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Startup Saturday: Passion for art gets an entrepreneurial touch

This art lover began a business venture, an art gallery, which she uses to promote art in all its forms.

pune Updated: Jan 19, 2018 23:47 IST
Namita Shibad
Sampoorn Native Bazaar, is an ongoing musing on art and craft, where craftspeople from 19 states display their work at The MonaLisa Kalagram.
Sampoorn Native Bazaar, is an ongoing musing on art and craft, where craftspeople from 19 states display their work at The MonaLisa Kalagram. (Shankar Narayan/HT PHOTO)

It must be the super dose of passion that makes social entrepreneurship different. MonaLisa Kalagram is one such venture that aims to provide a platform to promote and showcase any art-related activity. It recently had a Dastkari Haat that had artisans from almost all over India displaying and selling all handicraft materials. It even organises a market where farmers can sell organic products. Music, theatre, films. Art in any form finds a place here. We speak to Lisa Pingale, the woman behind MonaLisa Kalagram.

What made you choose this as a business?

Well, I was always interested in art. I aspired to be an artist, but unfortunately could not be one. I guess it just happened along the way. I feel very strongly about this. Even today, when someone comes with an interesting idea, I get so excited that I forget to think about the money. That’s how strongly I feel about art and craft, and so it’s only natural that I choose this to be my business.

Art in all its forms, be it paintings, poetry, books, music, dance or theatre, enriches our lives. Of course, handicrafts also are very, very important. Our country is a treasure trove of handicrafts and this, too, must find its way to markets. I have this ancestral land and thought why not use it to promote art and craft.

But, of course, I was very clear that this would not be an NGO or some charity. I will make money out of this. And what could be a better way to make money? I love the business of helping art and making money too. That’s how MonaLisa (which is a combination of my mother’s name and mine) was born four years ago.

So how do you go about getting artists, artisans to MonaLisa?

When I started out, I thought I would use this space only as an art gallery. But soon, in a year or two, I realised that this is not what I want MonaLisa to be. I could have made a lot of money by just charging rent and forgetting about the work being displayed. Anyone with money could use this space then. So I stopped that model. I now do it as a rent in some cases like when we do the Dastakari Haat or with artists I take a cut in the profits.

Since I have been involved in art from the very beginning, I already knew the community even before I started MonaLisa. At the Dastakari Mela, I met Jaya Jaitley of the Dastakari Haat Samiti and she helped me connect to all the artisans. It’s been four years since we hold this exhibition in Pune, which incidentally, never had a crafts bazaar so far. This year, we had 102 artisans from all over the country participate. It was a huge success. With this bazaar, I charge a rent as it is very difficult to do profit share with so many craftsmen. The billing would be a nightmare.

I think if you put your heart and soul into anything, then all the doors automatically open for you. So, when I started this, I would get friends who could do a music show, a poetry recital, a play or even showcase a film. And I am open to everything. Everything that helps an artist. You have to see it to believe the dedication with which these artists work. For months, years, they don’t sell anything and yet do not succumb to the enticements of the ad industry or graphics world. They hold on. I respect this kind of commitment. In the last four to five years, the art business has been very bad. No one wants to buy paintings. But, with handicrafts, it is different. You can take a madhubani painting and put it on a dupatta or a table cloth and it will sell. But, pure paintings created by artists cannot find such a medium or such uses so you will always find less buyers for it.

How do you see your role in this business of art?

I feel like I am a facilitator. Artists need a platform and they need to find buyers. They need to market their work and need someone to talk about it. MonaLisa does that for them. I want to take their work far and wide to promote it. For example, I am working on a handicrafts project, where I will showcase and sell handicrafts from Maharasthra. Our state is, strangely, very poorly represented on the national platform.

And there is so much beauty. So, some of the traditional crafts we will showcase in Delhi would be the pingule paintings. These are artists from Konkan who paint on leather and make puppets. These puppets tell stories of Shivaji’s valour and courage. Then there are the paithani weavers, wooden toys from Sawantwadi and ganjifa card makers; so much that we can show the world.

These craftsmen need some guidance to make their work more contemporary and relevant to today’s world. That is what we plan to do. There are many NGOs that are working on this, and many artisans have access to modernise, but we must be careful not to let go of the old techniques and styles.

How has your business grown?

I would not like to state any figures, but suffice it to say that we are growing in leaps and bounds. There are some areas that do not get us enough money, but we feel strongly about it. Like the farmers’ market is yet to go on the growth trajectory. But, I feel strongly about organic farming and I know it has the potential to grow. The art market, too, has slowed, but it will take off in the near future. But we do music shows, dance recitals, theatre, films and the Dastakari Haat which are all doing very well. So, all in all, we do make good money. What could be better than this? You do what you love and make money.