Throughout ages the arts have flourished and survived through state patronage. The best artists in any country were always in the select list of the kings and the queens. In India we all know about navratna (nine jewels) in the court of Akbar. These wise men were of such high calibre and great erudition that they were living legends to make any king or kingdom proud of. Apart from their genius, these greats devoted almost their entire life in refining their arts and achieving greater heights. No wonder, the great maestro Tansen, we are told, could cause rain by singing Meghamalhar. These and many other artists thus passed on a great tradition through their disciples (the Guru-Shishya Parampara). It was an age when there was no recording system, no computer, no scientific system of documentation yet we are fortunate to inherit the rich treasure of music, dance, painting and all that constitute the arts.
During the British rule such patronage was not available but regional culture and arts survived with the patronage of kings. And, of course, by the ?never to die? spirit of the artists themselves.
In independent India, the most significant step to sustain the artists and to survive the musical tradition was to recruit musicians in All India Radio and later performing artists under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. In mid-50's the government established Sangeet Natak Akadami, Lalit Kala Akadami and Sahitya Akadami to take care of the entire gamut of our cultural tradition and wealth-arts and literature. It was, in fact, a formal announcement by the government of the sovereign republic of India that protection and promotion of our cultural heritage was part of its responsibility. We also have such academies under various state governments. Then we have institutions like Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, etc., which promote performing art apart from other activities. There are also research grants and fellowships for artists in different branches as well as for researchers, which are administered by the Ministry of Culture. There are several other forms of state patronage like providing rent-free or subsidised residential accommodation to senior artists. Some state governments have established centres to provide a congenial atmosphere free of charge for artists to work and practise.
Although during the last 50 years many artists have benefited from the state patronage, there is a large chunk, which complains about unfairness in the system. It is alleged that only the artists, living in the capital cities and having their access to the powers that be, manage to corner the benefits rather disproportionately compared to their counterparts living and pursuing their vocation in smaller towns or rural areas. On the other hand, in the happening cities, the struggling younger artists are angry about the fact that the seniors take all.
It is, of course, very rarely we see the state coming forward to support and promote a talented artist if he/she has not chanced upon a godfather/godmother. In our vast Republic this disparity is shamefully magnified when it comes to the states having an effective say in the Centre vis-?-vis the ones with weak leaders. It is high time that a rational system of talent evaluation and supporting young and middle-level artists across the country should be put in place.
There is, of course, a counter view to state patronage, which maintains that such patronage instead of stimulating the creative faculties of the artists, stifles them. The more serious charge against those enjoying such benefit is that they try to perpetuate a captive system that does not allow the new ones to enter the exclusive club easily. This malaise in our social fabric is not unique to artists alone.
Needless to mention that ?the new age artists? of item numbers as well as popular singers rendering bhajans to folk and regional spices to Indipop are doing well for themselves, thanks to the new technology and a growing number of television channels and they do not care for state patronage. Unfortunately, the singers, musicians and dancers in the classical stream are yet to attract that kind of audience to support them through a public performance or launching a DVD. May be some innovative artists would break that barrier someday!
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