A Window Into the Hopeful: A Deeper Look at The South Asia: Art & Philanthropy Report 2020

By Alyssa Laverda

March 27, 2020

A Window Into the Hopeful: A Deeper Look at The South Asia: Art & Philanthropy Report 2020

Image: Swathi and Vijay (2018) in the Pink Lane of Maqta Art District. Photo by Pranav Gohil. Courtesy of St+Art India Foundation.


In a continuation of our recent exploration of global arts-centered philanthropy in the TEFAF 2020 Art Patronage Report and to expand upon last year’s special focus India: Art and Philanthropy Report 2019, our latest release on Art and Philanthropy in South Asia dives further into the region and extracts the far-reaching network that drives the burgeoning cultural non-profit, grassroots and artist movements.


Earlier this week, Managing Director Kristalina Georgeiva of the IMF released a statement confirming the negative GDP outlook for 2020 that had already actualized in our minds and financial portfolios. However, while the recession to come was characterized to be as “bad as during the global financial crisis or worse”, a recovery is expected in 2021 if mitigation and containment protocols are followed. The statement continued to cite the distressing reality that almost 80 countries are requesting aid and $83 billion has already been transferred out of emerging markets – aptly described as “the largest capital outflow ever recorded”. Although the IMF and the World Bank are working in tandem to find solutions to the seemingly unsolvable, growing concern has been expressed for how low-income countries will fare in the tides to come. At this landmark moment in human history, it is evermore important to also keenly focus philanthropic support on the arts communities of these emerging markets that promote social capital, education and well-being, as they are in paramount danger of becoming another victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.


The South Asia: Art & Philanthropy Report 2020 was engineered with our partner Art Dubai, who like many entities in the art world has made a full pivot, adapting to the social distancing status quo. Their fully reconfigured digital performance program and Global Art Summit 14 directly address our shared experience from the coronavirus fallout, and their online catalogue features over 500 artworks by exhibiting galleries with channels for purchase inquiries. Last year saw nearly 30,000 visitors walk the Madinat Jumeirah to view the collaborative program that was formed by agents from over 130 international institutions. Strong sales were reported as collectors had anticipated this uniquely positioned fair as a gateway to the Middle Eastern and Asian emerging artistic region. While it is unfortunate that these grand connective events have been forced into closure temporarily, we, along with Art Dubai, are thrilled to bring you this detailed cultural insight from one of the most highly anticipated emerging markets in the world.  


With two comprehensive surveys that dovetail Investment and Patronage in the region, expert contributors and numerous case studies demonstrate an inspiring picture of development, collaboration and artistic enthusiasm – all vying for philanthropic support. Chloe Vaitsou, International Director of Art Dubai, is quoted in the report saying, “We hope that activities and initiatives presented in this report will be part of a broader philanthropic springboard movement, one that mobilizes the use of fire and hope constructively for the benefit of the human condition in the long term”.



Key Report Takeaways



As a Whole.

Our report is enriched by a poignant call for the reconsideration of art’s value within emerging markets by Tarana Sawhney, our Strategic Advisor in the region. Sawhney’s cultivated experience and bifold perspective as the Chairperson of the CII Task Force on Art & Culture (Confederation of Indian Industry), as well as an Advisory Board Member of the Foundation of Indian Contemporary Art (FICA), put her on the frontlines to advocate for the value of arts and culture amid a climate of foreign investment competition and Smart City focus, where art is, at many times, synonymous with non-importance.


After the 2018 release of a major report to promote the position of culture in India through situation of international soft power contexts, the suggestion of mutually beneficial models and the defense of viable stakeholding in the global $67b art industry, Sawhney, along with the CII Task Force, the Ministry of Culture, and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), known as the first private modern and contemporary art museum in India, worked together to bring India to the Venice Biennale in 2019 after an eight year absence.


As a founding member of the NGO Khushii and a patron of the arts in her own right, Sawhney is a premier example of the strategic duality of supporting humanitarian efforts and the arts in the same breadth, utilizing holistic handling to promote the well-being of health, mind and our connective human nature through engagement and visual inspiration. “I would argue that art and culture is the glue that binds us all together, it embraces diversity, it brings communities together, it gives us identity, it takes risk, it breaks barriers and it is ultimately what makes us human. A cause worth fighting for.” Her words are echoed in overwhelming support of this concept by the respondents in our survey of South Asia Art Patrons, as 95% express a strong personal interest, passion, and the belief that art and culture impacts the way we perceive the world around us, whilst 90% believe that giving to the arts makes a positive difference.


Sawhney’s strong advocacy, featured in our report, shines like a beacon and potential strategic opening as she unites details of India’s position with a call for action from the government and CSR endeavors.


As a Part.

One of twelve intimately portrayed arts entities, institutions and initiatives outlined in our report,  KHOJ International Artists’ Association, located in the historic city of New Delhi, is a multifaceted arts organization founded by artists, and in two years, will reach the milestone of a quarter century. Over two decades is a long history in the context of a still-emerging market, but simple beginnings in the late 1990s were not undone by a lack of institutional infrastructure or local support. We spoke at length with their Director, Pooja Sood, who is also one of the founding members of this pioneering artist initiative. 


Beginning as an annual workshop inspired by the Triangle Network launched by Robert Loder in the early 1980s, KHOJ brought together artists from across India to collaborate. Developing over the decades through manual network building and conceiving their own creative pedagogies, KHOJ has succeeded in enhancing their ecosystem to become the institutional infrastructure necessary for propagating art making on a community, national and international level. 


How have they gotten to this point against nearly all odds? Director Sood cites external funding from the Ford Foundation to have given them an essential helping hand in early days of enterprise. KHOJ is certainly an incredible example of what sustained philanthropy in the arts and cultural sector can accomplish, however, Sood notes that it has become increasingly more difficult to find private giving that is available for them to access. We concluded our conversation with her in a discussion regarding sustainability and the new funding models that KHOJ may be able to take advantage of in the near future. 


Concluding Thought.

KHOJ presents an inspiring example of the power of trust, commitment and collaborative effort in achieving something near-impossible, building something innovative and nourishing from nothing. The group of founding artists placed a great emphasis on the power of networks and bringing people together, in spite of distance, lack of pre-laid groundwork, and third world status. KHOJ’s name is defined on their website: “KHOJ. (to) search, hunt, explore, discover, discern, seek, inquire, trace, track, quest, research, investigate.” 


This cohesive unity and ambition to achieve the common goal of creative fulfillment can be something that we reflect on at the present moment. When, despite amplifying humanitarian concern, our arts community is reaching out through social media, online viewing rooms and digital museum collections in an attempt to provide a much-needed place for the public to feel the relief of positive mental and emotional engagement once again. However temporary that may be, in these unpredictable times.