Culture doyen Rajeev Sethi is working hard to set up a national mission for the crafts and culture industry, which he has titled ‘creative and cultural industries’. The Planning Commission has asked him to lay down the parameters for these industries, and he is working overtime to produce a prototype that will help rework our heritage as a viable paradigm for growth. He discusses his plans in this interview.With around 250 million artists and craftspersons, India is crying out for a large-scale repositioning and transformation of traditional skills for the global market. Rajeev Sethi, long-time supporter of the crafts sector, discusses his plans to do this by setting up a National Mission on India’s creative industries.
How did the term ‘creative and cultural industries’ come about?
The name (creative industry) was first used in the United Kingdom and the United States to include the megabucks entertainment, music and arts industry. The term ‘cultural industries’ was first used six years ago by the president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, who put together a committee including Yoyo Ma, the cellist, Amartya Sen, the economist, Lord Rothschild, the fortune-builder, and me.
When I first heard the word industry being affixed to culture, I felt it lent a fine, provocative edge to what was considered a ‘soft’ sector. People here tend to think of this as a ‘sunset’ industry because it has been subsidised for many years. But it is actually a ‘sunrise’ industry with the largest growth potential in the country.
Is it a sunrise industry?
For one, we need to understand that this is not an unorganised but a self-organised, self-supporting entity. In the West, the cultural industries have become the most rapidly growing sector in the world, contributing over 7% of the world’s GDP and with potential for further growth. The number of people employed in the crafts sector in the United Kingdom is 24,000, but the number of craftspeople in India is almost 250 million.
India’s contemporary but nascent design and media industry can help us reposition these traditional skills so that we can make inroads into the global market. We can create more tourist destinations in the country. The vocabulary of our pictorial traditions of Madhubani, Warli, Saura, Pithora, Gondh, Patuas, Patachitra can be extended through the use of animation. Animation, at present, has a global market of $ 70 billion. Today, we have a $ 1 billion share of the market, but by using these traditional forms we could make headway and get a $ 15 billion share by 2009-10.
What advantage do we gain by attaching the ‘industry’ label to the arts?
Craftsmen can gain a great deal by getting ‘industry’ status, including tax benefits and export promotion. This can make them eligible for banking and credit support, help them lobby for protection of intellectual property, and most important, we can carry out some mapping. The number of skilled people in India varies from 2 to over 200 million. Once mapping is done, we can help create creativity indices and benchmarks that are internationally comparable.
We must not forget that today France has 900 GIs (geographical indications) on foodstuff that are worth billions of dollars, whereas we have barely succeeded in creating GIs for Pochampalli, Kota and Chanderi.
How do you expect the industrial sector to provide assistance to such large numbers of people?
The agriculture sector, growing at 2%-3%, has little potential for growth. The organised sector is growing at 1%. The sector with the largest potential for growth is the creative and cultural industries, which cover potters, the handloom and textile sector, folk performers, weavers and musicians. The important thing to understand is that 30% of people in this sector work part-time. The art of Madhubani is being done on a part-time basis. This is also a sector that is always evolving and creating new traditions for itself. For example, Gondana paintings never existed before because the Gonds did not paint earlier. But it has evolved as a powerful art form today.
The whole development paradigm has to change.
What exactly are youtrying to offer?
Let me illustrate my point by citing some examples. Today, the only contemporary Indian exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York is a bench built by a stonebreaker, Kesaria Ram, in collaboration with the famous Italian designer Mario Bellini, in 1985.
In the same way, Teji Ben, who lives in an Ahmedabad slum, has collaborated with UK designer Zandra Rhodes and German architect Frei Otto to create tents utilising the skills in appliqué and patchwork that she learnt as a child from her mother.
Another collaborative effort we have engaged in is facilitating interaction between an Udaipur-based blacksmith, Gopilal Lohar, and Frei Otto to create a range of cutlery.
Are you trying to create a revenue model that is bottom-up?
Good revenue models are not bottom-up or top-down; they have their own synergy. The fact is that rich countries, obsessed with staying one step ahead, will now have to face competition from countries like ours with our ability to innovate and strategise at the grassroots level.
What are the most basic concerns that you have to tackle?
My most basic concern is that the skills that we have preserved through the generations must not be allowed to disappear. Today, we have Muzaffar and Meera Ali using chikan work and selling it at Rs 3 lakh apiece while dozens of women are still getting Rs 2,000 per piece. In the same way, we can listen to Ila Arun who is repackaging Gulabo, but we are not comfortable listening to Gulabo. The key question is how do we repackage Gulabo for the MTV generation?
Or take the example of handlooms. The village of Chinalampati was a thriving handloom centre until 1985. Today, the weavers’ huts in this village have been abandoned. Over 3,500 weavers from here are living in the slums of Delhi. This kind of scenario exists everywhere in India. We need to stop and think: Could the man pulling the rickshaw, selling balloons or hawking vegetables be a possessor of traditional knowledge? India is a poor country with a wealth of skilled people. The whole exercise of working with the Planning Commission and setting up a National Mission on these ‘culture’ industries is to ensure that we can engage with these people in a meaningful and transformatory manner.