India/ 6. Financing of culture  

6.1 Short overview

Since Independence and well into the 1980s, the arts in India possessed no private sources of funding. Although, as with pre-Independence situations such as e.g. Shantiniketan (originally launched by Rabindranath Tagore with personal funds), several major institutions were established with initial private funding, these were taken over by the State government. There were specific exceptions, such as the Shri Ram Centre for IndustrialRelations, Human Resources, Economic and Social Development (founded in 1963), the Birla group which founded the Birla Academy (founded in 1966) and the Tata group which among other initiatives funded the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai (founded in 1969).

While in financial terms independent funding is still only a small %age of the total amounts being disbursed in India for arts and culture, the bulk of funding is still provided by the government, which includes the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the various Zonal Cultural Centres, the various Central and State Akademis, etc. Nevertheless, the very arrival of independent, extra-governmental funding means that there is a distinct alternative to state funding visible both in qualitative and quantitative terms. The Ministry of Culture, too, while adopting no new institutions, has increasingly started making grants available to independent organisations and initiatives in the arts, such as the theatre infrastructure building scheme, the cultural events scheme, and the arts journals scheme.

From the 1990s, there was a distinct increase in independent funding in the broad field that constitutes the ‘arts & culture’ portfolio. Part of this comes from what has sometimes been derisively known as ‘Chairman’s wife’ philanthropy -  e.g. the arrival of Tina Ambani, Kiran Nadar, Rakhi Sarkar or Sudha Murthy - which has included funding specific artists, or acquiring large private collections of art, and have now extended into private museums. However, there is a somewhat encouraging turn, if we see from a 1999 survey of 104 Indian donors in terms of their areas of philanthropic interest (Indian Centre for Philanthropy, 1999), which lists 13 institutions interested in supporting ‘Arts and Humanities’, which compares well with support for leading causes like Conservation and Environment (16) and actually exceeds support for Science and Technology (12). All of these are far below the leading areas for philanthropic support, which are Education (81) and Medicine and Health (57). There has been growth in independent support for the visual arts, often mediated through the art galleries but also independently, and in general for arts festivals and arts awards (the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre award, the Hindu, Sultan Padamsee and Shyamanand Jalan playwriting awards; Skoda Prize in visual arts, and the Prakriti Excellence in Contemporary Dance Awards, to name only a few).

At present in India, private funding of arts and culture comes either from major international donors (such as the Ford Foundation and HIVOS, both of whom have significantly reduced their presence in this area) or from the two major Tata Trusts: Sir Ratan Tata Trust and Sir Dorabji Tata Trust. In both these Trusts, the effort has mainly been to integrate the arts into a larger developmental focus, that of rural livelihoods: in turn leading to supporting crafts practices and linked to other initiatives, e.g. in Gujarat, Jharkhand and Himachal Pradesh. A relatively new development has been the setting up of India wings of several governmental cultural centres, to facilitate transnational partnerships, collaborations, networking and exchanges in the arts.

Chapter published: 22-04-2014