A new canvas for success

Updated: Apr 28, 2020, 11:17 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

Serendipity Arts Festival is taking the digital route and trying to redefine the parameters for a successful show

An exhibition at SAF showcasing Selvam Palani's works
An exhibition at SAF showcasing Selvam Palani's works

There is a direct correlation between the name of Serendipity Arts Festival (SAF) and the way the event is structured. Imagine you’re visiting Panjim, where it’s annually held. The Goan capital is off the beaten touristy track. You only have a short while to spend there. So you take a walk to explore the city and find a placard on the roadside inviting you into a disused public space, where an arts show has been curated for public consumption. It can be anything from paintings to installations to a piece of theatre. But the point is, it’s serendipity that’s taken you there — you chanced upon the art.

That sort of happenstance isn’t possible right now, of course. And the organisers have thus jumped on the digital bandwagon, offering a list of shows online. The decision came comparatively late in the day, around April 10, says festival director Smriti Rajgarhia. But she adds that it was because the team wanted to wrap their heads around the digital medium more, before taking the leap. “We were still trying to address what we want to put out online because it might be that we find something exciting on screen, but the audience doesn’t, and we had to be sensitive to that. There was actually a different festival we had planned in Delhi in March. That had to be cancelled when we started getting news about the virus. But subsequently, we have been trying to understand what it [SAF] could become on a digital platform,” Rajgarhia tells us.

An art exhibit by Vikrant Kano displayed at SAF 2019
An art exhibit by Vikrant Kano displayed at SAF 2019

One insight she gained is that people seem to be responding positively to talks online because there are takeaways for both the artistes and the listeners. That’s why the festival’s digital itinerary is peppered with conversations featuring the likes of musicians Sneha Khanwalkar and Ranjit Barot, apart from food shows, theatre, etc. The idea is to curate a day filled with different mediums of art for people at home. Rajgarhia says, “We talked to all our curators and partners to aggregate all the best stuff online. It’s like, you can see an exhibition in the morning, listen to a playlist during the day and watch a cooking show later on. That’s how the whole day has been planned out.”

Will the model persist in the future? It might, but only hand-in-hand with physical shows, Rajgarhia surmises. But one thing seems certain. The definition of success that art festivals have right now will have to be reassessed when a semblance of normalcy returns. “We have been in the numbers game for too long. So it’s a good time now to stop being on the same track, and find innovations. What is our carbon footprint as a festival? How many people do we fly in? There was a theatre director who asked me, ‘Do I need a play where 25 people are huddled in one green room?’ These are the sort of discussions we need to start,” she says.

Sneha Khanwalkar and Smriti Rajgarhia
Sneha Khanwalkar and Smriti Rajgarhia

But as a word of caution, Rajgarhia adds that ‘carbon footprint’ is a difficult term to deconstruct. Different people have different ideas of sustainability. And festival organisers will thus have to view the issue scientifically and collaborate with the right kind of people. Meanwhile, many artistes she’s spoken to are also adapting their creative thought processes to reflect the world as it’s become. “Whether the pandemic is here to stay or not, this is a historic moment that we will refer to and talk about even 10 years down the line. So artistes are also rewiring themselves, and those conversations are really exciting,” she says, adding that some related topics will be addressed in the talks. Which ones? We will leave that to you to log on and find out. Some things should remain serendipitous, after all.

Log on to https://www.serendipityartsfestival-safxyou.com/

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