India/ 3.4 International cultural co-operation  

3.4.4 Direct professional co-operation


Through the 1990s, India saw a growth in professional co-operation in the following areas:

  • Professional distribution of Indian arts internationally, and international arts in India
  • Professional literary, theatrical and musical co-productions
  • Arts residencies
  • Networked funding, where Indian initiatives have been a part of a trans-border donor initiative
  • Festivals and Biennales in the fields of theatre and the movement arts, literature, film, visual arts and music

Such practices have also seen the rise of professional institutions, networks, corporate and NGO groups with significant trans-border and trans-regional arrangements, including high-visibility initiatives such as those represented by many institutions within India – to take only one high-profile instance, the World Social Forums – as well as specifically trans-regional support priorities by donors such as the Open Society Initiative, under whose aegis various trans-border collaborations, networking structures and bilateral collaborations have been enabled.

As with NGO initiatives in some areas affecting marginalised communities, culture often comes as an adjunct to political issues, e.g. those of migrant communities, global environmental issues, issues addressed to the North-South divide etc. Several of these institutions therefore are signatories to globally relevant protocols or agendas, or have multilateral collaborations, or are collectively grant recipients of trans-border grants. We provide a few examples below of sector specific trans-national professional co-operation.


There is a growing emphasis on the globalisation of heritage: in the UNESCO’s lists of tangible heritage (India has, at present, around 30 such sites), which have been extended into other initiatives around heritage, (e.g. conservation of the Bodh Gaya[1]) with occasional Japanese corporate investment. Among institutions that have risen to new prominence here include the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH),founded in 1984 as India’s largest non-profit membership organisation dedicated to conservation and preservation of India’s natural, cultural, living, tangible and intangible heritage. To take just one instance, INTACH Pondicherry[2] as part of its Model Street Restoration Project funded by the Asia Urbs Programme[3] was involved in restoring traditional streetscapes in the city of Pondicherry.

Another key institution is the Council of International Organisations of Folklore Festivals and Folk Arts (CIOFF), an international cultural NGO in formal consultative relations with UNESCO. Created in 1970, the duty of CIOFF is safeguarding, promotion and diffusion of traditional culture and folklore. The CIOFF India chapter[4] has however yet to take off seriously, and the access to the International Folk Music and Dance Festival remains its only key activity.

Crafts Council of India (CCI) is a voluntary non-profit organisation, working for the welfare of artisans and the development of handicrafts. It was established in the year 1964 by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay and later registered in 1977 with its headquarters in Chennai. CCI is the apex body with a network of 10 State Councils and is affiliated to the World Crafts Council. The CCI has held several exhibitions abroad to promote Indian crafts. In 2010-11 it organised and participated in craft promotion exhibitions in New York and Santa Fe (USA), Bahrain and Luxembourg.

International cultural bodies with an Indian presence facilitating trans-national exchange

Visual arts:

Several major global networks have emerged in recent years, around the establishment of art residencies, often in turn linked to varying circuits attached to the Biennales and Art Fairs growing globally.

Specific examples include:

Triangle Network:Established in 1982, Triangle is an international network of artists and arts organisations that promotes exchange of ideas and innovation within the contemporary visual arts. Through artist-led workshops, residencies, exhibitions and outreach events, the network generates peer-to-peer learning, professional development for artists and the dissemination of emerging international art practices. The Triangle network currently has over 30 partners across the world. It is particularly active in countries where the arts infrastructure is limited, and encourages exchanges across social, political and economic barriers, in countries including Bangladesh, Bolivia, China, Cuba, India, Jordan, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa and the UK.[5]

Khoj International Artists’ Association: KHOJ began in India as a wing of the Triangle Network, as a space for artists, run by artistsin 1997 and has built an international reputation for outstanding alternative arts incubation. KHOJ too began with workshops and art residencies, which were conducted between 1997-2001, initially in the town of Modinagar near Delhi and after 2001, expanded to Mysore, Mumbai and Kolkata. These residencies have been responsible for blooding several major visual artists from India, who have worked with South Asian artists, and artists from Iran, Egypt, Cuba, Argentina, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, China, Taiwan and several countries in Africa and the Caribbean. In 2002, KHOJ acquired a building in Khirkee Extension, Delhi, which doubles up as an exhibition space, residency programme and library resource.

