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Innovation in Public Spaces: Bengaluru and the Republic of Zoom

Arts & Culture | Civil Society | Dec 28, 2020

Covid-19 was in many ways the Chief Transformation Officer to a digital world. It has been no different in the public spaces for discussions, theatre, museums, galleries, films, music and more. Many Bengaluru Public Institutions innovated during the pandemic period to stay relevant and connected. This discussion will focus on their experiences.

Covid-19 impacted the mission and traditional operating model of many Institutions. The discussion will discuss how organisations dealt with the new reality and pivoted to an online world. Speakers will provide their insights on what worked and what did not, including perspectives on behavioural change among the audience.

How did the shift to virtual affect collaboration among Public Institutions and Arts / Culture organisations? Clearly it helped get speakers, performers from around the world. So will the future remain digital or be hybrid? And when the pandemic threat does recede will audiences throng to public spaces in greater droves?

The session was an interesting wrap up for the year 2020. In BIC’s case, it is appropriate that Rohini Nilekani who rang in the first BIC Streams event in April 2020 brings 2020 events at BIC to a close by helping us understand the takeaways in what has been an unprecedented year for us.

Transcript

0:00:10.9 Lekha: Namaskara, hello, good evening and welcome to BIC Meta. Sorry, welcome to today’s BIC Streams event, which is about us talking on Zoom on how we collectively discovered Zoom. The other meta element is also is us having BIC on the panel of a BIC event, talking about BIC on Zoom while on Zoom. Okay, I will now stop sounding like Godman and get down to business, and welcome you all to Innovation in Public Spaces, Bengaluru and the Republic of Zoom. We have with us Arundhati Nag, Jahnavi Phalkey, Abhishek Poddar, and Ravichandar, representing the organizations Ranga Shankara, Science Gallery Bengaluru, Museum of Art and Photography, and Bangalore International Centre, respectively. This session is the brainchild of and put together by Rohini Nilekani, who is our moderator today. Of course, the usual announcements, all bios of the speakers will appear on the chatbox, and please feel free to post your questions or comments in the Q&A box. And with that over to Rohini.

0:01:26.1 Rohini Nilekani: Thank you, Lekha. Thank you so much, BIC. It’s been a great year for all kinds of programming. Certainly, I’ve done a lot of programming with BIC with some fantastic audience response. It gives me a special pleasure to do this last event of the year at BIC, having also started the first BIC’s Livestream event. And today is special because we’re gonna sort of wrap up what we saw and learned in the year with a fabulous panel, as Lekha said. We have Arundhati Nag, legend of Ranga Shankara, we have Abhishek Poddar, an oldbie and a newbie in the arts and culture space. We have Jahnavi Phalkey, the Director of the Science Gallery Bengaluru, whom we are going to hear a lot from today, and our very own Ravichandar of BIC and everything else in Bangalore. And what we’re going to talk about today, something all of us are very familiar with. I want to thank my audiences for joining in, those who are here live and hopefully others who are going to see it later on YouTube or other fora, because we’re going to make it such an interesting session. So we all know what has happened obviously this year, that with the pandemic hitting, all our social spaces became narrow and shrunk, and everything felt restricted like we were in harnesses, and we couldn’t go to any of our favourite places.

0:02:48.1 RN: Not just the restaurants and the pubs, but also theatres, cinema halls, performing arts spaces, museums, and what have you. And we made do because a whole host of innovations came up in the digital and virtual world. We’re gonna talk a lot about that. We’re going to also talk about how much… What is the good of that and the bad of that? But a couple of things before I start the program is actually what they call the cultural and creative communities, and the cultural and creative spaces have been among the most badly hit during the pandemic in terms of employment, and in terms of livelihood affected. So there is some data from OECD countries that it’s up to 5% of employment, and that’s really huge even when you look at other affected sectors. And because it’s very hard, a lot of the cultural economy remains hidden and not counted, the impact, and I’m sure Aru will talk about this later, has been really huge, and the public at large needs to get a grip on it. And yet we have been able to come together for presence at a distance.

0:04:00.1 RN: So there’s a kind of a culturalization, new culturalization of the society and the economy, which I hope Abhishek and others will talk about. But apart from the obvious fallout that we will be discussing, I wanted to tell you about an impact that is perhaps less understood. There was a very interesting paper in 1973 by Mark Granovetter, who is a sociology professor at Stanford University. It is called The Strength of Weak Ties. And he says that while you know a lot of the long-term studies at Harvard about happiness and many other studies as well, say the number one important thing for happiness, stable long-term happiness, is the social ties we have with our family and friends. This professor says that actually quantity matters as much as quality, and that if we don’t meet people who we normally meet in our normal life, the vegetable vendor, right up to your college professor, to the person next to you at the conference, someone sitting with you whom you don’t even know in a cinema hall, whom you might say, “Arre, kya scene hain?”, or something like that, actually, these shrinking social networks impact on your well-being a lot. And he makes a very compelling argument that the pandemic has impacted on all of these things, and we should now remember to go out of our way to create, to improve the strength of our weak ties.

0:05:35.2 RN: And also arts and culture, which many of these organizations represent, actually in the pandemic, what has happened is, because other things seemed more important, right? Obviously like food and rations and living spaces, we began to reduce a little bit art perhaps in our minds, to its most obvious sort of cosmetic idea, that it is not necessary, but good to have. Whereas actually, we desperately need our art and culture to be revived properly because art is what makes meaning in our lives. Culture is what allows us to make sense of the world. And we really need to get that back in a much more meaningful way, however new that way may be. So we are going to discuss all this and much more with our panel. We have chosen four people who have done tremendous, institutions that have done tremendous innovation in Bangalore, yay Bangalore as always, and used the best technology, yay Bangalore as always, but I don’t want to forget others whom we could not get on the show, so many. Suchitra Cultural Academy, Jagriti, and I hope the panellists will name a few others whom we could not get on the show, but whom we applaud as well. So with that, I’m going to tell you quickly the format to my patient audience.

0:06:54.7 RN: We have four short films for you made by these institutions to tell you just how hard they work to be as innovative as they have been, so I’m going to take a film and a question, a film and a question for all four of them, then we’re gonna have a very feisty interaction, and then as always, open it up to you, the audience, for whom we do all this programming. So with that, thank you very much, and in case I forget later, be very safe and have a really happy and healthy 2020. So I’m gonna open right away, first, so Lekha, if you will ready it up, the film that BIC has produced on how they innovated their public space.

[music]

0:08:20.0 S?: I want to tell you about something that has been keeping me awake at nights the last seven weeks. It’s a question about how diseases spread and in the context of a specific disease, the coronavirus.

0:08:35.6 S?: Hi Joy, can you see us?

0:08:36.8 S?: Alright.

0:08:37.2 S?: Yeah, there, she can…

0:08:38.3 S?: Oh there, hi.

0:08:38.6 S?: There she can see us, yeah.

0:08:40.1 S?: Or I should be looking at this quiz, you know.

[music]

0:09:00.1 S?: In addition to the present PCR test that I talked about, there is also a need for serological test.

0:09:06.3 S?: Differently, other than disaster management which provides them with the legal powers to do certain things.

0:09:12.0 S?: Interesting… It’s an interesting exercise in looking not only at traditional grazing routes, but also…

0:09:16.9 S?: The kind of network that he had of contacts on both…

0:09:19.6 S?: So another thing that a large part of my work has dealt with is the dry zone, because in general, focus has been on the Western Ghats.

0:09:25.6 S?: Sita [0:09:27.7] ____ is not herself, she’s actively bewitched.

0:09:34.3 S?: Hello everybody. Ellarigu namaskara. Ellarigu Suswagata. This is the first of BIC’s livestream.

0:09:42.3 S?: I want to say, I don’t want to embarrass you, but I feel I’ve grown up reading you.

[music]

[foreign language]

0:10:11.0 S?: It seems it was not a planned effort to make Garam Hava.

0:10:18.8 S?: And you write it and let your husband direct it.

