In a league of its own but long way to go for Goa's Serendipity Arts Festival

Saket Suman

Panaji, Dec 22 (IANS) Cultural and literature festivals are quite the trend these days. While good festivals count on a good format, the popular ones draw huge crowds by looping in celebrities but the just concluded Serendipity Arts Festival here falls in a league of its own.

It is unlike any other festival of its kind -- for reasons both positive and negative -- and with its potential only half realised so far, it makes for a good case study in the purpose that such festivals can serve in bringing the subject that they focus on to the fore.

Ironically, arts, unlike literature, is yet to boom in a country that has produced stalwarts like M.F. Hussain, S.H. Raza and Raja Ravi Varma. Thus, the challenge before the organisers was immense: Not only to create a format that appeals to the artistic imaginations of those with a keen interest in the arts as well as those without it but also to spread the word about the multi-disciplinary arts event prior to its beginning.

They organisers excelled at the former by presenting an unmatchable set of exhibitions, installations, culinary and visual arts, music, theater and dance performances. However, they seem to have failed, yet again like in the previous year, in arousing a genuine interest about the festival and attract the many more potential visitors than they actually did: 300,000 people, over a period of eight days, spread across ten venues (according to organisers).

What makes this festival actually stand out is the fundamental fact that it is devoid of unwarranted glitz and glamour, content is king and every aspect of its many programmes have been carefully curated to present the best from the world of arts. It's a task that's not easy.

The organisers, curators and directors of the festival deserve full credit for presenting a ringside view of the contemporary art scene in India; their focus on themes that relate to environment, society and culture is commendable; as also is the journey that it has travelled in a span of just two years.

Another reason for the organisers to celebrate is the sheer success of what is bound to be successful in India -- freebies. The festival remained free for the public, on the lines of the attempt to bring arts to the public through patronage. The primary objective of the festival is to revive dying cultures of India by providing the right platform to artists and craftsman from across the country and to showcase their talent.

To this end, the festival featured more than 70 art projects, 40 of which were specifically commissioned for the event.

Now, on the flipside, for a festival that involves investment and planning at such a large scale, it is of utter importance that the word is spread about it -- and that it is spread at the right time. To expect that it may gain popularity after running for a few years -- like happened with the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) -- may be impractical as cultural festivals have grown like weeds in the subcontinent and the annual calendar is marked by hundreds of such platforms.

If you cannot make a mark in the first few years, you may never do so because the options are far too many. And not to forget, it is a neck-and-neck competition as the upcoming edition of JLF, their content no mean in itself, will also have a special focus on the arts.

Serendipity's social media handle lags behind similar events of this kind, its buzz is far from catching on Instagram and Facebook -- even now when the festival has reached its culmination. Another meltdown for some serious visitors to the festival is the absence of artists and curators at many of the scenes, interaction is less and interest thus fast-fading.

But there are great lessons to be learnt for the organisers, positive feedback from visitors and critics to be taken in seriously and above all, they should be ready to march forward without losing sight of their fundamental principle: bringing arts to the public. Having visited both editions of the festival, one has seen the unmatchable potential that it holds. It can bring Goa on the world map -- not just for its beaches but as an yearly retreat for artists and art lovers. The setting is perfect, weather just fine and there are more reasons than not to transform Goa into a Prague or Paris or Koktebel kind of setting.

Until this happens, there is a long-long way to go for the Serendipity Arts Festival.

(Saket Suman is in Goa at the invitation of the organsiers of the Serendipity Arts Festival. He can be contacted at saket.s@ians.in)

--IANS

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