KHOJ has been influential in setting up pan-South Asian networks (in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan). This idea, originally presented at the ‘Chaos or Congruence?' public forum in New Delhi in 2001, would grow to include links with Vasl International Artists' Workshop, Pakistan, Britto Arts Trust, Bangladesh, Teertha International Artists’ Workshop in Sri Lanka and Sutra, an arts organisation in Nepal, following grant support from HIVOS and the Ford Foundation, New Delhi.

Within India, KHOJ has set up major domestic networks, from which especially institutions such as Periferry (Guwahati), 1 shanthiroad (Bangalore) and CAMP (Mumbai) have been direct beneficiaries. 1 shanthiroad Studio/Gallery is an artist’s residency that provides space for lectures, conferences, installations, performances, screenings and informal gatherings for artists and general public in the city. The art residency and studio provides collaborative support and serves as an incubation space for contemporary, experimental visual and media art projects by artists  from with-in India and abroad. It collaborated with various institutions like Asia Link, Australia; Asia-New Zealand Foundation, New Zealand; Arts Network Asia, Singapore; Carriageworks- Australia; and, other diplomatic and cultural organisations in India. Periferry is run by the Desire Machine Collective as a residency on the barge, M.V. Chandardinga on the river Brahmaputra in Guwahati since 2007. CAMP has housed the celebrated - short for Public Access Digital Media Archive – which is an online archive of densely text-annotated video material, primarily footage and unfinished films. is a collaboration between 0x2620, Berlin, Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore, and three organisations from Mumbai, and was supported by a seed grant from HIVOS and the Bohen Foundation and the Foundation for Arts Initiatives.


Following the successful opening up of several theatre festivals in different parts of India to global presence (notably the National School of Drama’s famous Bharat Rang Mahotsav), and the privately-run Prithvi and Rangashankara[6] theatre festivals in Mumbai and Bangalore, Indian institutions have also become a part of various domestic and pan-regional theatre networks.

In 2006, Prithvi Theatre set up the India Theatre Forum (ITF)[7], whose emphasis has been on finding models of economic sustainability for theatre institutions. While several major independent, non-metropolitan theatre movements in India have been direct beneficiaries (e.g. Ninasam, Heggodu, Karnataka; Magic Lantern, Chennai; JANAM, New Delhi; Prajya Natya Mandali, Hyderabad; Kattaikuttu Sangam, Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu; and, Abhinaya, Thiruvananthapuram), ITF also attempted to expand its base to include mainly central Asian inputs with its Performing Arts Management Programme, conducted by Milena Dragićević Šešić, who travelled through the country for two weeks and experienced first-hand theatre and performance management practices.

Rangashankara has collaborated actively with the Schnawwl Theater, Mannheim, Germany as part of the India-Germany theatre collaborations, and its annual theatre festival sees productions from all parts of the world. It has a special theatre programme for children called ‘AHA’ that hosts workshops, storytelling sessions, produces plays and organises an international children’s theatre festival.

The above institutions have been supported by HIVOS, among other donors.

Jagriti[8] is a hub for the performance and visual arts in Bangalore. Jagriti’s vision is to professionalise English language theatre in India. One of Jagriti’s notable collaborations has been with Theatrescience, UK and NCBS, Bangalore for the project ‘Imagining the Future’ that brought together scientists, writers, actors and directors for a series of workshops and seminars, and resulted in four new plays based around biomedical science. The outcome of this workshop was the play The Invisible River that was performed at various venues in India and the UK.

The Arshinagar Project ran the residency, Macbeth in the Mountains (2013), which saw the participation of classically-trained actors, clowns, dancers, improvisers as well as performers of traditional Indian forms from Australia, India, UK, Sweden and the Netherlands. The residency was facilitated by British performance trainer, John Britton and Swedish choreographer/dancer Elina Elestran with an objective to make an ensemble and perform fragments of Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’. 

Theatre Roots and Wings, Thrissur has collaborated with Japanese artists with support from the Japan Foundation on the productions: ‘The Water Station’ by Ota Shogo (2010), and ‘Urubahngam’ by Bhasa (2008, translation and dramaturgy by Kazuyuki Funatsu, music composition by Emiko Funatsu), performed by students of Communication and Culture Department, Faculty of Arts, Shinshu University, at the Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre, Nagano.