0:10:27.8 S?: I mean, they’ve done a disastrous cover, to begin with.

0:10:29.9 S?: I wanted to do something, but not on an event basis.

0:10:34.0 S?: Dhrupad is the mother of all music.

[music]

0:11:08.3 RN: Thank you, Ravi. That was great, tremendous work. In fact, I now present you the… Here, I present you the innovator of the year award from myself.

0:11:17.5 Ravichandar: I shall accept it.

0:11:19.0 RN: Thank you, thank you. No money is attached, nothing, but still, I really respect…

0:11:23.3 Ravichandar: Rohini, coming from you, I’m hoping it does have a check, too.

0:11:26.8 RN: Oh dear. No, seriously though, I hope lots more checks are coming to all of you from everywhere, but thank you for all the innovation, Ravi. And how did you… Two questions for you before we go to the next film. One, what was the hardest thing that you all had to grapple with? And then to some of your best moments. I mean, you showed them in the film, but personally, if you can tell us. Thank you.

0:11:52.9 Ravichandar: Yeah, so I think the first thing was it hit us in March, and therefore pivoting to virtual and digital, I think was the hardest thing, because while we had some kind of a digital presence earlier, not on the scale that we have done over the last nine months. So I think that was the hardest thing to master, and I think we got a PhD in Zoom by the end of April, we had a mini PhD in Zoom. So I think the challenge was how could we quickly pivot, and we found how to do podcasts, which we never had done earlier, so that’s something which we found tough, but we took about three to four weeks to crack that. Coming specifically to the proud moments, there are three or four proud things. One is, we have a BIC office staff, we made sure that all of them remained on the roles and their salaries were protected, despite the fact that our sustainability model was now under threat, and we were in deficit. So that’s one thing one is proud about, that we hung in there. The other thing really is that we innovated in terms of multiple channels as you saw, so whether it’s podcast through BIC Talks, Zoom streaming through BIC Streams, being able to show films on Vimeo and then do discussion on Zoom screens, and then subsequently hybrid. I think this multiple channel and being able to keep the numbers. I mean, in 270 days, we have done something like 255 events in all. So just that quantity that your professor spoke about is another proud moment. Rohini?

0:13:21.0 RN: Thank you. Thank you, Ravi. Of course, we’ll come back to you, but again, hats off, and hats off to all of you, especially Aru. Aru, please come in, we’re gonna play your film and then I’m gonna chat with you a bit about Be Safe and so many other things. Lekha, the film, please.

[music]

[foreign language]

0:14:22.4 S?: Well then, Arvasu.

[foreign language]

0:14:29.3 S?: That shalt be.

[foreign language]

[music]

[foreign language]

0:15:42.8 S?: I’ll tell you a story. This story is from America.

0:15:45.8 S?: They saw a poor woman…

[foreign language]

0:15:55.3 S?: Are you sure?

[foreign language]

0:16:05.4 S?: Four of them setting over here.

[foreign language]

[music]

[foreign language]

0:17:00.5 S?: To be or not to be.

[music]

0:17:04.4 S?: The question of how are these special people experiencing all this.

0:17:10.3 S?: Will have sign language interpretation.

[music]

[foreign language]

[music]

0:18:34.0 RN: Thank you, thank you. That was really marvelous and so enriching. Thank you for what you do. Again, two quick questions for you. And we’ll talk much more later, tell us about Be Safe, which you pioneered and was spearheaded. Actually tell us that and I’ll ask you the follow on.

0:18:51.0 Arundhati Nag: Be Safe, I think Ravi should be speaking about this, because he was the one who got all the data and the statistics and everything together. I think what I did was just kind of incite everyone into coming on to a platform together, and at least begin talking to one another about what kind of safety regulations are we going to follow, what is the protocols, and if we can have something common, we can help one another, source the right people. So coming from a theater background, I guess also coming from very little financial support, one needed to hold on to each other’s hands and find out… Get the best rates, really, for all the kind of protocols that are expected of an institution. So Be Safe is really only that much for me right now.

0:19:45.4 RN: How many members are there at this moment?

0:19:47.5 AN: We are about 14 of us. And we have a courtyard, we have Jagriti, we have all the suspects around, everybody who needs help, who need to talk to one another. We realized that we, art institution people, have not been speaking to one another. We’re just living in our own silos. And we don’t have any kind of an association that has a representation anywhere, whether it’s at the state level, or at the central government level. We are not… We are a completely unorganized sector, whereas the kind of employment that this sector creates is almost equal to the organized sector. If you look at nationally, the people engaged in the creative arts, whether they’re crafts or performance arts, the numbers are mind boggling, mind boggling. But we…

0:20:45.9 RN: Which leads me…

0:20:45.9 AN: Yeah.

0:20:47.0 RN: Which leads me to my follow on question. I know you’ve been very concerned with what’s happening with that community in this past year. Do you want to talk a bit about efforts that are on? Very quickly, because we’ll come to it more later. Very quickly, what are the efforts going on to sustain these communities?

0:21:07.0 AN: I really wouldn’t know because there’s just such a huge lacunae in communication, and also getting organized. So if you even just talk about the transgenders, they are out there and there is nobody to bring them together. There are individual efforts being made by people. Some people call them to paint a mural and give them some money. We did that too. But how can one create a sustained training program for these marginalized communities and actually give them employment, while their engagement in the arts is very, very marginal because they are struggling to live. So creating livelihoods for them is, I think, the most important, and integrating them in a public space like Ranga Shankara has been more important for us. So we actually have a day in the week when they can come and they can be there. They can just hang out.

0:22:07.7 RN: Yeah. Right. Thank you. We’ll come back to questions of inclusion and access much more later. But now, Abhishek, I’m going to go over to your film. You had to launch in the pandemic, you had to launch in the virtual space. Let’s see what you managed to do through your film. And then I’ll ask you a few questions. Lekha, please.

0:22:32.4 S?: With one road blocked, another has opened. The beginning of MAP’s digital museum. A space that engages with you, right where you are, at a time that is convenient to you. Since April 2020 we focused on women through the art and culture series. We had compelling voices and exciting dialogue. Conversation that was accessible to everyone. We engaged with children and families through MAP’s specially designed artefacts online. We created vivid narratives on the Google arts and culture platform. We opened with three exhibitions on our new website, and an ever-expanding archive found its place here too. And to celebrate all this, we hosted Art is Life.

0:23:34.7 S?: Which is a chance to tour one of India’s first ever digital museums.

0:23:40.3 S?: This is a historic moment for MAP as it connects…

0:23:44.6 S?: To audiences in the digital space, even before it opens its doors to the public next year.

0:23:50.2 S?: But it also is the first one in the digital space in this country and perhaps one of the first ones in the rest of the world.

0:24:00.1 S?: A week-long festival that took people on a virtual exploration of MAP’s vision, voices and collection, while also introducing a unique collaboration with various museums around the globe.

0:24:14.5 S?: Art is often seen as exclusive and elitist, but I think MAP’s vision seeks to reverse and correct and break this perception.

0:24:22.9 S?: Art helps us see the soul of people.

0:24:26.5 S?: This is MAP’s tribute to the incredible art of story telling through some highlights from the museum’s indigenous art collection.

0:24:34.8 S?: This is just the beginning. This road has already opened up so many more. And we hope to have all of you along with us.

0:24:44.0 S?: A museum open its doors to everyone. It doesn’t know any discrimination. It invites you in, it welcomes you.

0:24:54.6 S?: Collaboration is at the heart of how we would like to do things at MAP. And we hope all of you will complete that circle of collaboration by engaging with MAP to discover and enjoy our collections.

0:25:07.4 S?: This now is your opportunity to tour that collection digitally for the first time. Don’t hesitate to seize the chance.

