Into the Future: Arts Education in India

Art historian, Sonali Dhingra on the current state of visual arts education in India 

New Delhi: A profession in the arts means entering a niche, specialized and emerging field in India today. Arts education is a distinct academic stream, with newer choices for specialized training in arts run by governmental and private institutions. Those gearing to become arts professionals have a wide variety of choice when it comes to courses, both short-term and long-term.

Two-year masters programs are run at several prestigious and well-known institutions – for example, the School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, the College of Arts at Baroda and New Delhi, and the National Museum Institute in New Delhi. At the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, students are offered an integrated program covering Visual Studies including pre-modern, modern and contemporary art, theatre and performance studies and cinema studies.

Recently, there have been new university-level initiatives that have enlarged training opportunities for those aspiring to a career in the arts. The Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) now offers Certificate programs in Visual Arts for painting, applied art and sculpture. These programs are designed to develop basic applied and design skills with a basic understanding of Indian art.

The Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai, has recently launched a short-term post-graduate diploma course in contemporary art under a specialized faculty including art historians such as Partha Mitter, Parul Dave and Kavita Singh, and artists and curators such as Abhay Sardesai, Girish Shahane and Tasneem Mehta. The course is specifically designed to foster an understanding of contemporary Indian art from the 1850s onwards. The aim of the course is also to situate Indian art within the broader context of history, sociology, politics and cultural studies. Such initiatives point to the popularity and importance of contemporary art today.

Another initiative in the making is the Coimbatore College of Contemporary Arts (CoCCA) the brainchild of businesswoman Rajshree Pathy, who also founded the India Design Forum (IDF). This educational institution would be set up with an aim to develop an interest, suitable infrastructure and opportunity for people in smaller towns to study art.

Apart from institutional training, there are several independent initiatives that aim at updating knowledge and skills in contemporary Indian art and the cultural sector. The ARThink South Asia Fellowship is one such initiative, now in its fourth year. Initiated and sponsored by the South Asian Network of Goethe Institutes, the fellowship is designed to help develop skills, knowledge, networks and experience of potential leaders in cultural fields in South Asia, which include museums, the visual and performing arts, and digital media.

Similarly, the Curatorial Intensive is Independent Curators International’s short-term, low-cost training program that offers curators a chance to work on exhibition ideas and exposes them to international leaders and networks in the field. The Mumbai based Curatorial Intensive has been developed and implemented by Independent Curators International (ICI), New York, will be offered in collaboration with the Mohile Parikh Center, Mumbai.

With the increase in the number of private initiatives, the government too recognizes the need for professionals in cultural institutions to keep up with latest practices in the field. There is a move towards greater cultural collaborations between India and other nations with an aim to strengthen resources in the culture sector. The Indian government’s Ministry of Culture recently concluded a Leadership Training Program for Indian Museum professionals run by the British Museum. This training program was aimed at in-service museum professionals who would be future cultural leaders in India. Next in line is a similar professional exchange with the Art Institute of Chicago.

Many stress that art education should begin at the school level so that children are made aware of their cultural heritage from a young age. A recent article in the Indian Express explores the benefits of one such enterprise. In the last few years, Crafts and Intangible Heritage of India has been introduced as an optional new subject for high school students. Organizations such as INTACH run heritage awareness programs through their Heritage Education and Communication Service that engage young audiences and train teachers in art education all over India. The Centre for Cultural Resources and Training has also developed extensive cultural resources for children. It is commonplace that academic curricula in India are weighted heavily towards the sciences and math. Learning about the arts would enhance the all-round development of a child’s intellect.

Sonali Dhingra has an M.A. in History from Jawaharlal Nehru University (2007), M.Phil. in History from Delhi University (2010) and is joining a doctoral program in Art History and Cultural Heritage and Preservation at Rutgers University, USA (Fall 2012). Having worked with the National Culture Fund, Government of India, and INTACH, her interests include South Asian art and architecture, religion, museums and issues in cultural heritage conservation. 


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Poverty is one of the major factors that undermines girls’ right to education. School fees and expenses relating to transport, clothing and books widen the gender gap: as families cannot afford to educate all their children, girls are the ones that stay at home, helping with household chores

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