The production, ‘Sahyande Makan - The Elephant Project’, based on Vyloppilli Sreedhara Menon’s magnum opus ‘Sahyande Makan’, translation by Satoko Tsurudome and conceived with Mikari Fukui, was supported by Arts Network Asia, based in Singapore.

The Cuttack-based cultural forum, Utkal Yuva Sanskrutik Sangh, has been running a major festival in dance and music. Founded by dramatist Kartik Chandra Rath, the festival has showcased troupes from Australia, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Iran, Italy, Japan, Korea, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sri Lanka and USA, and, according to Mr. Rath, is hosted as per the rules framed by the International Amateur Theatre Association and International Theatre Institute of Paris. It also runs a national competition in Indian classical dance and music.

In Mumbai, Rage Productions has collaborated with the Royal Court Theatre, supported by the British Council to produce Writer’s Bloc, a workshop for young playwrights in India. Twelve playwrights from all over India wrote plays that were all performed in their original language as part of the Writer’s Bloc Festival at the Prithvi Theatre, Mumbai in January 2012. A set of rehearsed readings of Indian plays were performed at the Royal Court, UK in August 2012.

The British Council had commissioned an Indo-UK theatre production, ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ directed by Tim Supple. This multi-lingual adaptation consisted of 22 actors and performers from India and Sri Lanka drawn from various cultural, linguistic, socio-economic and performance backgrounds. The play used various Indian folk and performance traditions and was staged widely in India and abroad.

Jaaga, Bangalore provides space, infrastructure, and a diverse social environment to artists, designers and activists with an emphasis on digital technologies. It has initiated public art projects, organised online study groups and workshops. 

An important and largely self-contained initiative has been the Hindu MetroPlus Theatre Festival[9] that showcases, across multiple cities in south India, English theatre from India and abroad.  It has collaborated with various organisations the world over including the InKo Centre, Chennai for the production ‘Woyzeck’ by the Sadari Movement Laboratory, Seoul, Korea.


Traditional Indian dance (by which we mean the dances associated with the rise of Indian nationalism (such as Bharatanatyam) and the dances representatives of several states (such as Odissi, Manipuri, Kathakali) are almost entirely supported by State Governments, and there has been little change in this pattern.

The primary evidence of global networking and international collaborations are seen in contemporary dance. The best example is that of the Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, Bangalore, which was established in 1992, and has facilitated the development of an enhanced and extensive programme that includes national and international platforms for exchange and performance, strategic movement and digital arts development, research and documentation. They offer a diploma in movement arts and mixed media, and undertake education and outreach programmes. Attakkalari collaborates with video and digital artistes, composers, musicians and choreographers from around the world and also functions as a resource centre for young and upcoming artistes from other parts of the world. They also host the Attakalari India Biennial that brings local, national and various kinds of international art practitioners, choreographers, critics and dancers to the city. During the festival, it offers a six-week international choreography residency for young choreographers called ‘Facets’.

Although Attakkalari remains among the best known of the globalised dance institutions in India, there are several others who have emerged in the past few years. Among the best known is the Gati Dance Forum[10], Delhi organises training workshops, artists’ residencies, the IGNITE! dance festival and several public interest and multidisciplinary research projects.


The global networking in literature is directly evidenced with the proliferation of literary festivals, the Jaipur event being the best known. This festival is an initiative of the Jaipur Virasat Foundation and organises readings, talks, debates, performances and children’s workshops. Other new global events include Sangam House, an international writers' residency programme located in India that brings together writers from across the world to live and work among their peers in a safe, supportive and nurturing space; the Hindu Literary Festival or Lit for Life takes place in Delhi and Chennai, and, in 2010, instituted The Hindu Literary Prize; the Mumbai Literature Festival (TATA Literature Live!) which was launched in November 2010; as well as the Bangalore and Kolkata Literary Festivals.

Kathalaya, is an organisation that uses storytelling as an educational and communicative tool. Its Academy of Storytelling, conducts short-term and long-term certificate courses in storytelling and is affiliated to the International Institute of Storytelling, Tennessee, USA.  


