Money crunch hits Delhi’s biggest culture gala

New Delhi : The capital’s biggest cultural extravaganza – the Delhi International Arts Festival – is facing an acute financial crunch, that has cast a shadow of uncertainty on the future of the festival.

In the last five years, the festival has established itself as the capital’s cultural equity – building a landscape that has become more inclusive and accessible in its approach to culture. And making it free for all.

“The Delhi International Arts Festival has built an equity which is priceless… The core team comprises just five dedicated people. But I don’t have the money to continue with it any longer,” founder of the festival Prathibha Prahlad, a senior Bharatnatyam exponent, said at a concluding gala in the capital late Monday evening.

The festival – in its fifth edition- began Oct 30 with a grand performance featuring a tribute to Rabindranath Tagore at the 16th century Purana Qila.

It has hosted 85 events spread across 22 venues and brought more than 2,000 Indian and foreign performers to the capital. It ends Tuesday.

Several venues witnessed stampedes because of the overwhelming response to the fusion and foreign performances… and the organisers ran out of space to accommodate the crowd which ran into several lakhs over the fortnight, Prahlad said.

Entry was free on a first-come-first serve basis. An estimate of the footfalls is yet to be made, the founder said.

“Our aim was to reach out to the widest cross-sections of the audience both in Delhi, across the India and abroad. All those who said that Delhiites were not ready to consume serious culture and embrace the world have woken up,” Prahlad said.

This is the first time the DIAF went to Twitter and Facebook to promote the festival.

“We had tens of thousands of hits – mostly from youngsters, who wanted to know about the festival,” Prahlad said.

Offering insight into the backstage, the founder of DIAF said a host of sponsors and three top hotels lent their hospitality, infrastructure and logistical support to ensure that the performers were comfortable.

“But in terms of actual expenses the team had to cut tight corners because several sponsors have not paid their share of money,” the founder said.

“The Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) and the ministry of external affairs bailed us out (from difficult situations) because they realised we did not have the kind of resource a festival as big as this requires,” Prahlad said.

The festival has a three-year contract with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) under which it can use the Purana Quila for performances.

Drawing parallels with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a member of the DIAF team said,

“I visited Edinburgh this year. The costs run into crores…” The Delhi International Arts Festival, in contrast, received just Rs.10 lakh from the Delhi government and Rs.5 lakh from the culture ministry.

“I need seed money for the festival… I have to be compensated or else I don’t think I’d be interested in hosting the festival next year. I am a single mother… why should it all rest on a lady. We faced deficit in money and manpower this year,” she said, urging the corporate houses like the Tata group to take over the festival.

This year, the festival scored two firsts.

An Indo-French dance dialogue drew some of the top names in contemporary dance to the capital and allowed them to exchange with Indian performers and interact with people in general for the first time in special workshops. A full-length Italian opera, “La Cavalleria Rusticana” composed by Pietro Mascagni in collaboration with Indian
musicians at the close of the festival brought a slice of classical Europe to the audience in the capital.

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