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Save Venkatappa Art Gallery from Private Takeover

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We stand in solidarity with the artists of Karnataka, in opposing the decision of the Karnataka State Government to hand over the administration and use of the official state art gallery, Venkatappa Art Gallery (VAG) in Bangalore, to Tasveer Foundation through a private-public partnership. We condemn the fact that this is not a benign PPP for an act of philanthropy to conserve and maintain the gallery. This is the usurping of the State Gallery to rebuild it and house the private collection of Mr. Abhishek Poddar (the owner of a commercial art gallery) as the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP), and for MAP to get co-branding as the official state collection . We condemn this move as nothing but the sale of our cultural commons. We demand that it cancels this MoU immediately.

VAG is the official Karnataka State Art Gallery. It is built on 3.2 acres of prime land in the Museum Complex in the heart of Bangalore. It houses the historical collections of K. Venkatappa and K.K.Hebbar donated by their families. There is an extra exhibition space, auditorium and grounds, which have been regularly used by the artists of the state, since the time it was built in the early 1970s. It is an inclusive and democratic space, affordable to young artists from all over Karnataka and also excellent for non- commercial and experimental art projects, festivals, workshops, seminars, talks and meetings. Currently the use of VAG is based on a democratic process of first come first serve basis without any discrimination. It is this process which has helped artists to develop and progress. We want to ensure that it remains an accessible incubation space for future generations of artists.

There are several questions and concerns around this whole process, which are not being addressed by the Karnataka government.

Why is an art gallery that has to be with the Kannada and Culture Ministry being taken over as a tourist destination and commodified? What was the need for a PPP in the first place? If there are shortcomings in how VAG was being run, why then were artists first not consulted on what needs to be done? If funds were a criterion for entering into a PPP, then is the government saying that it cannot allocate the few crores that may be needed for the upkeep and basic alterations to improve art display at VAG when it has thousands of crores to spend on the Bangalore Metro? For what aspires to become a future world-class museum and the official state gallery,  the entire board of trustees, board members and advisors, has only one visual art expert. Why sign a partnership with a body that does not value expertise? If indeed a PPP was the only way, why was the MoU for a PPP signed in a non-transparent manner with the process of selection not being divulged ?

Abhishek Poddar is the Director of the Tasveer Foundation and MAP, both non-profit organizations but is also the owner of the commercial Tasveer Art Gallery and the Cinnamon lifestyle store. The Associate Director of MAP (non-profit) who is working on the plan of the Museum is also the curator of Tasveer Gallery (profit). Where does the profit end and the 'non- profit' begin?

There are also questions about the legal status and role of Tasveer and MAP. The MOU rests on the plank of CSR. Tasveer Foundation is a Trust, not a corporate body. Perhaps, even more basic is the legal status of MAP — is it legally competent to enter into this agreement?

The MoU vests complete control of the gallery with MAP and this threatens the publicness of this space. If MAP was really interested in just improving the gallery, could it not have financially supported the government in running the gallery in an accessible manner as is the case of Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai? The MoU states that the government has approved the activities proposed by MAP without elaborating what these activities are. The MoU is drafted in a manner that control over the land will vest with MAP for several years. MAP controls the management and maintenance of the gallery but refuses to take responsibility for damage of heritage works, grievances of artists and even safety of visitors. By this adoption, only 'deserving artists' selected by a panel of committee members get a chance to exhibit, affecting the democratic use of this space.

We are not against the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) coming up in the city. We are against it being built on the land of the Venkatappa Art Gallery. It should be housed in its own land. Major art collectors in India have all housed their collections in their own spaces. What we are opposed to, is a private entity taking over our cultural commons. We want the government to develop VAG after consulting the Karnataka art community.

We demand
- That the MoU with MAP be cancelled immediately

- We demand that the Government allocates the necessary funds to run  Venkatappa Art Gallery  in consultation with the art community.

In India today, the religious right is attacking institutions like the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda, FTII , HCU and JNU in an attempt to strangle them. Similarly, corporate interests here are attempting a take-over of a public institution, the VAG, in order to strangle it and restrict a free flow of ideas and creativity.

It is important that we fight to retain our cultural commons and safeguard it for our future generations.

Karnataka artists have formed the Venkatappa Art Gallery Forum (VAG Forum), an artists' collective to alert the artist community and wider public about this issue. We aim to get this anti-people MOU cancelled and retain VAG as a public art gallery, the purpose for which it was originally set up.

Sheela Gowda, Surekha, P.S.Kumar, C.S.Krishna Setty, A.M.Prakash, Suresh Kumar G., Umesh Maddanahalli, Pushpamala N , Suresh Jayaram, Alaka Rau , Gurudas Shenoy, Anil Kumar, Aishwaryan K

For VENKATAPPA ART GALLERY FORUM (VAG FORUM)
vagforumv@gmail.com
www.vagforum.in

 



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