where they asked for people to pay to the charity, and the results were highly encouraging. On 16 May, the platform will launch a whole range of shared artist experiences discussing challenges, sharing their strategies and methods, as also collaborating and jamming.

The artist emergency funds

The stayIN aLIVE Artist Emergency Fund (SAAEF) has been created to alleviate severe financial challenges faced by artists in the live entertainment sector due to the COVID-19 crisis. One of the sources of these artist relief funds is ticketing, although the revenue model is pay-as-you-like. SAAEF will supply funding to cover unexpected expenses directly resulting from the COVID-19 crisis. This includes the following categories of needs: Loss of Employment, Lack of Financial Resources, Bereavement, Accidents and Poor Health.

On the nature of these grants, Dhanwani said, “The type of grants will range from small cash grants (for personal use), reimbursement for a certain class of urgent expenses (such as rent, important bills) and utility payments to third parties.

As an emergency fund, this is neither intended to be a grant pool for long-term projects nor for building future work. You can apply for the grant more than once with a gap of 60 days between two grant cycles. Grant amounts under this fund will be capped at INR 20,000, per grantee in each grant round. The usual protocols of stating objectives, in-depth background survey, critical research questions, rigorous methodologies and specific outcomes are to be quantified and shared in due time.”

Applications can be made through their FB page.

Community builders

A number of such initiatives like stayIN aLIVE have similar inspirations and hope to offer.

Creatives for Humanity have started the 200 Million Artists hub to support artisans from the crafts and handicrafts’ community. The Experimenter Gallery in Kolkata launched Generator, a cooperative art production fund, to sustain fine artists and their ongoing work. The Asian Heritage Foundation by Rajeev Sethi too has launched an initiative, Head, Heart and Healing, for rural artisans in mid to south India. Whereas, another crowd-funded campaign, ADAA (Assistance for Disaster Affected Artistes) is aiming to provide financial support to more than 100 artistes across 10 states in India. Off shore, The South Asian Arts Resiliency Fund was launched by the India Center Foundation for diaspora artists in the US.

While these efforts are laudatory and inspirational, they’re all temporary solutions. One of the reasons for this deep crisis is the lack of cohesiveness in the culture sector, the lack of strong solidarities between its practitioners and professionals. The coming together of culture professionals during this crisis is both, a symptom of this problem and its solution. It underlines the need for creating formal bodies and associations representing and protecting the interests of the sector, so we may never flounder this way again.


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