THE POWER OF PUBLIC SPACES
Updated: Oct 29, 2020
Author: Pranathi Ramadorai
Pranathi Ramadorai, a programme coordinator at SNS Arts Development Consultancy. She is a seasoned Bharathanatyam artiste with an intense passion for the arts. Pranathi holds a Bachelor's degree in Psychology and is currently pursuing her Masters in Bharatanatyam at Madras University.
We all encounter art in different forms from shifting vantage points in our minds. What then is the difference between
presenting art in ‘public spaces’ and presenting art in ‘private spaces’? If you had asked me this question in June, I would not have been able to differentiate between the two. ‘Isn’t all art meant for the public?’ This was the predominant question on my mind.
So far I had been exposed only to the luxury of private spaces and auditoriums. I was introduced to the idea of public spaces only when Shreya got me on board for the upcoming UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) Project which she was going to manage for Aanmajothi. I found out that Chennai UCCN and The Greater Chennai Corporation had formed a Chennai UCCN Committee comprising The Kalakshetra Foundation, The Music Academy Madras, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Sruti Magazine and Aanmajothi (The cultural wing of Saraswathi Vidyalaya). Through this civic initiative, they were to go to public spaces such as parks and beaches, to promote the arts of Tamil Nadu, particularly the folk arts.
More on my foray into the Realm of Art in Public Spaces
But Why Public Spaces?
Little did I realize that I would understand the depths to this question only once I started working diligently on the project. I understood that it was only through public spaces that art could reach out to a wider audience. Until now, as a Bharathanatyam dancer myself, I truly believed that the attendees at your show will be restricted to the people you personally invite. This meant that one would automatically narrow it down to a select group of individuals, and that the feedback received catered only to this particular segment of society. This further meant that only the members of one’s social circle who watched the performance, could appreciate or hold a judgement about the performance.
On the other hand, I learnt that the scenario was completely different with regards to public spaces. While presenting art or a performance in a public space, the audience interaction and engagement depends on a number of factors.
Curating a performance in a public space is no easy task. While curating, we have to keep in mind the region/area, the performance space within the park, the artist, and the public to whom the performance will be presented. What kind of performance would attract an audience in a particular area and what wouldn’t? What will keep them engaged and how do we facilitate this engagement? These are the questions we need to constantly ask ourselves while curating an event at a public space. In a private space such as a theatre or a gallery, the audience is selective and more likely to engage or interact with the performance in front of them, while it is not the same with respect to a public space. Inside a park, for example, a space with prime visibility must be chosen, in order to ensure the possibility of a larger audience engaging with the art.
Our next task in this process is to match the performance with the venue. There is further complexity in this task as we need to analyse what kind of performances are common and popular in that area, and what will suit the space selected. Meeting artistes is the next step, and by far my most enjoyable part of the experience. I had been very closely knit into the circle of Classical Dance and Music in Chennai, that my world hadn’t moved past this circle. Meeting these traditional artistes who are many a time 5/6th generation artistes, has been absolutely eye-opening and fascinating. Each artist has something very special to offer. The qualities of a Gana artist are very different from that of a Kattaikkuttu artist or a Thol Paavai Koothu Bommalattam artist. Since these artists are mostly located in places far away from the cultural hub of Chennai, gaining opportunities and platforms to showcase their art are increasingly challenging. Many of these folk arts are dwindling and the burden of its survival falls on these artists. In every sense they are the torchbearers of their tradition. Their similarities thus lie in their passion for their art and the absolute conviction with which they strive to preserve it. It is this underlying motivation that fuels their performances and resonates with the audience, thus inspiring us to partake in their artistic journey.
From the Performance to the Public
Each programme is presented to a different kind of audience in a different venue and space, and therefore the feedback we receive from the audience also varies. Our goal is to reach large audiences, by taking a variety of traditional folk performances to the public. On one instance, an audience member was so moved by the performance, that it reminded him of his younger days in his village. He went to a nearby store, bought a shawl and honoured the artist after the performance. Isn’t this the purpose of art? To connect across caste, religion, gender, and nationality, and create an honest and inclusive experience? Purely and simply, this is the reason we do what we do. This is the power of presenting art in public spaces. This project has so far been been extremely enriching and has broadened my horizons to a degree that I hadn’t envisaged. All credit goes to the Chennai UCCN committee, the Greater Chennai Corporation and Aanmajothi, whom we get to work with closely to create and curate these moving experiences.