Rustom Bharucha is a writer, director and culture critic. He lives in Kolkata (India). At the moment he is working on an inter-Asian study about Rabindranath Tagore and Okakura Tenshin.

Rustom Bharucha: "We have to re-imagine culture and development"

September 2009 -

Can development be a goal when funding the arts? What happens to the arts when artists are funded to communicate a certain message?

"Certainly, the arts can suffer if a didactic agenda is imposed. This is happening in a lot of ngo-related theatre work where the funders - more often than not based in First World economies - expect artists in the Third World to script narratives around specific strategies relating to aids, or domestic violence, or gender disparity, or whatever. Some of these contrived narratives pass off as 'infotainments'. More often than not, I find them disingenuous and lacking in body and soul."

Rustom Bharucha

"While there is a place for critical learning in the process of doing developmental theatre, this learning is most vibrant when it is reflexive. In other words, it's not just a matter of communicating the 'right' messages; it is also a matter of questioning the content of these messages in ways which make them more layered and complex. Complexity, for me, enhances activist energy and developmental concerns. It is politically correct simplification that reiterates the dominant dichotomies and fake solutions of our times."

How can the funding for culture and development be changed?

"I think through a process of re-imagining that seemingly innocent conjunction 'and' which ostensibly connects culture and development. We have any number of pundits both in the development and cultural worlds; they have their own vocabularies, theories, and priorities. The problem is that they don't really talk to each other, or listen to each other. Instead of 'culture and development', what actually exists is a schism."

How can one counter this schism?

"I think by creating a new synergy around intermediary structures in which the spokespersons of culture and development are obliged to learn from each other. What we need are new imaginaries, instead of predetermined agendas. While I reject the elitism which assumes that imagination is the prerogative of artists alone, I also resist the statistically determined instrumentalism of the development world. We need languages which can challenge the existing indices of ‘measuring’ the developmental content of art practice. Only when funding agencies can create new evidence-based indices which can show that the arts do make a difference in the social and political world, can the economist priorities of state-driven development be meaningfully countered."