[music]

0:25:42.9 RN: Thank you, that was splendid. As splendid as your inauguration, which I saw virtually, and been going through your museum, what an endeavor. I mean, just opens up so many possibilities. So my question to you directly goes into, you have used the most technology to make this thing come really richly alive for people. And anywhere in the world, in Iceland I could see it too. So tell us about… Just dive straight into… I know, of course, there’s nothing to beat physical spaces, but tell us about the potential of harnessing digital technology to make art and culture even richer, in the sense using many parts of our brain to feel and see art this close, but virtually. Tell us about the possibility, we’ll come to the downside of it later, but tell us about the possibility, how you harnessed the technology, how you made us all feel so much part of the experience.

0:26:45.9 Abhishek Poddar: I think what really happened here, Rohini, was we had set the 5th of December as our date to launch the museum. When we discovered that that would… Was gonna be at least a year away, we said, how do we still keep our date? And the only way to do that was to do it digitally. And literally, in the past four months, we built another MAP, but we built MAP on the cloud. And what we realized with this was, right from April once we started doing our digital webinars and stuff, instead of having people just come to BIC, and even there, sometimes we wouldn’t have a packed audience. People from Koramangala would crib about coming to Indiranagar. And here we had people from 30 countries logging in, and we started seeing the potential of bringing in audiences from everywhere. Our physical launch would have been for 200 people. We have been watched about close to 40,000 times. And this is something which in three weeks of launching the museum we already recorded. Now, that makes us realize that to do a museum in one city and have only people from there see it is gonna be so limited compared to the people who are interested.

0:28:05.1 AP: Of course, we want the numbers within Bangalore to grow, but why lose out on everyone from everywhere else around the world who can do it. This also gave rise to Museums without Borders, and we launched six at the opening, and you saw some snippets of it here right from the British Museum to the Museum of Fine Arts, some of the finest museums around the world. And that has now become more than 15 museums that we’ve already collaborated with. So I think collaboration, listening to people… The pandemic couldn’t have hit us worse than it ever did because we didn’t even know how to navigate this space. But I guess our team, our advisors, our patrons, there was support coming in from everywhere, and the most amazing ideas. And where we said, okay, let’s launch it for about 5,000 people, we said, why 5,000, why should we reach out… Apparently, our invitations went out to over a million people.

0:29:10.7 RN: I see.

0:29:11.1 AP: But this is what it technology can do.

0:29:13.5 RN: Right. So two… Very quickly, I read that 90% of all museums in the world, some 85,000 institutions of renown, shut down very quickly this year. But tell me, would you have done any of the things, some of these things which you did, without those closures? Would any of this have been possible, or would you have even thought about doing this and reaching people in so many countries without the forced closure and the postponement of your deadline?

0:29:45.0 AP: I’m not sure we would have. This really put us in such a jam that it forced us to innovate, Rohini.

0:29:49.9 RN: And you didn’t waste the crisis.

0:29:52.3 AP: And I think everybody says that how do you make an opportunity out of a crisis? We did not see any opportunity, this just came about and we didn’t even realize how many people we’re gonna impact and affect. We had articles from places like Spain and France and New Zealand, you name it. I don’t even know how the word went around there, how many museums have written to us and people from around the globe have written to us. We don’t even know how… We don’t know who they are and how they even got access to it, but the fact is that it’s obviously gone viral in some way and it’s impacted people right from stories from the collection. And the whole idea was we had some of the greatest minds in India speaking at our opening. Aru was there as part of that, and we were very scared that all these people would overshadow our launch and people would only remember them, so that’s when… One was to save money. And how do you even go and film somebody sitting in Como and somebody sitting in… They were in eight different cities in the country or around the world. So we said let’s just use their voice. Now, to do a film for one hour without a single person being in there, but we had less than 2% of the people who dropped out, and it’s not just Indians but people from around the world, they sat through the entire hour.

0:31:16.1 RN: Which is fantastic. Quickly… I’ll go to Jahnavi next. Quickly touch on the technology, how did you… You had technology partners, because that’s important for us to understand. See, in the brave new digital world, putting out poor technology doesn’t engage audiences, right? Yours was particularly engaging. Did you spend a lot of money, and what technology partners did you have? I know Accenture supported some of it, but how critical was that? I can’t do this in my home, look at how I’m sitting. So just tell us quickly about the technology, but very quickly and I’ll move to Jahnavi.

0:31:49.6 AP: So I think it was really how to… Our building doesn’t exist, so everything that you saw was virtually created. And that happened because of a conversation with the filmmaker and Sumantra Ghosal who said, “Abhishek, you can’t just be having talking heads and we are sitting on the stage and looking at people. How would you make a memory?” So I said, “How does one make a memory on the digital space?” He said, “Then do everything at MAP.” I said, “Sumantra, MAP doesn’t even… Is not even ready.” So he said, “Well, why can’t you do it digitally? Why can’t you recreate it?” And that’s what got us thinking. And we had Xarpie who came to our aid. This is a company in Bangalore who did a fantastic job, but we actually had six layers over this. We had a lighting director, a sound director, a fantastic videographer. Every artwork was 3D scanned, so it doesn’t look like a flat piece. And you could actually see it from whichever angle you wanted.

0:32:45.1 RN: Thank you.

0:32:45.5 AP: So I think there was a fair amount of technology which went into it.

0:32:48.3 RN: Thank you. I wanted audiences to understand this, that we will have to invest in digital technologies, if all… If hybrid is going to be the future, so that that experience is not flat and that’s a great segue, Jahnavi Phalkey, into your film, Lekha, and then we’ll talk to you about just how you brought science right into our homes and hearts. Lekha, please.

0:33:13.2 S?: If you imagine a world without plants, this would be probably the first picture which would come into your head. Everything but green in this world, and then there’s no plant, there’s a world with no life.

0:33:35.8 S?: PHYTOPIA is Science Gallery Bengaluru’s exploration of the world of plants. Research around plants is diverse and deep, but we wanted to bring a new perspective to it at our very first digital exhibition.

0:33:46.5 S?: So, a way to do that is to have… You have seminars, you have webinars, you have events where the public is actively engaged and contributes. And PHYTOPIA was certainly, in my opinion, one of the primary, or let’s say the most innovative ways how to do that.

0:34:13.2 S?: Now, making the digital exhibition in itself was not our challenge. The real challenge for us lay in creating an experience for the audience which combined the warmth of our human experience and the seamless exploration that is made possible in the digital realm.

0:34:28.9 S?: You’ve really kind of tried to encapsulate what might normally happen in an exhibition experience, but through a digital realm. So I think in terms of the museological world, you are really pushing the boundaries of ways to connect with content, particularly as we can’t go to our physical places like we used to.

0:34:48.5 S?: I also immediately thought, what a wonderful way, what a fantastic opportunity for many of us who are not necessarily [0:34:55.2] ____ scientists, to engage with science because it doesn’t have to be something that is so distant, technical and far away from our way of life.

0:35:06.3 S?: It didn’t feel like I was learning something, it was more like I was discussing something with my friend.

0:35:12.4 S?: So, I think an exhibition of the kind that PHYTOPIA provides to the public, building a bridge between the quite rarefied and arcane world of science, both biophysical sciences and social sciences, and relating it to things around us, to our own personal lives, it’s just tremendously important.

0:35:37.1 S?: With our diverse exhibits, our platform created multiple avenues for curious visitors to deep dive into topics of their interest. During the exhibition, we brought together practitioners across disciplines to re-imagine our relationship to plants.

0:35:50.4 S?: I am so impressed with the program, it is so rich and diverse, and I love that the organizers really wove together a really beautifully complicated understanding for the viewers to understand the role that plants play in society.

0:36:12.1 S?: With everything going online, and teaching lots of workshops online, it’s really kind of minimized the barrier and the proximity between artists and cultural practitioners.

0:36:26.5 S?: We believe that this convergence of people, perspectives and ideas is needed to restart the cultural conversation on science.

0:36:34.9 S?: India is such a remarkable country with such diverse ecosystems, and especially its plant life is phenomenal, and has so much possibilities for us who live there.

0:36:45.7 S?: Since scientific research does require a certain amount of creativity, when platforms like Science Gallery Bangalore actively blend science and creativity together, it can result in the generation of several new ideas that could lead to something exciting.

