Culture can be India’s most powerful strategic weapon: Sunil Munjal

The idea of creating this arts festival was also to expose the younger generation to the diverse cultural heritage of our nation, which roots from this part of our nation that we refer to as rural.

Culture, India, powerful, strategic weapon, Sunil Munjal, Serendipity Arts Festival, Bihar, Bengal, Odisha
The number of projects has increased over the years, but that is a gradual feature of any organic entity.

How do you think you have made an impact with Serendipity fest in the past four years, especially on the social front?
Through Serendipity Arts Festival, we have a scope to create a platform to showcase some of our traditional, modern and contemporary art and craft forms and shed light on the importance of patronage for their future. It’s an attempt to engage with the sector and help artisans with design and process inputs, and connect them with markets both in India and overseas. We also hope to nurture the possibility to build sustainable livelihoods for them and their families. If we can do that, we have the potential to create the largest job opportunities this nation has ever seen. We have created a situation where we have been successful in bringing the world to the arts, rather than taking the arts to the world. We are now seeing artists from the region on curatorial panels of several international arts festivals and being part of various residencies across the world. Culture and soft power can really become India’s most powerful strategic weapon in the 21st century.

How big is inclusivity for you in terms of this festival? You have a programme for the disabled; what about rural artists?
Inclusivity is one of the basic tenets of the festival, to the degree that we want art and culture to be a part of our regular conversations. We wanted to create a free space for the arts and culture of the region to thrive and allow high degree of experimentation, innovation and accessibility. The idea of creating this arts festival was also to expose the younger generation to the diverse cultural heritage of our nation, which roots from this part of our nation that we refer to as rural. Artists from all across the world and different remote corners of the country travel and take part in the festival. We have never consciously attempted to create any differentiation between urban and rural for rural artists have always been central to the mandates of the foundation and functioning of the festival. Right from music to craft to theater and dance, you would see prominent contribution and participation of artists travelling form various rural belts across the country. This edition, like earlier ones, has ample integration of rural artists from villages of Bihar, Bengal and Odisha and even tribal dance and music forms from the southern part of the nation. An arts festival without integrating the greater part of our nation is incomplete and detrimental to the creative acumen of the initiative.

What do you expect from the fourth edition? Do you think the fest is getting bigger and better?
The number of projects has increased over the years, but that is a gradual feature of any organic entity. Our focus has always been on quality and we have been able to consistently deliver on that. With each edition bringing different world views and new partnerships, we hope to develop the idea of programming arts and cultural spaces. This year, we are looking at a few new venues and a much tighter operation in terms of the volunteers programme and an app for visitors and people associated with it. This is our attempt to reduce use of paper and create a sustainability mandate by looking at technology for efficient solutions.

Are you invested in the fest as a permanent feature for years to come?
Given the sheer involvement and the number of artists who have participated in SAF, the impact has been quite phenomenal, but this success would not have come without learning and introspection. It would be fair to say that the festival over the past three editions has gone through considerable transformation and evolution. This has helped us put together world class projects and performances. Yet what we are attempting at SAF and in Goa is just the tip; we need SAF-type movements in every state to make an impact on the cultural sector and revive the lost traditions of the region. There are many fantastic initiatives around the country and each one of them, irrespective of the scale or focus, is important to bring back the arts and culture as part of daily conversations.

You have talked about getting more patrons on board. Has that happened, and are you happy with the current status?
Over the years we have had new entities and institutions that have come forward to support us, though some remain the same, like GMR and the Dalmias, the Goa government, Imagine Panaji and our venue partners. However, we have had some new patrons on board like Havells and HDFC ERGO. We also have the Spanish Embassy along with the Harsh & Bina Foundation, who is our project partner. Also, with time as the festival is growing, we are finding newer partners showing interest to come on board. We find this to be a very positive sign and are open to having more individuals and institutions join us to make such initiatives bigger and taking the dialogue tothe next level.

Do you have any plans to take this fest elsewhere — in India or abroad?
This festival may be based in Goa, but it is both national and international in appeal and scope. Currently, we are growing the Goa festival with the objective of making it bigger and more impactful every year. We even had a representation at the Frieze London 2019 to talk about our processes and research and inform the gathering about the Serendipity Festival. The eight days of the festival is only a window, but the work of the Foundation is year-long. The initiatives of the festival every year feed into the research programmes for the Foundation to implement for the next year.

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