Artists As Art Managers And Administrators?

Art administrators, even at the best of times, area rare commodity. Should the administrator of an institution dedicated to the promotion of an art-form, be a strictly management man who empathises with the issues at play in the art world, or should he be an artist too, preferably from the top crust of art talent, so as to command the respect of the art community? Clearly, there can be no formula here to work as a guideline for decision-makers who have to choose the heads of art institutions. There have been as many cases of specialised administrators as of artists who have succeeded or failed in governing institutions. Some of the decisions in the capital lately on the choice of persons to head art institutions need to be looked at from several points of view, for they will have a far-reaching impact on the art scene. Let us first take a look at what is happening in the Delhi Kathak Kendra, Sangect Natak Akademi's prized institution over which much time and money have been spent. Ending a long period of uncertainty, the Akademi's top brass finally settled for the mantle of the Director of the Kendra being passed on to Birju Maharaj, the head of its Dance Faculty. There has been gossip doing the rounds and the most discussed local grapevine story is that the favourite the English language press which seems to wield undue influence in the build up process, has to play an important and responsible role through periodical and critical assessment of the developments. The utility of the impresario function and professional chelas of the Maharaj took umbrage at being asked to follow certain 'rules,' and complained to the guru, and that, in turn, the guru spoke to the Chairman of the Akademi, threatened to resign unless the temporary Director, Sharbari Mukherjee, was removed forthwith. This was said to be the reason for the Chairman of the Akademi deciding to revert the Director to the parent organisation and to appoint the guru himself as the Director of the Kendra. However, the pros and cons of this development require to be examined in a less sensational and more balanced manner.  

That the Kathak Kendra has been the hotbed of politics is hardly news. Like all such institutions, big or small, it too is buffeted by currents and cross-currents. The Akademi unwittingly helped exacerbate an already delicate situation by oscillating for months between indecision and firmness in regard to the Director's appointment. When the time for superannuation of Jiwan Pani, who was then the Director, arrived, the Akademi asked him to continue till such time as it could find a suitable replacement. When the quest for a new Director started in earnest, senior Kathak dancers like Pratap Pawar (London-based disciple of Birju Maharaj) and Saswati Sen and others applied. The Akademi at that art administration may also be emphasised in providing proper help to sponsoring organisations. In general, while corporate involvement is welcome for the sustained development of the arts, the primary support should be from the time maintained firmly that the idea of a performing artist taking over the reins did not appeal to its Board. There were strong rumours that Kumudini Lakhia of Kadamb (Ahmedabad) had been offered the post, that there was strong opposition to the move from certain quarters in the Kathak Kendra and that finally Kumudini herself was dissuaded from accepting the offer. With a towering figure like Birju Maharaj, given a status bigger than the institution, in charge of the faculty, bringing in a person from outside would have made it awkward both for the Director and the Maharaj. By extending Jiwan Pani's term in spurts, the Akademi which: was trying to buy time, only succeeded in undermining the authority of the Director even further. The utter casualness with which some of the staff, particularly the musicians, conducted themselves, the way teachers operated in pockets as a law unto themselves and the general dissatisfaction expressed by students, all suggested that the authority i of the Director had been diluted. After months of keeping the post in limbo, I with Jiwan Pani neither in full command nor out of the r chair, one fine day he was, told to wind up; within a : week, Sharbari Mukherjee, an I Assistant Secretary of the I Akademi, was appointed as Director.

It was obvious even to an outsider that she found community concerned. The ethos of a community has a vital bearing on its artistic aspirations and pursuits and is very relevant to cultural manifestations and serves as inducement to preservation and promotion efforts the going tough from day one with students agitating and teachers taking sides. But before she could prove her worth, she was relieved and Maharajji was asked to take over. (The fact that Sharbari Mukherjee was on leave nursing a sick father came in as a handy excuse for removing her). One understands that, whoever is appointed—whether a proven administrator, a scholar or an artist of repute— needs to be a person of stature to be able to command the respect of the divided art community of the Kendra. Perhaps the fact that Birju Maharaj has a place that none can fail to respect, went a long way towards helping the decision to make him the administrative head as well. But one has to weigh this against the more important question whether this would not stunt his creativity, by encroaching upon it by taking away time and energy which this additional responsibility will require. The reaction in the Kathak fraternity has been mixed. "He and his favourites have always been a pampered lot. That continues. Thede facto Director has now become dejure Director. What is the difference?" This was one cynical remark. "If anybody can save the institution from collapsing now, it is only Maharajji," said another. But quite a few felt that the Akademi had chosen the surest way of further fuelling the prevailing groupism in the Kendra. The view voiced by many was:" "Maharaj is childlike in many respects. It is the disciples who will take advantage of his position and give him a bad name. " One cannot dismiss the claim of artists that they are the only persons who can really feel the pulse of the others in the field, the way no outsider can. There is the shining example of Abraham Alkazi, whose combined administrative skill and artistic competence together made him the best choice as the Director of the National School of Drama. While he gave the school a start which was enviable, and laid its firm foundation, his problems were somewhat different from those of a person heading the Kathak Kendra.