0:37:03.0 S?: PHYTOPIA was an experiment in integrating the digital into our regular programming, and in doing so we reached a larger and more diverse audience. We now look forward to continuing our effort to create meaningful and engaging digital experiences.

0:37:28.0 RN: Thank you, Jahnavi. That was so exciting and I loved PHYTOPIA. And at a time, Jahnavi, especially when the green world, the wild world, the natural world became so much less accessible to so much of the world and so many people in India and especially in cities, PHYTOPIA just brought it into our houses and homes. Talk about that a bit, and also talk about, you too had to launch virtually, you couldn’t launch physically because your building is not yet ready, but talk about how… I mean, it’s a very important thing that the government of Karnataka, it said, “The state is your founding partner. The state is helping with this mission of bringing science to citizens.” What role, how did government encourage you? It’s important for the public to know about the public sector helping the public sphere to be enlarged and to continue despite all odds. So first, talk about the government’s role, both in setting up Science Gallery and in making this virtual thing, and then talk about what you had to do to bring plants back into our urban lives.

0:38:35.8 Jahnavi Phalkey: Yeah, thank you, Rohini. It’s daunting to come after three fabulous institutions who we’ve had the privilege also of partnering with. I remember my very early conversations with Aru and about, “Oh, we have a building,” and then she, of course, has a building and we didn’t, and you know, how does one… So I’m grateful to have such fabulous colleagues and senior colleagues who have been helping us and mentoring us into coming into existence. So speaking about the government, for those of us who are probably not aware of the gallery, we are a part of an international network of galleries, so we are nine of us across the world in various universities. And Bangalore is the only government-funded institution even within the network, and so which is… And the privilege that we have because the government supports us, is that we’re the only independent and autonomous institution even within the network of international galleries.

0:39:32.1 JP: So what they’ve created for us is the opportunity to be an autonomous institution that brings together science and culture, so that in fact is our mission, to bring science back into culture, to in a way, create that… Re-create that missing conversation, or that conversation that has gone missing. As I like to say, “We have a very strong professional conversation around science in India, we don’t have a cultural one.” And that’s exactly what we want to re-instate and that’s why having partnerships with Museum of Art and Photography and with BIC and increasingly also with Arundhati, we look forward to doing that kind of work. Because it’s not going to happen, you know, it’s not going to happen independently, but we are grateful to have the kind of support we have from the government who also, as you’re aware, increased our grant during these extremely difficult times, to make sure that the institution prospers and is able to stand on its own feet.

0:40:28.0 JP: So that’s the privileged position from which we speak, and I’m grateful of course, also for the autonomy because it means we are not tied like our sister galleries into the ambitions of a single university. We can see ourselves as an independent cultural institution and therefore think about larger public debates, larger concerns, grand challenges, and have the convening capacity, have the opportunity to bring people together, to bring institutions together, to make this… To realize our mission, so to speak. So we are the youngest of the four institutions here who are discussing, and we started programming barely a year ago. In fact, our very first large exhibition was at BIC, and our first pop-up was at Rangoli Metro Art Center. So our third exhibition, we knew we couldn’t launch physically because it would have been an irresponsible thing to do, and so we had to do it virtually.

0:41:23.3 JP: We didn’t really have a strong IT team, plus we have… We realized what kind of platforms, and that’s why I’m glad you brought up the aspects of the technical, because we realized only with the pandemic that we couldn’t… That there were limitations given the platform on which our website was hosted to do certain kinds of things. So technology comes with limits and with constraints, and then you have to… So certain kinds of platforms allow certain things to happen, certain don’t. And so my small team in a way said, “Okay, we have what we have, let’s try to make this work.” And the hallmark of a Science Gallery exhibition is… Are two things, hands-on experiences and mediators. So intimate conversations. And both of these were rendered difficult by the pandemic. And so what we had to do through PHYTOPIA was, you know, as you beautifully said, try to bring the world of plants into people’s homes, but also with that, try to bring the warmth of human interaction and the kind of conversations and collaborations at the back end, between artists and scholars across the world, but also then with our audiences. So how do you carry over the richness of the conversations between the scholars to your visitors? How do you mediate that? And I think, what I’m happy about, I mean, as an institution itself, we cannot say too much.

0:42:48.2 JP: But what we had by way of endorsement from museums across the world, and like Abhishek said, we had audiences and colleagues coming from all over the world who said, for example, and it is quite likely that ours was the first fully online exhibition in India. It was certainly the first in the network, the Science Gallery Network, and the Natural History Museum of London sort of very categorically said, “Museologically, you guys are pushing the boundaries of what is possible in a virtual exhibition.” And that was an endorsement, which was wonderful for my young team. Some of you, of course, attended, and I hope your experience also tells you that that was made possible. So it’s wonderful to know this is possible, and I’ll end by just saying one thing, which is that the future is hybrid, there’s no doubt. Like Abhishek said, our audiences are now all over the world, and they are expecting things of us. We get a diversity of audiences, we don’t just… So there is that expansion of audiences, and we will try to leverage that to become a different kind of institution, which is strongly rooted locally, but which in a sense looks to the sky. So it, in a way, enriches our ambition, it enhances our ambition. It also enhances our abilities to do different things, and so I think that combination is here to stay and…

0:44:23.6 RN: Thank you. Thank you for that, Jahnavi, and congratulations. Very well done. And you’re doing CONTAGION, you’re gonna tell us about doing a marvelous new thing next year. So want to just briefly, very briefly, touch on that, because I know Abhishek wants to say something, and time is moving nicely along. Yes.

0:44:42.7 JP: Yeah, so our next big exhibition is going to be CONTAGION. Well, needs no justification any more. And again, it’ll be entirely digital, because we see that that will be the only socially responsible way to conduct an exhibition, because we can’t expect throngs of visitors to come and watch or experience an exhibit, and that opens with [0:45:05.7] ____.

0:45:08.5 RN: We don’t want a contagion. Especially the word contagion. We don’t want to use contagion to have another contagion.

0:45:14.4 JP: No, precisely. Thank you very much. Yes, the CONTAGION shouldn’t lead to another contagion, and therefore we shall have it… We shall have it virtually only. It’ll launch early next year. It’ll be at the scale at which we had our exhibition at BIC, so it’ll be large, it’ll run over several months. And again, bring together the programming and exhibits from across the world into our homes.

0:45:34.6 RN: We look forward to it very much. We will have even more information. The audiences have become so much more knowledgeable in this one year, and really Aru, all the world’s a stage is acquiring a completely new meaning now, all the world’s a stage. So you know, I want all of you to tell us, before we again go into the potential part, I do want to talk a little about what all of you think about the downside of shutting down for the audiences and for the performers, for the conference hosts, etcetera. Please, all of you do touch upon, even though people know about it, it’s important to understand what we lost, and then we’ll come back to talk about what we found and what we hope to continue. In no particular order, Abhishek, you wanted to say something, you want to go first?

0:46:23.8 AP: No, I just wanted to thank Jahnavi for this fantastic show, which they had something which we really looked up to. And in fact, yours was the first exhibition we saw, and we said, “How do we do better than what Science Gallery had done?” And this experience of having a docent take us through that one hour, which was so powerful, Jahnavi, that it’s brilliant. And I think we’ve actually learned a lot from what you’ve done, so thank you for doing that.

0:46:55.2 JP: That’s very kind of you, Abhishek.

0:46:56.6 RN: [0:46:56.6] ____, okay, go ahead, Aru.

[laughter]

0:47:00.9 AN: Yeah, so taking the cue really from what Abhishek has achieved with MAP and the digital inaugural and what Jahnavi has achieved with the Science Museum, I guess, Ranga Shankara in that sense, we theater people are in a bit of a time warp, and haven’t bitten the bullet as much as the other mediums have, like Abhishek was able to ride the tiger and really launch his museum digitally. But how does live performance go digital? It really is such a huge challenge, short of having virtual reality, which is not the real thing, again, this human contact. But the connectivity that they have created between institutions around the world is something that is my takeaway really, from what Jahnavi and Abhishek have been able to achieve for their institutions while they’re still fledglings, while they’re babies, they have actually launched with the global platform in mind, which is my takeaway, and I think that’s the way to go. We should be able to harness the new with… Which means the digital with connectivity all over the world, and India is so beautifully poised with its variety of performance art practices, its antiquity of performance art practices. And of course, what the British gave us, all of us speak such fantastic English. Shakespeare is ours, and we have such good writers, so we are very beautifully poised to become that nodal agency that actually gives to the rest of the world. I think Ranga Shankara needs to really ramp up and get there quickly.

