A bright colorful ghagra, carefully embroidered. Silver jewelry chains. Aasha Sapra was five years old when she saw Kalbeliya dancers, women of her family, put on this outfit. Aasha also started learning the ethnic art form of Rajasthan at this age; she must have been 12 when her bare feet got acquainted with the scene.

This union was broken off about 18 months ago. For Kalbeliya dancers like Aasha and other performing artists who relied on a live community, the pandemic has changed art and livelihoods. India’s sudden lockdown, limited internet reach, and lack of government support have left millions of people struggling, especially local artists who derive meaning and income from physical spaces and real connectivity. .

Ehsaas toh bahut hota hain,“she said.” We really feel the loss [of the stage.]“The stage – and it can be any sphere that elevates the craft – is surrounded by an audience, nurturing the energy that drives the performers. A brutal closure threw out art, artists and their livelihood in free fall; performing artists struggled – economically, personally and creatively.


It is difficult to quantify the loss of a feeling. MD Pallavi, 42-year-old singer, struggles to put words, even to give meaning, to what the pandemic has done to her vocation. The moment India announced the first lockdown on March 25 is remembered today. “Containment, in particular suddenness of it, was extremely difficult for many local artists, ”notes Pallavi.

“The performances were canceled, there was no compensation, no future in sight.”

Bhavesh Shah, the founder of the Mumbai Theater Festival, speaks of a similar struggle: “Theater is above all live experiences, the pandemic posed a great challenge to the theater industry as no performances were allowed and even today auditoriums are closed across the country. ”

As an unorganized sector, the profession of performers depends on many variables. The precipitous lockdown thus jeopardized the stability of the artists, leaving them emotionally and financially powerless.

In Jhola, a small village in Jodhpur, another Kalbeliya dancer Suwa Devi supported her entire village, of nearly 51 families, before the pandemic. Many members of the Kalbeliya community similarly provide for not only themselves and their families, but also the community as a whole; sometimes their whole village.

The pandemic, and no government support, robbed them of their already scarce income and visibility and led to further isolation. Many local artists have taken up odd jobs, returned to their hometowns, or established other small businesses.

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In the absence of physical and community spaces, some artists have ventured out on their own to attract a digital audience and partnered with NGOs to increase their reach. Some, like the heritage theater group from Tamil Nadu who perform Kattaikkuttu, have resorted to crowdsourcing.

Taking the craft to cyberspace also meant making peace with the digital scene. Zoom and Instagram lives have become new platforms allowing certain artists to collaborate, experiment, lead workshops. New modes of engagement, more flexible processes, opening up an online world; expanding our audience and connecting across the digital world have all emerged.

The Internet’s relationship with the performing arts has always been tumultuous; the circuit of codes and broad bands hardly replaces the performances shaped by the palpable energy of the live audience. Regardless of the size of the World Wide Web, the devastation sparked by a disconnect between artist and audience is keenly felt.

But the role of the Internet is not binary – the transition has helped some by bringing their profession online; it puts others at a disadvantage. A large part of performing artists do not have the resources to put their art online or are not connected to the Internet. Or, their audience does not have access to the net. The pandemic exposed technology inequalities and Resources.

“The privacy inside your home to do your office / professional work is a privilege in itself. In order for artists to be able to create works from home at this time, it means that they must have the physical and mental space to do so. I was fortunate to be able to work online, ”says Pallavi. Notably, artists are not only struggling to make ends meet, but are also denied access to their studios and art spaces during this crisis.

As with the rest of the country, the severity of the impact of the pandemic was not the same for all artists – it was never a leveler. “Artists who were more financially secure, who had some savings and family support to lean on found that it was actually a good time to practice, reflect, ruminate, conceptualize and learn something from. new. But the artists who couldn’t afford a break, who depended on their daily income to carry them out, who have no family support, have been devastated, ”Pallavi noted.

“Few of the senior players have moved on to OTT platforms, but junior artists, backstage staff have all faced financial difficulties,” notes Bhavesh Shah.

The gap also raises the question of the impact on women artists. Notably, women are more likely to be disconnected from the World Wide Web. A 2021 UNESCO study noted that women’s participation in art and music declined more than their male counterparts due to the digital divide during the lockdown.

“The digital divide remains a pressing concern, with women disproportionately facing barriers to accessing digital tools for artistic creation and distribution, including digital music platforms, online tutorials and sound mixing software,” the report notes, adding that “worldwide, 250 million fewer women than men use the Internet.

And as Pallavi embraces this new culture, she firmly believes that “until it can be easily accessible to a larger part of the population, it will remain a niche and elite choice.”

Menaka Rodriguez, Outreach Officer at the Indian Foundation for the Arts, notes that, in a country where systemic support for the arts and culture sector is lacking, there are limits to how artists can systematically create works online.

Thus, the idea of ​​a future hybrid, which visualizes a marriage of physical and digital space, risks the exclusion of many. “… due to the limited access to a community / audience / gathering, it cannot be said enough that these options are still limited to a small section of artists who have access to the resources … some forms of art cannot be completely replaced by the Internet. “


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Although many artists have found ways to continue practicing and sharing their art, “[i]It’s not enough to celebrate this resilience, ”says Rodriguez. What annoys him is the presumption that it is always up to artists to find solutions and that they always find ways to do so.

“We need to demand more from our government; we need a government capable of providing a universal basic income to all artists, supporting infrastructure and communities and providing relief funds for artists at the very least.

The lack of support she refers to reflects the lack of institutional scaffolding in place. What has come to light during the pandemic is the story of a shapeshifting obstacle course that performing artists have faced in the past 16 months.

A report by Sahapedia, an online art repository, analyzed budget figures for the past five years to show how arts and culture in the country needed increased funding; the lockdown only accelerated the economic crisis the industry was already facing.

Pallavi agrees: “Artists are very low on the government’s priority list. In some states, governments have reached out and provided financial support for artists… but it’s too little, too late. She mentions that the funding that the government of Karnataka had for classical arts and local theaters before the pandemic has dried up. No new project, festival or grant has been offered since the start of the pandemic. A similar trend is emerging across the country.

In addition, state funding is riddled with eligibility criteria and markers that exclude many. Many vocations, such as playing the harmonium, are not recognized for government support and are therefore excluded from these safety nets.

“If we don’t fix systemic problems, we create an environment in which already existing inequalities will only increase,” says Menaka.

Undeniably, the arts and culture are at the heart of the development of any society. Especially in turbulent times like a global pandemic, this is what keeps people moving forward and reminds us of what is worth saving.

Arguably, the shift from the arts to an online space has brought positive points to the public. This not only meant that more people could access it, but it also helped them stay sane. “In our isolation, the arts have meant even more to all of us, to keep us grounded and connected to each other. Our interactions, although at times unreal, also provide a strange intimacy, in the way we are able to engage deeply in a work, ”says Rodriguez.

“It allowed me to come back, again and again, to relive works. “

Each industry has its own story to tell, but we risk romanticizing the survival of the performing arts, without fully understanding the message they convey in its effortless tones and features. The discourse around the performing arts, changes and challenges, then concerns both; it also unveils the flaws, the truths, the deep insights into the industry – and what holds it together, ambition.