Clearing Hurdles : How To Navigate The Missing Arts Infrastructure

Choosing a career in the arts involves jumping over hurdles and working your way around systemic barriers on the regular. But is it a lost cause? Let’s look at some  ingenious solutions that artists and art managers have come up with, to pave the way forward for their peers and future generations. We’ll start with the thing that makes the world go round: money

“It’s pay day! Treat yourself to home delivery”

Just another overworked copywriter sending another generic push notification, I think to myself. A few minutes later, another app buzzes with a similar suggestion of how to spend my “salary”. A few hours later, yet another such notification arrives: this time in my email. “Okay that’s it. Now it’s personal.”

The first of the month holds little to no significance to those of us in the arts. Weekends are usually working days. Rehearsals and meetings often extend well into the night. One is expected to work for little to no pay “because that’s how things are”. The arts are an informal sector, and this is something you must be prepared for when you enter. 

However, does that mean anything goes?

Most working people receive their salaries on a fixed day of the month, while freelancers and artists must chase down every invoice for weeks (and sometimes months).

I’ve worked in Mumbai’s theatre circuit since 2012, and in these ten years have seen and heard complaints of all sorts. Theatre is held up by people whose passion and jugaadu mentality allows the arts to persevere. However, it seems it is always a battle too. At first I wondered, perhaps I am doing something wrong? Or perhaps it is only this way because Mumbai is a notoriously unaffordable city. Maybe this is a temporary glitch, an adjustment period, a short-term competition with OTT. As I began to speak to theatre artists from different cities, of different generations, and working with different forms, I realized that most of these issues are systemic. However, hope is on the horizon! There are organisations and individuals across India who are doing their best to overcome these challenges.

[To compile this piece, I created a google form and did my best to spread it among theatre artists. I was able to collect 34 responses, largely from Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore. Unfortunately, this form didn’t reach folk artists, those from tier 2 cities, or even many people doing theatre in languages besides English/Hindi. This is certainly a limited view of theatre artists, and I am certain more detailed research is possible, and required.]

Money, money, money

The question I was most interested in was “do you earn a living from your performing arts work alone?” and I was surprised to find that consistently, the number of people answering ‘yes’ and ‘no’ remained equal (41.2% each) with the rest responding ‘sometimes’. This was a matter of great hope to me. However, further down in the survey I asked “are you content with the income you are making as an artist?” and got 75% responses saying no. “If you run a theatre company/organization, do you feel content with the amount you are able to pay your artists/collaborators” got 65% respondents saying no, 24% saying sometimes, with only 10% saying yes.

Where is the government?

Nearly every single respondent said they wished they saw more funding opportunities from the government. Until I began my research, I believed that the only government grants available were for folk artists. However, there are a few opportunities that theatre artists of other forms can access. Ashish Mehta of Aasakta Kala Manch (Pune) shared that they used to receive the Repertory Grant from the Central Government, which provides Rs 6,000 per month, per artist, with an additional Rs 10,000 for a guru/director. “This is still not an amount you can survive on, but at least it covered the bills for commuting to and from rehearsals, and people could pay their phone or electricity bills with this. It allows some stability in the artist’s life.”

Aasakta Kalamanch’s play ‘Shillak’, directed by Pradeep Vaidya. This was a show created during the period they were receiving the repertory grant.

In the year 2020-21, this grant was given to a total 1,129 theatre companies across India. How easy is it to access, though? Ashish says, “It’s definitely wrapped up in a lot of red tape and you have to be diligent and persistent to complete the process. However, the process is quite transparent. They upload the names of awardees on their website, and include a short note on why certain companies were not selected. You may receive the money later than promised, but it will come eventually.” Besides the repertory grant, the Central Government also offers a Production Grant for the creation of a performance/cultural event (in 2020-21, 1314 applications for financial  assistance were accepted.)

Can the hivemind help?

Most companies seeking grants tend to look towards private institutions. Dipti Rao, Director of Projects and Operations at Art X Company points out that a lot of the arts funding in India tends to come from the British Council and Goethe Institut, both of which are interested in immediate contemporary creation, as compared to the government which tends towards “preservation of culture”. To help artists/job seekers connect with potential opportunities, Art X started a Facebook group in 2013, called Arts, Culture, Resources India which has since also grown to an Instagram page with curated opportunities. I myself have applied to at least 6 grants in the past year that I found out about through this page! 

Kaivalya Plays (Delhi) has been trying to formalise this hunt for funding, through their latest website (still in beta). Gaurav Singh Nijjer (General Manager at Kaivalya, and Project Lead for this website) says, “We’d like this to be a space where artists can find funding opportunities, but also a forum for discussion. If artists can share their successful applications, it could help those who are just starting out. We have a forum where all sorts of topics can be discussed: from how to register your arts company, to tips to applying for grants, to a transparent discussion on current practices.”

Team Kaivalya Plays, who’re making several strides in creating forums and systems of support for theatre artists pan-India.

It was heartening to know that there are options for funding that go beyond the standard corporate sponsorship/venue tie-ups/crowdfunding route. It is even more heartening to see solutions and support coming from the theatre/performing arts community. When we are able to count on each other, learn from one another, and help prop each other up, we grow as a community, as a field, and as a culture. 

However, getting into the community can be difficult. How does one break into the cliques and in-groups? Tune in next week to hear some solutions being offered.


This post doesn't have any comment. Be the first one!

hide comments

Your cart


No products in the cart.


This is a unique website which will require a more modern browser to work!

Please upgrade today!

Satnaam Shri Waheguru