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Looking into the crystal ball

What creative sector leaders think 2021 might look like Dipti Rao Director - Projects, The Art X Company

The arts and culture world has come through a hard year, not quite intact, more than a little battered, but hopefully unbowed. Culture Wire asked industry mavens what the year ahead is looking like, for their niches and the sector in general. Here are lightly edited excerpts.

Jagdip Jagpal Art Curator and Director, India Art Fair

Increased use of digital as a platform has led to greater price transparency [in the visual arts space]. International collectors are looking in our direction, and newcomers to Indian modern and contemporary art are becoming better informed about the art market and its affordability. In the coming year, I am keen to see galleries, artistic platforms and cultural entities — legacy names and newly established ones — provide opportunities for young, lesser-known artists to shine, prosper and benefit from this swing in the market. Nivedita Poddar

Founder, Art Fervour

The pandemic has paved the way for the art ecosystem to be a more hybrid model of digital as well as in-person events. However, technology has mostly been used to disseminate art until now: we take photographs of physical artworks to make them available to see on our screens, and that’s not how they were intended to be experienced. With interest in tech increasing, more and more artists are now focusing on creating art native to the digital. We will now see artworks that are meant to be primarily experienced online.

Additionally, blockchain is seeing a gradual uptick in its usage in India. Blockchain provides a new level of transparency to artworks in terms of their provenance and legitimising ownership, which could set precedents for a much more organised and transparent art market.

The primary challenge for artists and art professionals alike: technology is expensive. That makes it difficult to get (and provide) accessibility to tech. Without accessibility, fewer artists will have the opportunity to make artworks with AI or VR.

Supriya Nair

Editor, Fifty Two, Co-Founder, All Things Small

We’re living through interesting times: mainstream media is proving to be a force that needs careful watching, and writer-creators may face unpredictable repercussions from platforms and governments. But driven by pandemic isolation and changing realities, more people are eager to read and acquire new knowledge and points of view than ever. Identifying our audiences, and transacting with them in fair, profitable ways, looks more possible than ever in 2021.

Seema Seth

Founder / Director, Studio Sky, and Member of the National Executive Council of Association of Designers of India (ADI)

The last year has made us unlearn everything we took for granted. As creators, it’s time to take a moment to reflect, assimilate and course-correct. To make more thoughtful choices about the consumption behaviours we design and promote. To engage actively with the environment and what we put out into the world. To repair. To rest. And to reset.

Priya Krishnamoorthy

Founder and Chief Collaborator, 200 Million Artisans

2021 will most likely be a watershed year for the artisan sector in India. Post-COVID-19, there is a global movement away from the charity narrative that has defined the handmade sector for far too long. We are ready to professionalise, use technology efficiently, use data, address issues of transparency, and to build collaborative networks that take a systemic view of the challenges on ground. We believe India's strength lies in its small business and enterprises and that existing business approaches in India's handmade sector have the potential to inform global discourse around regenerative economies; it already addresses 11 of the 17 SDGs. The handmade sector has pioneered inclusive and environment-friendly practices for decades, surviving on self-sustaining business models where artisan-producers often grow their own raw materials. However, India's artisan communities remain unmapped and thus underserved. A lack of data about the sector impacts policy, impacts relief efforts, investment, and growth. During COVID, it is these very communities who operate outside safety nets that have been most affected. While digital inclusion is a challenge currently, it presents an opportunity for us to co-create bridges with artisans that allow for greater access to resources and support.

Niloufer Sagar

COO, Terence Lewis Inc., and Theatre and Live Arts Producer and Consultant

2021 will be a year of recovery and moving forward. We will capitalise on the learnings of the last year. While most of us struggled for survival, 2020 was also a year of reflection in many ways, for many of us. The big revelations and themes of 2020 worldwide (as I see it) include the precariousness of the arts sector, the growing need for creative technological adaptation, the need for diversity.

What I’d like to see in the next period: a) Advocacy agendas to recognise the importance of the arts and stabilise the sector; b) Conversations on how we can use digital means more creatively, making performing arts transcend the limitations of a small screen; c) An awareness and actions towards greater inclusivity; d) Most importantly, work (whether online or offline) that is meaningful and speaks to the human spirit more than ever before. A return to roots in terms of storytelling, even if using modern means to achieve it.

Lubna Shaheen

Programme Director, Ziro Festival of Music and Director, Ziro Literary Festival

The pandemic forced us to rethink the way we work and, despite the challenges, we found success in a whole new online world: a first-of-its-kind gamified platform that showcased artists from India and Wales, and saw an audience from across the world. Ziro Focus virtual music festival was a collaborative and international experience. And while nothing can truly replace the experience of watching a band in the great outdoors, 2020 did force us to think of new ways to develop, make, and present work to new audiences across borders from the Ziro valley.

Reena Dewan

Director, Kolkata Centre for Creativity, President, ICOM India, and board member, ICOM Intercom

I am proud to say that during the COVID-19 crisis, the Indian arts scene broke the impression that Indian museums are not fast to respond. We saw resilience and will to fight the tough times in the Indian arts and museums fraternity. We were quick to respond to the crisis and took to online programming like fish to water. Now that there are 11 months of transformative experience in negotiating with online programs, we should build on it and should move to a hybrid model in 2021. Diversification and innovation within a restricted budget is possible only if we do not think of moving to physical spaces completely.

Gunjan Arya

Simply put: focus on the art and not just the craft. While this was a great year to spend time getting better at the craft, be it writing more, practising more, and training more for the show, art is about connecting with the audience. The challenge with a quickly evolving media landscape is that the creative sector too often finds itself controlled by those who guard the distribution and access to audiences; but this is also the opportunity it presents. With almost all media and definitely all discovery going digital, it allows artists to become broadcasters and connect with audiences directly. It's important to harness these connections and build this network, so that no matter the changes in the medium through which one finally shares their craft, the audience will follow.

Urvashi Butalia

Founder and Publisher, Zubaan Books

2020 has been a hard year for publishing in India: no bookshops, hardly any printing, not many books. The online sellers have done well but the lifeblood of publishing, the brick and mortar bookshop, that's in danger. Will 2021 be any better? Difficult to say: publishing works on long timelines, and long credit lines. So if there is recovery, it will be slow. Recovery isn't only about getting back to print, but also about recovering the habit of buying and reading print. Will this happen? We don't know. More of us are doing our own ebooks and selling them, but this revolution too will be slow in coming. And the truth is, publishers love print, they live and breathe it. So there's no way it will go away, perhaps what we'll have is a mix, some print, some e, some reluctant readers, some enthusiastic ones and some not at all.


We must look to build resilience, explore new worlds, redefine our priorities, and actively work towards a collaborative future while creating opportunities for our partners, collaborators and audiences. We’re not past the hard times yet, but it’s getting better.


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