March 31, 2016
The recent vehement debate over the future of the Venkatappa Art Gallery (VAG) has pitted friend against friend.
There is a view that, as a private entity, Tasveer Foundation will do a good job of running it. But, will it run VAG without the pressures of being perceived as an interested party? As a photography gallery of 10 years standing, is it the right organisation to run VAG? Does it have exclusive capabilities that others in Bengaluru lack? Were Tasveer Foundation asked to run VAG under existing governmental rules, would it not also end up in abject failure?
There is no website of Tasveer Foundation. MAP, a Division of the Foundation, and the actual party to the Tripartite MoU, has a website which says: “The Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) is a new museum project in Bangalore (which) will occupy a 25,000 square feet site in the centre of city …. The construction of MAP’s physical spaces will form the second phase of our museum project….” This coincides with its adoption of VAG and not a word about the public space.
There are questions about the legal status and role of Tasveer and MAP. On the plank of CSR rests the MoU. Tasveer Foundation is a Trust, not a corporate body. CSR activities, to be undertaken by an eligible company, have to exclude activities undertaken in pursuance of the company’s normal course of business. The activities of VAG are exactly the same as that of Tasveer. Perhaps, even more basic is the legal status of MAP — is it legally competent to enter this agreement?
The MoU offers the use and administration of a vast public property, not for 5 plus 5 years as the public is being informed, but for 5 plus “a minimum” of another 5 years. No doubt after 5 years the MoU has to be reviewed, but then possession is nine-tenths of the law. There is no 10-year limit as is being given out by those espousing the cause of the MoU.
The MoU refers to a governing body, but the relevant provision speaks of some technical subcommittee. There is also an independent working body. There is much confusion, perhaps totally unintended, on the part of the government. The fine print in the MoU needs to be re-examined.
Then, the small matter of conflict of interest. The MoU offers the management of VAG to a member of the Vision Group, who is himself the owner of a gallery in Bengaluru and an art collector. How will his private work and interests not clash with his role at VAG?
The biggest benefit of private-public partnerships is that the private entity brings in finance which the government is unable to provide, as in the case of large projects. Government, or other donors, can easily raise the Rs. 10 crore that Tasveer promises for the VAG. The other benefit is of expertise, of which Tasveer cannot claim exclusive specialisation. Why should Tasveer not invest sufficiently and have a separate museum of its own? How wonderful it would be for us to have two museums, and not just one.
An appropriate vehicle must be created for running VAG. An independent Trust or Society of eminent citizens and artists, art historians, art management experts, for example, and with suitably delegated powers, would be one possibility. Give that body the same freedom to function as is intended to be given to Tasveer.