M N Nandakumara moved to the UK to pursue his PhD when he started volunteering at The Bhavan. This gave him the opportunity to make the classical arts of India available and accessible to both the Indian diaspora and the wider audience in the UK. Today, even as the UK’s Arts Industry continues to battle through the coronavirus pandemic, he believes that these art forms are quintessential in connecting the communities and allows them the opportunity to stay rooted with their identity. The Executive Director of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan UK Centre feels that performing arts foster the understanding of another culture and people whilst encouraging integration and establishing strong and lasting partnerships.
He discusses the kind of assistance and support system that Bhavans provides to aspiring South Asian artists especially when some in South Asian families can be skeptical of pursuing a career in this industry considering many believe it is not a very rewarding career path.
He explains that the pessimism around achieving a stable career is this industry must extinguish as he agrees, “Yes, becoming a professional artist is a tough journey - it requires access to excellent teaching to establish the strong base, it needs opportunities for exposure to both create awareness and gain a better understanding of the craft, there is a process of continuous refinement and discovery, and there is no guarantee of 'success'. However, the UK is a wonderfully inviting location for artists - arts are encouraged and funded, and for the artist who is driven and passionate there are many opportunities from performance to teaching to communicating to creating that exist to support the artist's development and growth. We are grateful to media such as yourself for supporting the Bhavan to promote our art and artistes by way of publicity.”
But with theatres shutting down, shows being cancelled and artists struggling to make a living, the challenges brought forward by the coronavirus pandemic are abound. For a teaching and performance organisation like The Bhavan the Covid-19 situation and the associated restrictions have proved to be difficult challenges.
Discussing how they have adapted to changing times, he said, “From a teaching perspective, we have been able to move our entire schedule to be fully online, and we now run over 100 online classes and teach more than 600 students on a weekly basis. Moving to online teaching was a challenge initially as both teachers and students alike had to familiarise themselves with a new medium of interaction - the fact that remote working and remote learning have become largely prevalent over the last few years meant that this was actually far simpler than initially thought. The larger impact by far has been for those who are dependent on performances to make a living - monetising online performances for anyone but the most well-known artists is incredibly challenging and access to sponsorship is often restricted to these same artists. Additionally, the huge number of 'free' concerts available online means that asking for payment for an online show is now met with resistance. Everyone has simply got used to consuming performances online at no cost.
“Understandably, artists are reluctant to perform for free - they need to earn a living from their profession. So a suitable solution to this needs to be found and sponsorship may be one answer. I am incredibly grateful for the years of support that The Bhavan has received from individuals and organisations that see the value in nurturing grass-roots artists at the very early stages of their training and careers. The Arts Council has supported us in this for many years. We are grateful for the support we have been receiving from the Infosys Foundation. I'm sure it's not always as glamorous as working with established A-list stars, but without this support of the young and inexperienced, the next generation of Maestros and Gurus may never arrive.”