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Culture can be a tool to empower communities

One cannot undermine the potential of cultural economics in creating a more liberal, just and equitable society

analysis Updated: Jul 17, 2018 18:15 IST
An Odissi performance in Indore. Artists cannot be relegated to the periphery of decision-making and alienated from development goals(HT Photo)

Whether it is the beats of a pakhawaj, the intensity of a theatrical act, or the beauty of a brush stroke, art in all its forms inspires thought, motivates action, harmonises ideology and uplifts the soul. Sitting at the intersection of race, class, religion, nationality and gender, art surpasses all limitations. The promotion of intercultural dialogue fosters authentic cross-border relationships. Artistic initiatives often provide a counter-narrative to social prejudices and stereotypes. In a society replete with terror and conflict, the arts can be instrumental in creating a more peaceful world.

Culture plays a major role in the nation-building process. India has a unique pluralistic heritage of diverse indigenous art forms. Amid this lies the potential of using art for forging an inclusive development discourse. At this juncture, we may refer to Amartya Sen’s multidisciplinary all-inclusive growth model and its relevance in the heritage-driven Indian context. Local indigenous communities have to be empowered and integrated with the development agenda. To improve growth parameters in rural economies, engagement with people at the grassroots and creation of sustainable livelihoods becomes pertinent. One example is promoting local craft production and supporting performing art innovations with viable business models. This can be intermeshed with the broader goals of poverty alleviation and gender justice.

Policy makers, the private sector, development agencies and artisans must come together and revive the ethos of cultural expression. This entails sustained efforts at reinforcing institutional infrastructure, financial support, capacity building of cultural entrepreneurs, creation of executable cultural industry policies and increasing value-based art literacy. Civil society participation in policy advocacy, academic research and start-ups in the cultural sector should be encouraged. Doing so can go a long way in achieving the goals of social justice and strengthening governance.

Even Unesco has begun promoting the idea of “creative industries” as economic activities in their own right. In India, various ministries and independent organisations hold cultural festivals which help keep certain art forms alive. However, special efforts are needed to protect those which are at the verge of extinction. Moreover, India is yet to fully harness the power of cultural tourism. What India needs is an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approach to social change. Cultural development is thus vital to empowering communities and the society in general.

The youngsters of today want to make a difference. This raw energy must be channelised towards positive value creation. The promotion of young talent coupled with skill development can further the larger goals of socioeconomic development and political stability. At the core of any development agenda should be a healthy and educated citizenry. Art as an extension of freedom of speech plays a pivotal role in creating spaces which nurture free thought and expression. It is high time we started accepting the agency in individuals and respecting it. Therefore, artists cannot be relegated to the periphery of decision-making and alienated from development goals.

Stimulating creative innovation is the foundation of an alternative development path. One cannot give in to simplistic one-dimensional development propaganda. One can’t undermine the potential of cultural economics in creating a more liberal, just and equitable society. Let’s envision a better, more vibrant world that fosters holistic and equitable development. Let us not forget the intrinsic significance of the arts. A life without culture is nothing more than a meaningless existence.

Tanushri Roy is artistic director of the Shrinkhala Dance Ensemble Society

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Jul 17, 2018 17:53 IST