Artists up in arms against gallery adoption by corporate firm

V. Aditya Bhardwaj | The Hindu | March 7, 2016

An MoU has been signed between the government and Tasveer Foundation for the initiative

Venkatappa Art Gallery, at the centre of a raging controversy over its adoption by a corporate entity, became a platform for a “show of strength” for a section of artists opposing the initiative, on Sunday.

Around 500 artists under the banner VAG Forum staged ‘Occupy Venkatappa Art Gallery’ protest, as part of which may of them got photographed themselves hugging important landmarks on the gallery premises.

The artists have dug in their heels and rejected the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the government and Tasveer Foundation for the adoption of the gallery. This was after the MoU was debated in detail during the protest.

“The MoU lacks any specifics and is one-sided in favour of Tasveer Foundation. The MoU does not include any clauses to safeguard the interests of artists. All talks of facilities for local artists, now being made, seems like a charity from the foundation and not as a right of the artists to whom this space primarily belongs to,” said artist Sheela Gowda.

She also said that artists were against the very initiative of giving the gallery for adoption to a private corporate entity. “This is a democratic and affordable space for artists and even the State government has no right to take it away from us,” she said.

Many prominent artists, including C. Chandrashekhar, B.K.S. Varma, Pa.Sa. Kumar, and Venkatachalapathi participated in the protest. In a symbolic act, the artists formed a human chain around the art gallery.

A.M. Prasad, artist, demanded that the government immediately cancel the MoU, and initiate talks with the artists to chalk out an action plan for renovating and reinventing the gallery. The artists have been demanding that the government infuse funds and reinvent the gallery in a democratic way by involving local artists in the process.

Artists had met the Tourism Minister R.V. Deshpande on February 26, when the latter had requested them to reconsider their stand and make an informed choice armed with the MoU and facts of the case. The artists have now demanded that the MoU be scrapped, throwing the ball back in the government’s court.

Vasudev comes up with alternative model

Noted artist S.G. Vasudev has come up with an alternative model for running the Venkatappa Art Gallery. “Having been involved in efforts over the years to improve conditions at the gallery, I have come to the conclusion that the present set-up is not working. I believe it is time to think about alternative ways to revamp and revitalise the gallery,” he said.

“I favour setting up of a trust to manage and run the gallery in the public interest. The trustees could be a combination of representatives of the government, artists, and the public. The government will, of course, have to support the trust with funds, but resources (financial and otherwise) can also be sought from other sources, including public donations,” he suggested.

Salient features of the MoU

The adoption period is for five years, after which the agreement shall be renewed for another five years, on mutual consent

MAP, Tasveer Foundation needs to submit its plans and designs for the reinvention of the gallery to the Project Implementation Committee (PIC) of the government, headed by the Tourism Minister

A governing body, which will be a technical sub-committee of the PIC to run the space

All curatorial, exhibition and programming decisions shall be governed by MAP, its curators and advisory panel

Any revenue generated from the public shall be reinvested directly to offset costs related to establishment and maintenance of the project

Fears and concerns of the protesting artists

The management of the gallery will not be democratic and local artists will lose out

The costs of hiring exhibition gallery (presently the cheapest space in the city) and the auditorium will shoot up

Artists are opposed to the very concept of a corporate firm adopting and running the gallery

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Adoption of public spaces

2014: Tourism Department piloted the project to get public spaces and monuments adopted by corporate firms that would infuse funds as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative and maintain them for five years

Various departments submitted a list of such monuments and spaces for adoption. A list of 46 destinations was finalised

State Cabinet approved the scheme and a Government Order was issued on September 16, 2014

July 16, 2015: Tri-partite memorandums of understanding (MoUs) were signed between the department concerned, the Tourism Department, and the corporate firm adopting the space

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Six spaces that have been adopted by corporate firms on paper

Government Museum, Bengaluru – Jindal Foundation

Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary – Sandur Manganese and Iron Ores Pvt. Ltd.

Venkatappa Art Gallery – Tasveer Foundation

Kavala Caves – West Coast Papers Mills Ltd.

Belur and Halebid – Coffee Day Enterprises

Lalbagh – Bangalore Chambers of Industry and Commerce

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Tasveer Foundation

A not-for-profit organisation founded by industrialist Abhishek Poddar in 2011

Dedicated to promote visual arts and contribute to arts education in India

Abhishek Poddar is a director at Sua Explosives and Accessories Ltd., a firm that manufactures mining explosives and other equipment. He has diverse business interests in tea, exports and retail