0:48:56.0 RN: But do tell me what… Remind us what we do lose. Yes, there’s a lot of potential and we can see that, and that’s why we are doing this program. But remind us what we lose, that experience of sitting in a theater next to somebody really watching an actor. How… All said and done, describe what is lost?

0:49:17.7 AN: What is lost is the magic that happens in a real… In a live performance. Within the 15th minute, everybody’s heart is beating at the same pace. That’s a truth, that’s the truth, everyone’s heart is beating at the same pace. How can that ever happen ever with us beaming ourselves out on telephone screens and computer screens and television screens? Not possible. And theater is really the, performance practice is really the only only medium that gives it to you blood, sweat and tears, there in front of you. Cinema blows up everything 100 times. Television compresses it. Theater is the only space where you see what is real. So I mean, this is a challenge to humanity. Are we going to erase human contact? We can’t. So theater is really the only medium which needs to be kept alive, and we need to build a network of theaters. So this is my learning and we need to re-purpose our public spaces, we need to connect further with the real art and artists and make their lives viable, because that is what will get lost. What will get lost is the Theyyam artist who doesn’t have food to eat, because he is really from a caste and community, which thanks to our caste system, is really there at the bottom of the economic rung, and he is the repository of such fine art. So I think we really need to look at the economic part of sustainable art, not only, yeah…

0:51:09.4 RN: We’ll come to that, but so beautifully said about theater really being the only real, alive thing, and we have to find a way. Future maybe hybrid, but we cannot lose our performing arts where even if you sit six feet apart or whatever it is, being there is never going to be replaced by anything else, and it’s good for younger audiences to never forget that the virtual is not the real. Ravi?

0:51:35.8 Ravichandar: Yeah. So the thing really is, you know, we are social human beings, and I’ll just share our experience at BIC. During the last week, we have had about 12 performing events at BIC. This has predominantly been music and some dance. And you could see the joy in those artists who performed, just 30, 40 people in the audience wearing masks, they could be performing at Wembley stadium or something, that was the kind of emotion that people had on stage. I remember Tara Kini and she’s gonna come back in Jan. She got such a high just doing that after all these months, she said, “I want to come back here again in Jan, I have just another… So the point I’m stressing, this pandemic has been brutal for creative artists. And I mean brutal in a way that none of us privileged people can really imagine, and I think that’s the biggest thing. And by them getting affected, I think society has lost in a big way, because as Aru said, the joy of seeing this with fellow human beings and experiencing the same emotion in the same room is unmatched, and I think the future will have to take that into account and we need to come back to that.

0:52:43.8 Ravichandar: The other thing I just wanna mention for the legacy space, what the MAP as well as Science Gallery achieved through the thing was amazing. Absolutely amazing. Both in their own ways, was dramatic. The people which are legacy spaces, I mean Ranga Shankara has a much older space, BIC, relatively new. The thing that again hits you is sustainability. So in the first month, you are thinking, how are you going to pay the bills because you had a model of people renting the space and it’s suddenly gone. So the challenge therefore is two-fold, one, of course, is keeping the creative arts alive, and second for legacy spaces, how do you stay relevant in a pandemic where getting inside a theater is the biggest risk to your life? How do you come out of that is the biggest challenge.

0:53:30.4 RN: Thanks, Abhishek. Thank you. I did want to segue into revenue models, how will all you cope? What are the plans? Abhishek.

0:53:39.1 AP: Yeah. So I think, you know, for everybody who was saying that the arts is not important, I think for people like us, I don’t think we could have gotten through the last nine months if it was not for the arts. The amount of arts and theater and drama and music and opera that has been consumed and the exhibitions that people have seen has possibly been a record number compared to even those who would have watched it physically. I mean, let’s take it, for example, even if MAP had opened physically or if Jahnavi had done her show physically, we would have gotten a fraction of the number that we got. So one is that people have time, B, is they have, this is what is sustaining them. So the argument that the arts is not important is done and gone, and thank heavens for that. So I think that’s very relevant. Secondly, I think you can see a great piece of art in a… Printed in a book, and it could be a fantastic re-production, you could even see it on your computer screen, but it’s nothing like being in front of it.

0:54:45.3 AP: So like Aru has said, theater has to be experienced in person. I think all the arts have a totally different level of experience and enjoyment when you’re right in front of it rather than having an artificial means to see it by. Anything else is just the second best, and I hope that technology never reaches that point where we would not need the physical and the digital or the virtual becomes as good. And I think that then we would have been able to crack everything and then man can create another man, which will never happen, there’s this God particle, which is also there in arts. So that would always remain.

0:55:29.6 RN: Wow, thank you, thank you for pointing that out, that actually you don’t want technology to replace… The what she called, “The synchronization of the human heart,” right?

0:55:41.3 AP: Right.

0:55:41.9 RN: What Aru said, and it is up to us, all together, to prevent technology from reaching that dehumanized space. But Jahnavi or anybody else, how are you going to… Revenue models, I think Science Gallery doesn’t have such a problem, but certainly Ranga Shankara, BIC. What are alternative revenue models that you all can think of? Will we need the government to step in more? Are some policy directions required? Do we need a new form of patron? Do we need philanthropy to step in? What about retail philanthropy? Sometimes, people don’t want to pay for what they consume, and we’ve seen this. The upper middle classes don’t want to pay for their own art and culture, which I’ve never understood, but give a sense, any of you, raise your hand, talk about this. Okay, Abhishek continue, and then I’ll go to Aru.

0:56:28.0 AP: So I think all of what you have said, Rohini, are important. We need more philanthropy, we need more CSR, we need retail philanthropy, we need different models. We need a corpus, because if we don’t make this thing survive, we are all going to lose a certain inherent humanness that we have in us, and it would be the worst thing we can do. And of course, people are used to consuming this free of cost, people are used to somebody else stepping in, but we have to really step back and ask ourselves, “How important is it for us?” And then find what is the right thing to pay.

0:57:10.1 RN: Thank you.

0:57:10.9 AP: What we have also done in addition is, as a new revenue model that at least MAP has come up with, because this was the year we were raising our endowment which has gone for a total toss because you can’t ask anyone for money. We are the first museum who launched digitally, who did its opening digitally, and along with that, we are now launching our digital membership to the museum because we realized, after this, that you do not need members only from Bangalore because you don’t need them to come into your physical space. You can invite them to your digital museum, and along with that we’ve got a digital membership which we hope would have enough numbers that we then can use that as our means to sustain.

0:57:56.3 RN: Definitely. Great to know. Quick, Aru and then Jahnavi.

0:58:01.5 AN: Yeah. So for us, I mean, the government in the nine months that we, Ranga Shankara has been closed, there has been no support from the government at all. All we did was the group of 10 or 14 institutions that came together to say hello to one another, we went and gave an application to the Chief Minister and got our electricity bills where we were paying phenomenal service charges for our HD connections which were off, we got that waived for six months. Now, I have to go again and get that waived further for at least another six months to a year because we are only going to open at half capacity. So our revenues are slashed completely, and the government needs to take cognizance of this. I hope they do. Otherwise, we are going to have to really go out to the CSR and the corporate sector and look for money. Modules like Ranga Shankara are not-for-profit modules. I mean, in 16 years, we are still renting our place out for ₹2,500, and that is the reason why theatre is flourishing in Bangalore with 400 performances a year at Ranga Shankara. You see, so it cannot be measured as a sustainable module. It’s a socially linked kind of sustainability. It sustains a social fabric.

