The Naya Daur/Jiyo launch ceremony and symposium on March 31 in New Delhi was full of stimulating thoughts and experiences. It also raised a number of issues surrounding this initiative, and what it might mean for the rest of us. I have forwarded some of the literature produced for these events to CCI through Ushaji.
What is ND/J? The first thought that came to mind on receiving the invitation to participate was ND/J as a national, Government-supported initiative. However, it was announced as a private limited company which will act as the nodal agency to connect artisanal institutions (called sanghas) across the country. The company will promote the brand JIYO through nine divisions (navratnas) covering all the “Creative & Cultural Industries under one unified umbrella brand”. Shareholding at this point: 51% under a trust pending capacity building at the local level, 49% held by two Directors, Rajeev Sethi and Sam Pitroda, pending expansion of the board (which will also include Sangha representatives) and investors. Artisans are to be shareholders. Its present activities are in AP, Bihar and Delhi.
Positioning ND/J in the sector: The launch was supported by IICR, Ministry of Culture, World Bank and the Japan Social Development Fund (the latter two are donors to this enterprise). It was apparently a curtain-raiser to a series of events being planned for 2011 and 2012 through SASIAN JOURNEYS, a festival that will travel through Scandinavia, France and culminate in Washington DC . Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti were co-hosts (with the Asian Heritage Foundation and the World Bank) and provided the setting: a national monument (Birla House, the place of Gandhiji’s martyrdom). Gandhiji’s grand-daughter Tara was one of the speakers. (His handwriting and image are used as logo/symbol — recall the recent fuss when a pen manufacturer did the same). These auspices becomes important in trying to understand the significance of the launch ceremony and symposium , as well as the Jiyo Lotus Bazar and Sasian Journeys workshop which followed on 2 and 3 April (which I could not attend — I hope DCC and CRT were there), as well as what happens as follow-up . I was not aware of any attendance by the Development Commissioners or their Offices. Therefore an issue still remains in my mind is whether Naya Daur /Jiyo constitutes a national project, a public / private partnership in the cultural sector, or a private effort with well-wishers in government and donor agencies. I am also wondering where/how all this is positioned in New Delhi’s complex hierarchies.
Innovation: The display and sale at Birla House and at the World Bank were full of extraordinarily innovative products, as well as some familiar items. I was not able to see the complete exhibition, which also included other “cultural industries”: folk performances, media products etc. The demonstrations of creativity and innovations were strong. The marketing dimension seemed to be there by implication, but there was not a single session on marketing or on the design management dimensions that will need to be at the heart of such an enterprise. Indeed, entrepreneurship seemed the missing dimension — and that could be a huge danger if Naya Daur/Jiyo is to go beyond demonstration into a sustainable enterprise. (I am thinking of what happened to “The Golden Eye”: crores of public expense, great ideas, little lasting impact, outside a few individuals, on markets or on artisans’ earnings, wonderful prototypes probably still rotting or eaten away in a Noida godown).
Semantics of the sector: Throughout the discussions, ‘art’ and ‘craft’ were terms used interchangeably. There were references to the contribution by cultural industries to the national economy as if this was backed by hard evidence. The crisis of cultural economics being an area of darkness was not mentioned as a central challenge (other than by me), even though the future of Naya Daur/Jiyo might depend on dealing with that. It was disappointing that even at such a high-power gathering, some of the basic truths we have been concerned about are still not getting through into the environment. All this would seem to indicate that this effort, which seeks to re-introduce the spirit of Swaraj, may need a lot more rigour and a lot more economics than is presently discernable.
Transitions and taste: An important presentation was by Prof Michael Walton (Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, Harvard University). He pointed to the challenges of transition within the development process, and the change of taste which ‘development’ can make inevitable. If taste came through traditional structures that are breaking down, how does one institute processes of skill creation and transmission that can counter this, creating new tastes for a new time? Design and innovation can respond to emerging taste and also help create taste. He saw cultural industries not as conservation activities but as a 21st century industrial strategy: the creative sector as the sector of the future, not merely as the protector of the past. Prof Walton said no society achieves transition successfully without innovation and deep creative skills, pointing to a capacity for “creative destruction” and the important need for public support to these processes of transition. (I wonder if Prof Walton may be a good resource person for our survey efforts).
Another argument for the hand sector: Among the other speakers at the opening were the World Bank Country Director Roberto Zagha, Ela Bhatt (SEWA) and Asma Jahangir (Human Rights Commission, Pakistan). In the discussion on hands vs machines, Elaben said the problem is not always the product but rather our relationship with them. She pointed to a natural life-death cycle of handmade products, an important advantage seldom reflected in products of mass production. The absence of such a natural cycle leads to incredible issues of waste, pollution and recycling (the car and computer was cited as examples).
I used every opportunity I had to reiterate the points about the importance of hand sector (reference the arguments put forward in my recent paper circulated to you earlier and appearing in Business Standard’s “India 2010” book), and about the current survey.
At the end of the day, I am uncertain about this experiment and its outcome, other than the strength of its creative expression. Those who saw the completed exhibition at the World Bank will I am sure have much more to add. We do need to sustain our contact with Jiyo/Naya Daur. It may be the beginnings of something transformational. It may be another craft extravaganza. Either way, there could be marketing opportunities at least, through what is being planned for 2011-2012. I hope we will hear from those who got to the final two days’ events.