Here, rivalries built over years, are the unfortunate legacy every Director inherits and has to deal with. Keshav Kothari, who had a long and eventful stint as Director of the Kathak Kendra, feels that his knowledge of dance undoubtedly enhanced his sensitivity to the artistic side of the institution: "I was a dancer, though a bad dancer. But that background helped me." His reservations, as indeed those of several others, pertain to what this new responsibility will do to the creativity of Birju Maharaj. An artist-guru who lives and breathe s Kathak is now being thrown into a situation in which jostling and maneouvering are the norm. As Director, he would have to hold the various factions together and would have to devote precious time to the nitty gritty aspects of administration . Kathak Kendra ha s an active annual calendar of artistic activities requiring constant attention . To put a man at the peak of his artistic career, given to frequent travelling both inside and outside the country, as head of the Kendra is to have a Director in absentia for long periods. Who takes important decisions in his absence? In Kathak, the gharana differences often lead to antagonistic postures, in exchanges between schools. What will the appointment of an avowed Lucknow gharana specialist as head do to the Jaipur gharana? This is a question I have come across very often in the last few days, " says Keshav Kothari, the former Secretary of the SangeetNatak Akademi. It puts the record straight when he says that the Jaipur gharan a was never more than an also ran in the Kendra. The main reason was that the gharana lacked the likes of a Shambhu Maharaj or Birju Maharaj to give it a special place in the Kathak hierarchy. Even the famous guru Sunder Prasad maintained that he was inspired by both the Jaipur and the Lucknow gharana stalwarts. The late Kundan Lai Gangani always kept a low profile, as does his son Rajendra Gangani today as a teache r at the Kendra. (Incidentally he has excellent relations with Birju Maharaj).

The late Durga Lai had the charisma, and despite some opposition, was inducted into the Kendra. But he died too young to have had the chance of being anythin g more than a passing chapter in the Kendra's history. So the question of the Jaipur gharana becoming particularly isolated now with the appointment of the Maharaj docs not hold water, avers he. But Kothari is concerned about the impact of this latest change on the Maharaj himself. He entertains the genuine fear that the Maharaj is taking on too much. Why should a person who is lionised and hero worshipped needlessly put his head on the block? This is a job in which unpleasant decisions will have to be taken and Mahara j is throwing himself open to criticism. Time will tell how this arrangement works. But there is a widely felt fear that the gambl e may well end in blunting, if not snuffing out, the most precious thing in Kathak--the artistic side of Pandit Birju Maharaj. Alternately, if he fails to direct the Kendra truly and properly, the Kendra itself might suffer. Delhi's Sahitya Kala Parishad is yet another institution which is now being virtually run by a performing artist, namely, Sindhu Mishra. The dejure Secretary, Awasthi, an administrative officer, is in additional charge of several other departments. Consequently, the rough and tumble of running the day to day affairs of the Parishad has been left to Sindhu Mishra. Sincere and functioning with the best of intentions, Sindhu is still throwing herself open to criticism. She confesses that she has few friends now in the arts community. Any decision by her, however objectively taken, is regarded as motivated. Even performance opportunities which have come her way in the last few months are being ascribed to her powerful position at the Parishad.

One unpleasant decision denying a slot for her guru's favourite disciples, for instance, is all it needs to sour her relationship with her teacher. As a performing artist herself, she is particularly vulnerable, for the world of art administration and art performances often travel in opposite directions. One wishes Sindhu all the luck, though I have always felt that being outside the performing field is what gives real strength to an institutional head. Not all are in agreement with my line of thinking. 'Art schools are not the areas for dry administrators. They need artists to look after them. Look at the example of Kirti Jain the erstwhile Director of the NSD who was asked to leave unceremoniously on completion of her tenure. She accomplished so little in the field of theatre that nobody heeded her in NSD. After giants like Alkazi and Karanth, where was she?' Thus spoke a staff member of the NSD. But the fact that several well-known names in the theatre scene asked for her continuance, only proves that there was much more to the Ministry's decision to replace her than met the eye. It has never been the part of Indian genius to plan ahead and groom a person for the top position of any important institution, let alone an art school. Even Rukmini Devi, who built up the Kalakshetra, did not groom a successor. Drift and the erosion of the incumbent Director's position have marked the fate of this institution also. K. Sankara Menon's long illness before he passed away and the strong groupism existing in the faculty have made the choosing of a successor particularly difficult. Leadership is important in institutions, but when institutions are built around personalities, problems do arise. What we have to learn is that institutions must be so developed that they can function properly despite changes in leadershi p or administration.