0:59:23.9 RN: Right. It’s not just about financial sustainability…

0:59:26.7 AN: No, no. But it needs money, it needs money. So we have a very beautiful program that we began which is called RS Connect, and that is really free. We took out the transactional relationship between art and society, that it doesn’t… Everything doesn’t have to be about money. So we have people coming and sitting to listen to poetry readings, we have people coming and playing music. Artists are coming and painting over there. Now, this activity defines that Ranga Shankara is not only about buying a ticket and watching a play, it’s about engaging with the way people make art happen. So we have… In fact, in the film you saw, the transgender community also singing. They come and feel happy singing or there’s somebody painting, there’s someone dancing. In fact, showing people what practice means, what art practice means. They can pay for the performance, but they can watch the practice free.

1:00:30.9 RN: Thank you.

1:00:31.2 AN: We also have a psychiatrist friend coming and helping people solve their problems of stress, talking to people, and you don’t have to pay for it. So it’s like a counselling session for society which actually is the job of theatre. We believe that theatre is a counsellor of sorts. Watching a performance gives you solutions or tickles your imagination to imagine different situations, and in the absence of that, nine months we’ve had no theatre, no counselling, so we have the real psychiatrist coming to Ranga Shankara and counselling. Now, that’s been a lesson in learning how to repurpose our spaces.

1:01:15.3 RN: Thank you. Thank you, I’m gonna go to… I have two more questions for you all before I open it to the audience, so try to be brief. Jahnavi, please, you didn’t get a chance in the last round.

1:01:23.7 JP: Three quick points to make. Culture is a common good, it’s a public good. And I think the state needs to step in in extremely strong ways like it has in Germany, like it has in the UK, like it has elsewhere. Giving stipends, funds for artists to survive but also cultural spaces to survive, I think that needs to be said again and again and again and reinforced. Two quick points. Other points that I want to make is, what we realized during PHYTOPIA is that the digital natives, people whose parents complain that they are at the screen all the time, actually do enjoy conversation. They kept saying to us again and again what they enjoyed most were the sessions that Abhishek mentioned where they were actually talking to someone across the screen. So that’s something we realized, so conversation is not going away. The third thing we realized is that we would have loved to make it more high-tech. But the more high-tech you make it, the less accessible it is to someone who doesn’t have a very, very, very, very, very smartphone or a very, very, very high-tech laptop at home. So, you have to have an understanding of also how do you… Audience is getting diverse, you’re getting a global audience, but are you losing people at home?

1:02:30.7 RN: Very good. Good point.

1:02:31.4 JP: I think that’s something to also bear in mind.

1:02:34.0 RN: When you see it… The technology across the spectrum.

1:02:35.7 JP: Correct.

1:02:36.6 RN: From just text only, all the way to 3D, augmented reality, virtual reality. Thank you, that was a very important point. Revenue model… Whatever you want to say, Ravi, and then I want to come… All of you think what you’re going to say. I want you to address the question of inclusion and access. Who do we leave out? Who do we get more into the… You’ve already spoken about expanding audiences, but talk next about who we leave out. Ravi, revenue model, where is it going to come from?

1:03:04.8 Ravichandar: Rohini, the revenue model… Like, Abhishek mentioned, the BIC at the heart of it is the BIC membership model, which is really retail philanthropy at one level. So membership is very important. As I think about the future, right now, in trying to get back to some… We are losing a lot of money per month. We have realized that the F&B… We have these indie pop-up events over the weekends with khana, etcetera. That has started giving us reasonable revenue in the near term. So I’ve really realized, earlier we haven’t been focusing enough on F&B. So with that, there’s a scope. A related thought, and I believe this is a hypothesis, especially in Bangalore, with 95%, 98% working from home in the IT sector and the biotech sector, we could actually…

1:03:48.8 Ravichandar: Aru, me who have got places, we could make an offer to corporate with good content and provide an evening for team members and their family, 40, 50 people at a time. Have an event in the hall, and then have dinner outside, in the lobby outside or on the terrace. If you bundle it together and sell the CSR story to the corporate as to how they’ll help the creative community and spaces, I believe that there is a revenue that can be earned in that route. So, I’m a great believer that philanthropy is welcome and is needed. We have to continuously innovate to find where we can find pockets of money by providing value to different segments, and that’s going to be important. So that’s really a limited point on the whole monetization model.

1:04:36.6 RN: Thank you. Like, all over the world, they are thinking, how are you going to get the revenue models going? This has been such a bad year for the creative and cultural communities. I do hope everyone who’s listening, you know, we never think, how much of culture we get free. Nobody gives us a free pizza, but how many concerts have we listened to, how much theater have we watched, how many public performances we have been able to enjoy and our children too, without giving a thought to who pays for it? How little the artists get. Every time… This year, a lot of people saved money on eating pizza or going out or fancy vacations. How about some… Everybody have some… Any favorite art you care about…

1:05:20.7 RN: What if you set up, in the name of 2020, some small thing going forward to support your favorite art and your favorite artist. It’s really something to think about, innovating a public model like that. With that, before I go to the audience, my last question, I wanted to ask about cooperation, but I’ve seen how all of you all have cooperated and we thank you for that. Audiences and the public has benefited greatly from your cooperation with each other. BLF at BIC, Science Gallery at BIC… So many things happening at Ranga Shankara and so on. Thank you for that. But before we go to the audience, inclusion and access. While, yes, MAP and Science Gallery and theater was seen all over the world, who got left out and what can we do about it? I want all four of you to answer, but very briefly. Aru first, but briefly, Aru.

1:06:12.4 AN: Children got left out, completely.

1:06:14.1 RN: Children got left out. Yes, that’s right.

1:06:14.9 AN: Children got left out. There are no schools, and that’s why we can’t get the bulk of children. They’re, in fact, the ones who are most adversely affected are children. What are the kind of memories we are going to create for these children, in this time? What is the residual factor that is going to continue when they become adults? What is the trust factor that is going to work? What is the art factor? So I think there’s a very, very big question that all of us, across the board, all art institutions, need to address very quickly is, how are we going to touch the lives of these children whose lives are affected completely by the pandemic? No school, online classes, locked up in the house, no friends to play with.

1:07:05.6 RN: Right. Children got left out. Anything, anybody else?

1:07:09.6 AN: Old people. Senior citizens.

1:07:10.6 RN: Old people got left out because they’re technologically challenged as well, sometimes. Not all old people, but some of us. Yeah.

1:07:19.2 AN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think India needs to really ramp up its engagement with senior citizens because that is what is looking us in the face. We have the largest number of youth and we have the largest number of old people coming, very soon.

1:07:35.2 RN: Very soon. Thank you for reminding us, there’s children and there’s old people.

1:07:37.6 Ravichandar: Rohini, if I can go there?

1:07:38.9 RN: Go ahead, Ravi.

1:07:40.7 Ravichandar: On access, I think we have expanded access through this hybrid model, in my view, which… Clearly the numbers are much larger in terms of what we’ve been able to… People have been… Except those who have difficulty in accessing digital aides etcetera, which is the same education story, is also true here. But my hypothesis is, that particular group, I’m not sure how much they were consuming the real product when it was physically available. But that is, one on the access. On inclusion, I think, the one I really feel which we have to do something in the next six months is the creative artists community. Because they’re really have been left out in a way, as I’ve mentioned earlier. So I think we have to think differently about how to give them spaces and earning potential. They have really been excluded by this pandemic more than anyone else. So the perform… The people on the stage are the ones we gotta figure out how to get them back, and get them a livelihood back, is what I would say on inclusion.

1:08:41.9 RN: Yeah, since we seem to have only two… Yeah, you want to say some thing Abishek? Go ahead.

1:08:44.0 AP: I think where MAP has not been able to do very much is, on the schools that we were addressing through our Educational Lab, a lot of these schools were government schools, and when we reached out to them, they did not have Zoom, they did not have computers. So we could do nothing with them. Yes, we ended up doing many more classes online, but these were different schools. So we left out an entire section of society, just because they didn’t have the means to be able to do it, and it would have been irresponsible to do anything physically, so we didn’t have a way out around that.

