The HT Kala Ghoda Arts Festival will be back before you know it — with one significant difference.
Brinda Miller handed over the reins on Sunday, stepping down as honorary director of the festival. It’s a role she has performed, almost uninterrupted, since 2001.
“The festival has grown so big, it started to eat into my whole year,” she said on Monday, laughing. “People who missed out on participating in one edition start calling about the next one right after we wrap up. I spend a couple of hours every day all year thinking about it. It didn’t leave time for other things.”
Other things like her own art. Miller is now looking forward to having time for her studio and hopes to have a show out in 2017. Her last solo exhibition was in 2013.
Miller will also remain on the Kala Ghoda Association, which manages the festival, works to preserve heritage monuments and conducts restorations and renovation projects.
But when she returns to the festival, it will be as a visitor. It all started, Miller says, when she dropped by at the first-ever KGAF in 1999 and “wasn’t terribly impressed”. There were art exhibits in the Rampart Row parking lot and music events on the weekend.
Then she walked past the Jehangir art gallery and stopped dead in her tracks. “MF Hussain was there, right on the steps, creating a work especially for the festival,” Miller recalls. “It was new and exciting and I wanted to be part of it.”
It wasn’t until plans were underway for the third edition, in 2001, that Miller got her break. The gallerist Shireen Gandhy asked if she’d like to take her spot at festival meetings. Miller ended up taking Kala Ghoda by the reins, steering events as the KGAF grew from a neighbourhood gathering to the highlight of Mumbai’s cultural calendar — 500 listings across 12 categories and countless venues.
She’ll leave behind a legacy of decentralised empowerment, says Tarana Khubchandani, a gallerist and curator of KGAF’s visual arts section, who has worked with Miller on KGAF since 2006. “Miller would keep track of it all and meet the juniormost artist and urge them to do better.” She has worked to make the festival’s sections self-sufficient, offering patience and autonomy rather than diktats.
Maneck Davar, chairperson of the Kala Ghoda Association, says a festival director should have creativity, a flair for organisation, and the temperament that makes people gladly work for little or no money. “Brinda has all those qualities,” he adds. “She gives people a sense of achievement.”
If Miller has changed the festival, it has changed her too. “Artists don’t tend to work with large teams and a huge staff, and I used to be shy,” she says. “But I’ve come a long way and I’m proud of how it has grown. I think I’ve earned an honorary MBA in people management!”