Goa’s culture is certainly an important part of our showcase, but the festival is national and international in scope,” says Sunil Kant Munjal, founder of the Serendipity Arts Foundation, who is fiercely committed to the cause of placing India’s rich cultural heritage on the global map through the annual multidisciplinary Festival. In an interaction with ACF, the man behind Serendipity Arts Festival highlights the need to make genuine efforts to boost India’s soft power.
This year, Serendipity Arts Festival has increased its footprint in Goa. It is bigger both in terms of size and events/activities. How do you envision the future of the Festival? Will the focus be on expansion or would the quality of projects determine the size of the Festival?
We aim to enhance the quality of our content, programming and delivery with every edition. As you can see, the number of institutional collaborations has increased this year, and we plan to sustain and grow these in the future. From 50 projects to 70 to now 90, the festival has grown, but our intention is not to grow just bigger but to create more impact and bring both richer detail and innovation. Serendipity is a people’s festival, so we take feedback from multiple quarters and build this into our future programming. We will continue to innovate and bring new elements in the coming editions; at the same time, we will continue to celebrate the arts with other smaller events which are held in other cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Dubai. We hope that these events also expand in scope and size over a period of time.
What is the level of your personal involvement in the selection of curators or scouting the right people to helm independent projects?
My personal interest and passion in the arts go back several decades, and you can say that I am personally committed. It also helps that my wife and daughter are both very creative individuals and are supportive of the Serendipity Arts Foundation, while my daughter, Shefali is also involved in the ideation and the setting up of the Festival. The leadership team at the Foundation is as passionate about arts and culture as I am, so this helps. The team does a lot of work in terms of ideation and shortlisting. The selection of curators is done through a process. Sometimes the choice of curators is made based on the programs we have in mind, or on the feedback we receive; on other occasions, curators themselves come up with ideas. Before we sign them on, we try and meet each curator to ensure we are on the same page in terms of ideas, deliverables, execution and expectations. The curators are not just expected to be amongst the most talented in their chosen fields but also thinking individuals who can work with others.
Why did you make the Festival multidisciplinary?
If you go back in history, boundaries between the various art forms never existed in India. Art, dance, music and theatre seamlessly blended into each other, and they were promoted in equal measure by royalty—and this tradition continued right up to the time of the Mughals. It is only after the British came, was there an artificial segregation of the arts into different silos. So, we have separate arts festivals; theatre festivals; musical shows, culinary festivals, etc. As a result, the interconnectivity between the different forms has somehow gotten lost. This festival is an attempt to revive the seamless connectivity of art.
Has it been easier to bring partners on board?
What we’re attempting is still relatively modest compared to the task at hand. Worldwide education, healthcare or arts and culture – they need patronage to grow, stabilise and thrive. Look at any major museum university or research institute; they have all the necessary philanthropy and corporate support. This is what needs to happen in India, not in bits and driblets, but on a large scale. For the past three years, we have attempted to involve companies, foundations and individuals; we have started gaining traction; but we need more support, not just financial, but also in terms of spreading awareness. This is where mainstream, social and digital media has a huge role to play. In today’s modern world, Indian food, dance, films, artistes and writers regularly interact with western society. Yet, as this is not happening in a sufficiently organised manner, India is unable to become a beachhead of cultural, political and trade diplomacy. Through festivals like Serendipity and others, let us make a genuine effort to boost India’s soft power.
Why did you choose Goa as a destination and why you decided on those particular dates (15-22), knowing pretty well that there would be a clash with Kochi Biennale after every two years?
All roads lead to Goa in December. It is the holiday season, and we wanted people from all over India and the world to experience something more than the sun and sand. Goa is also one of the most cosmopolitan cities in India with a diverse and accommodating culture. This city provides a perfect backdrop for people from all demographics to come together and experience the arts. From a longer term perspective, I strongly believe that Goa has immense potential to become the cultural capital of India and the region in the future. It is such a vibrant amalgamation of cultures, not just in the historic sense, but also in terms of the present. By holding the festival in Goa we hope to augment this culturally vibrant climate.
To answer the second part of the question, we are not in competition with any other festival; we are trying something unique here, in terms of scale, variety and innovation, across ten venues. In fact, we talked to the Kochi Biennale Team as we fixed the Serendipity Arts Festival dates so as to encourage people to visit both. We hope that some of the current and new initiatives will encourage others to start their own initiatives in the areas of the arts and culture to constantly grow the offering and the opportunities for the audience to experience an ever-growing opportunity.
Besides the Festival, the Foundation is also developing projects and offering residency programmes for young artists. What is your vision for the Festival and the Foundation based on your three years performance?
We have started a fledgling movement to make art in India contemporary, relevant and accessible. We have built a reasonably strong case for reviving arts education and culture through collaborations between organizations, artists, and audiences. We have initiated conversations and bridged boundaries. We have also changed perceptions. For instance, one could have gone to the Serendipity Arts Festival as an avid follower of classical dance, but come away with a new-found passion for street art or performance art. In addition to this, the Foundation itself has many underlying goals: Some of these are to revive declining and dying arts through support and proper documentation; to reintroduce patronage; and to offer exposure and hopefully inject enthusiasm in the arts amongst the youth. Our vision for the festival is based on creation, introspection and collaboration. We wish to build and strengthen an ever-growing platform that accommodates India’s and the region’s intangible heritage. We hope to reposition this heritage in a manner that makes it both contemporary and inclusive. We seek to bring artists, initiatives, and patrons together as part of an interdisciplinary event.
In India, the audience is not ‘educated’ as per say, in appreciating art, especially visual arts. By making Serendipity multidisciplinary, I feel you have found a way to ‘engage’ with people. But what are the challenges ahead?
No one, ten or even a hundred of us can do enough. No matter what we have achieved at the Serendipity Arts Festival, we cannot do justice to the rich culture of the sub-continent. For this festival to thrive and become truly contemporary, individuals, companies, and institutions must get involved and turn it into a mission, which serves not just national, but also international needs. Infrastructure and policy facilitation are a challenge. Cities must have a supportive ecosystem where art and culture are supported and actively facilitated by government departments across levels. Government officials themselves must have a strong sense of ownership; they need to believe and fulfill their roles as enablers, and not merely confine themselves as permission givers. Once administrators become facilitators, I believe it will genuinely create a cascading effect that will impact all of us.