1:09:18.9 RN: So never to underestimate a digital divide, but even if those communities could never have anyway crossed some social distances to come to elite places or at least elite in the sense, everything in Bangalore is relatively elite if you are living in some remote district of Karnataka, but now the potential became even more obvious to them that they could participate. So, making sure that the digital divide is reduced to almost zero, is really some imperative that comes out of 2020. I have only three questions from my audience, let me take them and then I want you, if we have time, to talk about language issue, about if in this digital age, is a certain kind of art and culture predominating, more than would in the physical world? And three, again, what do you want? What do you people need? What more do you need? Let me quickly go to questions. One is more just saying that we hope we will go back to the old life, plus the bonus of digital. So she’s asking, Lakshmi Krishnamurty is asking for hybrid. Suchin Mazumdar wants to know, “How will, like the BLF did, bring literature to people? Is there a more creative way to bring literature to more and more people digitally?” And Srinivas Murthy wants to… Oh okay, it was just a comment. So really, the questions are not going to tax you all too much right now. So you can go straight into talking about the questions I raised. Anybody?

1:11:00.2 Ravichandar: In fact, I guess, Rohini, that second question, I think what MAP did… Abhishek help me with what you called it. Each individual could put up a portrait of a flower or something that…

1:11:14.7 AP: The bouquet of hope.

1:11:15.0 Ravichandar: Pardon?

1:11:19.9 AP: The bouquet of hope.

1:11:20.0 Ravichandar: Yeah, the bouquet of hope. So through the bouquet of hope…

1:11:21.1 RN: Ravi, what you’re describing the audience won’t know. Abhishek, what is the bouquet of hope?

1:11:25.2 AP: So this was the first week after we were under lockdown, we said, “You know, it’s a moment of such despair and there was only gloom and doom, because every newspaper you opened, every WhatsApp you got, was just depressing as to what the world was gonna look like.” And we said, “How do we bring a moment of cheer into everyone’s life?” So we posted this bouquet of 25 flowers, which was done by 25 of India’s leading artists, and asked… It was a small closed group, we sent it out to about 300 people who are involved with MAP, to post a flower each, that we were going to expand the bouquet and send it back to them. And this just went viral. Instead of 300 people, I think within three days, we got some few 1,000 flowers, and from people we didn’t even know, and the press picked it up and it became this thing, and then it became a gifting platform because Mother’s Day was coming, the florists were shut, so people could make their bouquet out of this, you could wish somebody Happy Birthday by choosing which flowers. So we just called it “The bouquet of hope” to bring a ray of sunshine to everybody’s life.

1:12:31.1 RN: Thank you.

1:12:32.4 Ravichandar: And you could do literature in a similar way, you can expand this idea to other themes, as the questioner asked, where you can put up a book that appealed to you and put out the 200 word statement and then you could gift books to others if they were interested in that book. Aru?

1:12:49.5 AN: Yeah, I really think that we need to create art. These are all marketing strategies, and we will all need some kind of marketing team to do this. Like I realized even making a video film is a challenge for a real theater. We are dealing with making real theater happen. So it’s such a challenge. The challenge of the time is that it’s asking us to be something that we have not trained to be. And there are professionals who can do it. It’s just a matter of money. We really need that kind of funding that can bring a marketing division, a digital division and allow us to do what we know how to do best, which is create theater.

1:13:36.2 RN: As we develop more and more digital pedagogies, perhaps the whole new stream of livelihoods, like who will commonly offer services across creative and cultural spaces to help enhance digital experience, to help keep livelihoods of these communities going, that may be needs of this decade. Actually Ravi, since you are only BIC, it’s 7:44, you had said 7:45, can I go on for a few minutes?

1:14:09.5 Ravichandar: Sure Rohini, it’s a pleasure to allow you to speak a little more.

1:14:12.4 RN: Definitely we will close before 8:00. Here’s Prem, I was hoping for Prem Chandavarkar, a loss in digital events is the lack of lateral connections between members of the audience, which is the ability, he says, to look at each other in profound moments, right? To share thoughts in an intermission or just after the show, to sense and be affected by the aura, vibe and stillness of other audience members in the event. How profound has this loss been to the performer or the event? We know what it has been for the audience, we feel that loss, but how Aru, has it been for performers? Imagine right now, there’s nobody in front of you, you’re talking into a void. How does that feel for a theater, a performer like yourself?

1:15:04.0 AN: Completely bereft, completely empty because we survive, we really only survive on this invisible connection between what the playwright has given us and what we deliver to our audiences. We become the medium. And to not have anything at all, to not be able to project our voices and actually perform for our audiences really has been like a death blow for all artists. We’ve seen artists coming to Ranga Shankara and actually weeping. We have this free platform, and we have had artists who have come and sung or played the flute or whatever, and they have literally wept. Every day. You can come any day. We are doing these play readings every day at Ranga Shankara, riding up to the opening, which is on the 8th of Jan. We have artists who have not even delivered a single line for the last nine months. They have been rehearsing on Zoom. They come to the theater and suddenly they’re projecting their voices. So, it’s… These are our tools. Really. It’s like a blacksmith who doesn’t get to work on iron, he doesn’t get to beat the iron, yeah.

1:16:22.7 RN: Yeah. The vaccinations are around the corner.

1:16:24.7 AN: It’s been completely… It’s like a swimmer not swimming. [chuckle]

1:16:28.7 RN: Aru, the vaccinations are coming. We are going to be vaccinated and we’re gonna sit at your feet and you’re going to do the best performance of your life. Abhishek.

1:16:37.1 AP: You know, there was this conversation we had with Marina Abramovic and Nikhil Chopra, and they were saying this that, what’s it like performing on Zoom. And he said, “You know, when everything is over, and suddenly the person says leave, and you’re sitting there in front of the screen and you’ve got all this make-up on and you’re just wiping it and there’s nobody… ” You just don’t feel anything and you wonder whether this was a dream, you actually did it, because the whole connection with the audience and what happens backstage and how people feel, that’s reduced to a tissue paper in your hands today.

1:17:15.9 RN: Yeah, so it’s good… Yes, Jahnavi.

1:17:18.9 JP: Yeah, so in our case, the wonder that we see in people’s eyes, right? When we do hands-on workshops, or when we show them an interactive exhibit, like you might remember, during SUBMERGE we did cloud making or we did sound installations. And then there’s wonder in the eyes of a grown person, and we don’t see that. So when we do these sessions online, the session is done, and while on the one hand, the artist is left with the tissue in their hand, we sign out and we have no idea how we have impacted the person in front of us. There is no way to know, did they feel wonder, did they feel… I mean, the… Yeah, it’s lost. It’s lost. It’s lost, it’s over. There’s nothing left when the screen goes off.

1:18:08.1 Ravichandar: Rohini, there’s something in BIC we tried for two or three sessions, so we call it the “Adda”, after the session. So, in the Adda the audience could actually come on screen and interact with the speaker, but the problem with our model really was after 90 minutes, you bring people on and it’s another 20-30 minutes, they don’t… So it’s possible to do it, but if the first part needs to be within 60 minutes, and then the next 25 to 30 minutes you get the audience on screen, it becomes more the meeting format as opposed to the webinar format. There could be some scope out there, and with technology, you could actually move into three or four like-minded rooms. People are…

1:18:47.8 RN: I’ve been reading a lot about how they’re trying to improve the whole chat experience, so that it doesn’t feel so disconnected, and some very interesting ideas have come. Because as I’ve said on many programs, this is not the last pandemic. This is not the last time that we would have to sacrifice what Aru and everyone has so beautifully spoken about, their personal experience of sitting with other human beings and feeling both their pain and their joy and their art and talent. So, it’s going to happen often, and I think technology will come somewhat to the rescue. But as a last point…

1:19:20.7 Ravichandar: Rohini, you said you’ll end on an optimistic note, and you’re telling us there’s going to be another pandemic, I’m worried.

