A Bharathanatyam Dancer Sheds Light On Crowdfunding, the Current Classical Indian Arts Scene and More

Posted on 22 September, 2016 by Team Wishberry

Evam is a dance festival celebrating classical Indian dance. Presented by Rasabodhi Arts Foundation in collaboration with Karnataka Sangha, the festival is a four-day extravaganza featuring stellar Bharathanatyam performances as well as unique dance productions. The festival was started with an aim to bridge the gap between performers and platforms, artists and audiences. Back in February 2016, they crowdfunded for the second edition of the dance festival, raising a total of Rs. 2.60 lakhs from 69 supporters of classical Indian dance.

Keerthana Ravi, a Bharathanatyam dancer and the brain behind the festivals, tells us all about her experience, learnings and more.

Can you tell us about your crowdfunding experience?

Indian classical dance though being very popular faces a dearth of funds. It's quite difficult to raise funds for a festival or a production. More often than not corporate brands see very limited connect to their brands with classical arts and hence weary or parting with sponsorship funds so for us crowdfunding was the best option. So, the crowdfunding experience has been overwhelming to say the least! Through the campaign every amount that was funded, big or small, was cheered for by our team and slowly by all the funders who backed us. Before I knew it there were so many more people who were rooting for EVAM's success. Crowdfunding truly moved the festival from “theirs” to “ours”, and that was the best feeling – to see the campaign roll into a movement and actually changing the way people thought about raising funds.

How did you engage with the dance community to get their support for your crowdfunding campaign? 

The dance community although being quite small is very close knit. Many dancers, dance patrons, senior dance teachers, organizers and musicians contributed generously. The fact that this was something unique and a leap forward for us as artists was something that everyone appreciated and encouraged. A lot of mails, Facebook messages, shares and Whatsapp texts went into getting us in touch with the fraternity like never before. When some senior from the field vouched for and openly supported our campaign many more came forward. Believing in the kindness of strangers is something that I saw in reality throughout the campaign. So many people I've never met or seen before, supported us. And that was the high point!

What all has happened since the crowdfunding campaign?

Besides the festival being very well received and successful, many of our supporters are already awaiting what's in line for EVAM next year ! One of our funders Shivangee Anantani enthused with the success of EVAM took the crowd funding way to fund her production Panchali in Ahmedabad, which was met with stupendous success too. Post Evam there have been several dance related projects that are exploring crowdfunding options. 
We have had a beautiful article in The Hindu written by a very senior scholar and art critic Shyamhari Chakra which was an embellishment for our bejeweled festival! 
A management student Shruti Srinivasan had submitted a research article about EVAM for a seminar on Arts & Management which she will be presenting at the prestigious Oxford University. That was something totally unexpected!
Besides this EVAM has kindled dialogue & debate about various unexplored avenues for artists. People are trying to look beyond the traditional way of doing this. Many youngsters have been encouraged to take that leap of faith!
Personally, for me there's nothing more satisfying than dancers asking me if they could try to crowdfund their dream projects! 

What challenges did you face while raising the funds and pulling off this festival?

Initially, it was embarrassing to keep following up for funds. The first few days were awkward after that I became a pro. Also, as an artist we're more used to just creating work and performing. But this involved a lot of energy and time into calling, convincing & following up, which was quite tedious. Being a fledgling team we had to work very hard to to run the show for 6 days. All of us were doing everything – dropping off tickets, picking up artists, rigging lights, checking the sound, running to get food for performers – it was a crazy amount of work! After the success of EVAM this year, we've gotten so many supporters who want to volunteer for next year. So now we're building a bigger team!

Any lessons or insights you gained from the experience?

First being that there are many people who are out there who believe in your dream and want to support you especially if you are doing something different.

If you are passionate about something it comes across and it's infectious enough for everyone to come forward to be a part of the dream.

A team is most crucial to keep you going through the ups & downs of organizing a festival.

PR and marketing are as vital as the quality of the art itself! Gotta sell it!

Can you shed some light on the current scenario of classical dance in India?

From time immemorial classical arts have either been revered or been recreational. It's never been mainstream; so we are already talking about a niche. It's unrealistic for us to expect a crowd like what a movie or popular music gets. Having said that, audiences are dwindling because traffic, time and effort to get to an auditorium is just too much! 

Dance has always been patronized by kings, rulers, affluent connoisseurs and even the government to some extent. It's only in the last 50 years that viability, feasibility and revenue models have been explored, so it's still in its nascent stage as an industry or thriving business unit.

Dancers face several challenges, the biggest being paucity of funds. Not enough money to train, to perform, to travel, to get new costumes – it’s an endless list. Many have to support their dance by having a side profession or take innumerable classes to fuel their performing dreams.

Another problem is the lack of transparency in selection for festivals. Very few platforms actually pay an artist for performing. These are many of the other issues that plague the dance world.

How can classical Indian dance continue to maintain its importance, popularity and relevance, and keep up with changing times in present day scenario?

That is a personal journey that every artist takes for themselves. Do you want to connect with the audience by changing content or do you want to educate the audience to understand your content? If classical arts have come down through so many generations, it has been adaptable to change and constantly found relevance because it's an art form that grows with its people changing according to the time frame it operates in.

The critical issue for all of us artists is how to get newer audiences, how to engage with them, when time is so sparse and distraction so large.

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