Ficci Smart Cities Art Cities

By Jyotsna Sharma   1 Jan, 2017

The first edition of this annual conference took place in New Delhi on the 19th & the 20th of December. A number of important issues pertaining to supporting and furthering the Arts in India were spoken about. 

I recall when I went to university in England, I used to wonder why India doesn’t have the same focus on the Arts as the UK does.  Given the fact that we have such rich cultural heritage, a focus on the Arts should be a given. 

Over the last few years I have been sensing a shift - there is now an emphasis on educating people about art, an attempt to create public engagement with the Arts. Also, off late there has been a move to revive traditional art forms by art practitioners – in fact; contemporary artists are referencing these art forms in their work. 

It is heartening to see that Industry leaders across the board have started talking about support for the Arts. Case in point, the FICCI conference on Smart Cities Art Cities that took place in New Delhi on the 19th and the 20th of December.

The conference was graced by eminent speakers such as Amitabh Kant (CEO, NITI Aayog, Govt. of India & Former Secretary, DIPP), Pavan Varma (Former MP, Rajya Sabha), Sonal Man Singh (Founder-President, Centre for Indian Classical Dances), Mukund Padmanabhan (Editor, The Hindu), Malvika Singh (Publisher, Writer, Advisor to the Govt. of Rajasthan), Parmesh Shahani (Head, Godrej India Culture Lab), Jay Shah (Vice President, Culture, Mahindra Group) and Govt. officials among others. 

A number of issues relating to the art and culture sector were discussed, such as the development of Smart Cities:

- How can cultural leaders bring about change and encourage cultural transformation in a world plagued by environmental, economic, social and political crisis?

- What is the value and contribution of culture in the 21st century from the perspective of the professional practitioner, the participant, the audience and institutions?

- The meaning of Brand India

Amitabh Kant started the conference by saying that India has been a ‘reluctant urbaniser’ and that this is the first government that is focusing on developing smart cities. According to him, after independence we (Indians) have focused only on rural areas and not on our cities. ‘The 19th century was a century of Empires, the 20th century was a century of nation states and the 21st century to is a century of ‘Cities’. Only those countries will grow and prosper where cities compete with each other and are sustainable. 

He said since cities are centres of growth and innovation and 82 % of the global GDP comes from cities, it is important to develop our cities the right way. One of the mandates for the current Government was to create 100 smart cities. Not only are they working on existing cities – to make them into smart cities, new cities have also been planned. He believes it is time to focus on the cities, and to give a city a 'soul'; art & culture is the key.

He chose to focus on Singapore and its method of urbanisation. The fact that Singapore created art districts - centres of art and entertainment to enhance liveability, which in turn attracted investment and global talent, was underscored. 

‘It is imperative to nurture and retain the creative workforce of the city.’ Therefore, as we move towards urbanisation, we must create and nurture cultural institutions. City planners should interact with art industry professionals to keep in mind the cultural needs of the city while laying out the plans for the city.

Pavan Varma, was of the opinion that while we look at and plan what ‘ought to be’, we must also focus on what ‘is’ - i.e. the rich cultural heritage that we have and the fact that we are a great civilization. He said that the integration of art and culture with the idea of the ‘smart city’ should take place not merely because of a fiat but because of a renewed interest in exploring and furthering our rich cultural heritage.

Parmesh Shahani and Jay Shah felt there should be lesser interference from the Government in the activities of the cultural sector. By this they meant unnecessary / redundant laws imposed on the cultural sector should be scrapped, taxes reduced, and licensing be made easier for art and cultural events.

On funding from the Government, Padmanabhan felt that a business should be able to sustain itself and should not be entirely dependent on govt. funding.

Ratish Nanda (Aga Khan Foundation) felt that the private sector should join hands with the Government to develop the Arts. There were a number of other significant issues raised as well, to which solutions were suggested.

This conference according to me was a noteworthy step in the development of a new India with ‘Smart Cities’. I do hope that all that was discussed would be implemented and the next year, at the second edition of this FICCI conference, we will be congratulating policy makers and industry leaders on developing ‘smart cities’ with a focus on the Arts.    

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