1:19:26.6 RN: Well, we know there will be pandemics, we know there will be. We have to grapple with them, we have to innovate ourselves way out of them. Human beings are tremendously ingenious, as we know. So many calamities, so many situations we’ve got ourselves out of. We will, but to end on a… Okay, Abhishek, you want to say something before we… I do want everyone to make one closing point. So Abhishek, you and then, I’ll just go around.

1:19:56.0 AP: You know, to the point that Prem asked, that how do you make it a personal experience with a group of people and you enjoy that. I mean, this is what we were wanting to do at the opening of MAP, which we haven’t tracked. We said, “If you want to go with a bunch of your friends to the MAP opening, you should be in a room where it’s just the five of you, actually being able to chat with each other while experiencing the opening, in spite of there being 10,000 people watching it at the same time.” We don’t know how to do this as yet, but we’ve given this problem to one of the tech companies working with us, and hopefully the next time you see that, you can choose who you wanna see it with. You wanna go for a tour with your family who’s in four different cities in the world, you can actually do that in spite of 10,000 other people watching it at the same time.

1:20:43.5 RN: Yeah. That just reminds me to say that, you know, we all say human beings don’t change very quickly. But I don’t think on December 28th, 2020, people can say that with so much confidence. How much we all have changed, how much we all have learned, no matter where we were in the world. Before we close, each one of you, a thoughtful comment on your experience as custodians of public spaces. How do we re-imagine public spaces, also in the physical world, as we get back to normal life? So that’s the question. As we get back to the normal world, which we surely will, or whatever used to be the normal world, what should we keep in mind and how should we re-imagine the public sphere? I’ll start with Jahnavi, and then go on to Abhishek, followed by Aru, and then Ravi you will have the last word. Jahnavi, please.

1:21:43.0 JP: Yes. So the question is how do we return and where do we return to? And I think one of the things that I said earlier was that we will return to a hybrid, we will return to a hybrid not only because now it has shown us various possibilities, but also because as you very rightly noted, there will be other pandemics and they will be there sooner than we imagine they will be. And so it’s not only what we return to, but how we do that. And I think for us it’s about managing technology in a manner such that we are not leaving more and more people out, but actually bringing them also in. And also in the physical space that we also like Abhishek and his colleagues imagine having in the near future, how do we occupy that space also and similarly manage that divide such that the the two complement each other, the digital and the physical complement each other and allow us to create something that we wouldn’t have if we hadn’t had this experience. Art, at the end of the day, I think for us, creativity, it’s not just art, creativity which is there in both science and art, is a way of coping with the world which we comprehend so little.

1:22:51.0 RN: Yes.

1:22:51.7 JP: And I think opening those doors is what we would like to do when we are back.

1:22:56.9 RN: Thank you for that. Abhishek?

1:23:00.6 AP: I think collaboration would be much more important going further than it ever has been before. I think being responsible, being responsible to every audience that we serve, and our audience is much bigger than who we currently imagine it to be, whether it is kids, whether it is senior citizens, whether it’s people who speak our language, dress the same way or they don’t. We realize that they are all going to be relevant and our audience, and especially the underprivileged. I mean, you know, we don’t have these rules as yet in India but inclusion is such an important part, and when you really realize… When you sit down and see how the underprivileged and especially the handicapped, you know, 95% of spaces are not even available to them, and how do we make them have the same experience, whatever be their limitations, to the best of that ability, but at least how can you make it available to them. And I think this will become a law, so it’s better that we look at what is the dignity of doing that before it is thrust upon us.

1:24:09.2 RN: Perfect. Thank you, Abhishek. Aru?

1:24:13.4 AN: How do I…

1:24:14.8 RN: [1:24:14.8] ____ The future of the…

1:24:15.0 AN: I really look, I look at theater as a mirror of society and therefore it really needs to become that space of trust. This is where people come to regain their trust in humanity, to be reassured of trust in humanity and relationships, or even question them. And these are relationships across the board. So I think theater should be talking about the plight of farmers, theater should be questioning what is going on in the country. These are questions that art must address. Somewhere along the line, art has abdicated its responsibility, it is safer not to speak the truth, and so you’re only weaving love stories like Bollywood, you’re not telling the truth. We really probably need a Netflix for theater going forward in an hybrid world. I look at Ranga Shankara as becoming… If there is a nuclear Holocaust, I look at… It should be so safe a place that people should congregate there. If you cannot be at home, this should be the space where you should feel safe. Every public space, I think, must really have that kind of generosity of reaching out to people in its immediate environs and outside also, of creating trust. So I really think art has to be that safe space, safe space that does not really challenge you and make you feel like an idiot, but also makes you enjoy questioning what is going on.

1:26:00.4 RN: Okay.

1:26:01.4 AN: Human life must be valued, and therefore I think art has all these responsibilities. I look at Ranga Shankara as becoming that safe space, really safe space in a city like Bangalore, safe space for artists in India, safe space for artists in the world, so there’s these layers of safety that we can create.

1:26:24.7 RN: Thank you. Safe spaces of trust where truth can be shared. That’s beautiful, thank you. Ravi, last word for you and remember, you’re an urban reformer, so how should urban spaces also transform as we transform the public sphere?

1:26:39.5 Ravichandar: So first, of course, I endorse all the points which were made by the earlier three, so if we’re custodians of public spaces, and let’s say… I mean, custodianship index was X, I think post this pandemic, I think our trusteeship responsibility has gone up 10 fold. In fact, I think the onus on people who are custodians of public spaces to hang in there and the crowds will return, the people will return. There’s a whole lot of mental issues, health issues that people are facing, and the return to arts and culture is going to happen in a big way. In fact, we’re gonna have a… As you spoke about vaccine and normal life, it’s gonna come back with a vengeance. So we need to be prepared for that, but more importantly, I think what this pandemic has shown is the importance of public spaces, they all need to come alive, because that is the place where we have a shared humanity, safe space, as Aru said, all that is in the public space, in the public square.

1:27:38.1 Ravichandar: And in the context of urban, I must state that in the context of Bangalore, the recent announcement, for example, that said that NGEF will become a public space and so will Mysore Lamps, is the way to go. We need more such public spaces made available to the public, and they should really be truly inclusive and democratic, and that it has been officially announced that they plan to go that way is a sign of hope. So the note I’d like to really end is I think the responsibility on, at least, there are four representatives out here in a sense, has only increased in the future, so we cannot rest easy if we intend to take our responsibility seriously. And we need to be prepared to be those kind of spaces that the group spoke about in the years to come. Yeah.

1:28:27.9 RN: I thank the panel so much for so many words of inspiration, wisdom, so much truth told. I thank my audiences for being here at the end of a year when we’ve learned so much about the world and about ourselves, to remember that art and culture is… Public is all of us, art and culture speaks all languages and is beyond language. It needs real space, we’re also designing hybrid spaces, renewed support of all of us so that we can continue to say, to listen to what sometimes dare not be said but needs to be said so that our future is not as far away as it now appears, a positive future. Happy new year, happy 2021 to all creative artists, especially to all cultural artists especially, and therefore for the joy that all of us in the audiences and the public can experience again, physically and virtually in 2021. Thank you BIC, thank you all of you, namaste, ellarigu namaste. Please stay safe.

1:29:34.6 S?: Thank you. Happy New Year.

1:29:37.2 S?: Happy New Year.

1:29:39.7 Lekha: The generosity and egalitarianism, the gregariousness of public and cultural spaces that are so integral to the life of a community have also been the first to fall to the brutality and uncertainty of this very unequal pandemic. The same qualities are what have helped us to keep going and enable these organizations to bounce back in such an exemplary fashion. Thank you for your resilience and strength of imagination. Thank you Aru, Jahnavi, Abhishek and Ravi for giving us time this evening and for everything that you do. Thank you, Rohini, for your thoughtful and incisive moderation of this session. A great way to end our programming for 2020 with a note of hope and onward ho. Good night everyone, and see you next year.

1:30:31.7 RN: Thank you.

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