Although the most popular music in India continues to be derived from the cinema, the organisation of global events are focused mainly on Hindustani and Carnatic music. In Carnatic music, the globalisation of the celebrated Chennai Music Season – including the significant presence of US-based classical performers – and the increasing presence of television networks in broadcasting as well as sponsoring this event, has been extensively discussed (see Lakshmi Subramaniam, 2008). The rise of initiatives such as Brhaddhvani, whose COMET programme combines the Indian traditional gurukula[11] into a modern institutional structure, has been witnessed. It was started by Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer Subramanian, who belongs to a tradition of veena[12] players and court musicians from the late 18th century.

Perhaps India’s largest network for music support has been the famous SPIC-MACAY (Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Amongst Youth) initiatives (see more on SPIC-MACAY in Section 8.2.2).

In the area of Western music, although the legendary Jazz Yatras of the 1980s are over, the presence of domestic and international jazz networks exists mainly with commercial sponsorship (the event management company, DNA Networks being the leading sponsor). Western classical music receives support through several well-established agencies such as the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation, the Bangalore School of Music and the National Centre for the Performing Arts.


The international nature of collaborations in film takes place in two areas: one, of film festivals, and two, in the areas of international co-productions. Through the 1990s, several Indian films (notably Shaji’s ‘Vanaprasthanam’, 1999, Indo-French-German co-production), Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s ‘Nizalkoothu’ (2002, Indo-French co-production) were supported by European funding on condition that post-production support would be utilised in the sponsoring countries, as a means primarily of subsidising local infrastructure in these countries.

Since the Hubert Bals Fund and Jan Vrijman Fund were set up, the possibilities of co-productions and international support has significantly increased, as these have been followed by new developments such as the Asian Cinema Fund introduced by the Busan Film Festival.

Apart from several Indian films who have benefitted from the above, other examples include the ‘Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama’ (Rāmayāna: Rāma-Ōji Densetsu), a 1992 Indo-Japanese traditional animation feature film, which is a collaboration between Japanese and Indian animators. It was jointly directed by Yugo Sako, director and producer and Ram Mohan, pioneer of Indian animation. The story based on the Indian epic ‘Ramayana’ is a combination of Japanese manga and anime with Indian forms.

Film distribution:

A major instance is the Magic Lantern Foundation[13], New Delhi, which works in the area of dissemination of documentary films. They run the well known festival, ‘Persistence-Resistance’, which has extended to several campaigns, and university-based festivals. The Magic Lantern list now increasingly has films from diverse countries, distributed in India.

Indian institutions:

There have been a small number of Indian institutions with global ambitions. One example is the Sanskriti Foundation. Its purpose has been to cultivate an environment for the preservation and development of the artistic and cultural expressions not only of India, but of the world as a whole.  Established in 1978, the Foundation was a registered Public Charitable Trust based in New Delhi, India. Sanskriti perceives its role as that of a catalyst, in revitalising cultural sensitivity in contemporary times. Its stated aims are worth detailing: ‘to create an understanding and appreciation of Indian traditional arts and culture, to encourage intercultural artistic dialogues and collaborations between international artists, arts practitioners and local Indian artisans, to support, nurture and nourish emerging artists, writers and social entrepreneurs, to perpetuate and strengthen the cultural roots of the emerging generation world over  and to increase the appreciation of Indian arts, heritage and crafts through education and participatory activities among young people’.[14] The Foundation hosts an international residency programme for artists, poets, scholars, and writers. It recently hosted the UNESCO-Aschberg Bursaries for Artists Programme 2012. The Foundation organises seminars and conferences on art apart from regularly conducting workshops on art and craft. It also offers annual fellowships on town planning and architecture, journalism, music and dance. It has instituted the Sanskriti Awards to honour young talent in India in areas of journalism, literature, art, music theatre dance, social and cultural achievement.

[3] Asia Urbs is humanitarian development programme, funded by EuropeAid Co-operation Office of the European Commission. It aims at a decentralised (city-to-city) cooperation between Europe and Asia. Established in 1998, the programme provided grants to local governments, non-governmental organisations for every aspect of urban life and municipal planning developing.


[11] A type of school in India, residential in nature, with pupils living near the teacher, often within the same house. Prior to British rule, they served as South Asia's primary educational institution.

[12] Plucked string musical instruments from the Indian sub-continent


Chapter published: 22-04-2014