Face to Face: Alan Gemmel, director, British Council on 2017 UK-India ‘Year of Culture’Updated: Sep 04, 2017 18:05 IST
With cultural exchange at the forefront, Alan Gemmell OBE, director of the British Council in India shares with the Hindustan Times, how he is to advance 2017 UK-India ‘Year of Culture’ at the British Council. A pianist by passion, Gemmel has received degrees in law and music from the University of Glasgow and in 2015, commissioned an interactive digital music-art work, Mix the City, across 193 countries with 650,000 people, in collaboration with the BBC and Arts Council of England. At the inauguration of BCL’s Pune Cultural Centre, he talks about his plans to sync the digital and physical space of storytelling.
What is the vision behind this library?
English and storytelling continues to connect Britain and India and these libraries represent that as the heart of our work in India for the past 70 years. We have been inspiring and exciting young people and students in our centre in Pune since 1960 and I hope that this centre continues to do so. We provide a space for people to find wizards, monsters and islands, and yet also find themselves and understand who they really are and where they are going. But not everyone has the time to physically come here, so alongside, we have the digital facility through our online library and much more.
What is in store in this digital outlook?
Our online libraries allow us to offer the content that we have here on phones and tablets. This project is aligned with the vision to contribute to the digital economy through the British Council. This is to accommodate all the possible readership around us, even those who cannot physically come to read. But basically, our aim is to bring the physical and digital together at one platform, as we think both are extremely important. We know that in a country the size of India, we are not going to reach the number of people that we want to, so we are expanding it through digital space.
What plans do you have to enhance the cultural exchange?
In this year 2017, which is the UK-India ‘Year of Culture’, we have been making new digital cultural products. The benchmark we set for them is that they should take the very best of our face-to-face experiences online, with good user experience, interface and be introspective and reflective so as to celebrate diversity. This is, for me, the cocktail of what the British Council does in spirit. So we have taken these ingredients to create Mix the Play, an interactive video platform for the Shakesperean theatre; Mix the City, where you can mash-up some incredibly diverse music from four different cities; Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai. For this, we have collaborated with great musicians like Louis Banks, or B.L.O.T. Also, another product called Mix the Body is underway in October, in collaboration with British choreographer Wayne McGregor, which will let you create dance on your phones and tablets. Most importantly, through these platforms, the two nations are sharing and deconstructing their culture and art forms in the most dynamic manner.
Amid this digitisation, what is the future of hand-held paper or hardbound books, as opposed to e-books?
In Britain and I believe here as well, sales of printed books are going up which is a marker that the future is great. So as a library, we are investing in printed books, but as we want to create the balance between the physical and the digital, we also have the online options open and are heavily investing in the digital sphere. And if you are always on the go, having a couple of books in your bag is a good thing and the digital space makes it simple and possible.