How Kerala supported the culture sector during the pandemic

The state provided an example of what an administration could do to help artists recover from losses.

Prachi Sibal

Culture Wire spoke to Department of Cultural Affairs, Kerala, about the efforts by the government to help the arts and culture sector combat the long lockdown during the COVID-19 crisis. Edited excerpts: • On schemes developed to address the problems of the sector

While the government continues to aid small organisations, during the COVID-19 period the focus was on providing assistance to individual artists for their survival.

In the first phase the [Kerala] government sanctioned ₹6.5 crore to support artists. Under this scheme, 32,500 artists received ₹2,000 each. These are registered artists under various cultural academies and other cultural institutes under the Department of Cultural Affairs. Following this, the government sanctioned ₹3 crore for non-registered artists. As many as 30,000 artists were recognised under this scheme. The disbursing is in process.

Apart from cultural affairs department's financial assistance, the government also stepped in with free ration kits including rice and other essential commodities once every month.

Kerala Sangeeth Natak Academy organised an online arts meet named ‘Sargabhoomika’. Artists were invited to the academy headquarters in Thrissur where they made presentations and received the remuneration. The recorded programmes were also posted on the social media handles of the department. This concluded the first phase.

Bharat Bhavan, our cultural exchange institution, is hosting an ongoing online art presentation since 2020 April. We have also started a YouTube channel and a Facebook live presentation everyday between 7.30 p.m. and 8.30 p.m.; artists from various sectors participate in these programmes. National Arts Festival, Sanskriti Cultural Festival, Film week, Maveli Malayalam Special, a special cultural programme for Onam are a few in the series.

Other cultural institutions are also conducting virtual arts presentations. The Kerala Fine Arts academy conducted various arts camps and also provided remuneration to the artists.

Fixed electricity charges for the last 10 months have been reduced by 50%; these can also be remitted in instalments. Entertainment tax has been written off until March 2021. Various licences have also been extended up to March 2021.

• On building consensus and including opposition parties and independent organisations

The ruling coalition and opposition joined in the effort to overcome COVID-19 in the first three months.

The Chief Minister's Relief Fund caters to people affected during the pandemic. Those in the culture sector have been deeply affected during the lockdown. Hence, the chief minister sanctioned crores of rupees to help the distressed. There were two all-party meetings convened to obtain consensus.

Film bodies, mainly the Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce, Film Producers Association, Distributors Association, and FIOK (a collective of cinema theatres) participated in a discussion with the chief minister.

• On new arts and culture projects

The state’s tourism department has continued developing projects like the Kerala Arts and Crafts Village in Vellar and the Kalaripayattu Academy in Thiruvananthapuram.

Under the cultural affairs department, the Gandhi Smriti Mandir complex in Palakkad — which Gandhiji visited with wife Kasturba three times — was inaugurated by the Chief Minister on 4th February. Three of our Renaissance Cultural Complexes in three districts are approaching completion of first phase. The amounts allotted for them are ₹50 crore per district (₹700 crore for 14 districts).

The Rural Art Hub, Nattarang (a rural cultural meeting place), Golden Jubilee Fellowship for Young Artists (₹15,000 per month for 1,000 awardees) are all ongoing.

• On the state government’s plans to support its culture sector in 2021

We have allotted ₹4 crore for Malayalam Mission activities, a post-production centre for cinema in Kochi, an Art Square at Kilimanoor (birthplace of Raja Ravi Verma), and Gaming Animation Habitat (a centre for excellence to build future talent in the sector).

₹2 crore each has been allotted for promotion of professional and amateur drama and an audio-visual centre for Malayalam Poetry in Aranmula (poet and activist Sugathakumari's maternal home).

Additionally, ₹3 crore has been set aside for women directors in Malayalam cinema.

• On data about affected artists

There are 32,500 artists registered in various cultural Institutes and academies. Then, there are over 30,000 non-registered artists and 30,000 allied service providers associated with the arts. That takes the number of those affected by the pandemic, in the culture sector, to over one lakh individuals.