Kala Ghoda Arts Festival: Facing financial crunch, closing event shifts from Asiatic steps

Benita Fernando
Kala Ghoda arts festival, KGAF, Mumbai Arts Festival, mumbai news, maharashtra news, indian express news

With the nine-day festival set to begin on February 1, the association is hoping that it will reach its crowdfunding target of Rs 30 lakh.

The closing event of the annual Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF), which has traditionally been held on the steps of the iconic Asiatic Society Library at Horniman Circle, will be shifted to a different venue this year.

The decision was taken by the Kala Ghoda Association in the face of a financial crunch, after its title sponsor, a media organisation, pulled out. The closing weekend concerts, which have previously hosted star singers such as Apache Indian, KK and Shaan, will now move to Cross Maidan.

With the nine-day festival set to begin on February 1, the association is hoping that it will reach its crowdfunding target of Rs 30 lakh. Earlier this month, it had launched a campaign on crowdfunding platform Ketto, stating: “This year, with the business climate in the country being bleak, we, as all other art initiatives in the country, are facing tough times.”

However, so far, only around Rs 3 lakh has been donated with one donor paying Rs 1 lakh.

Despite the lukewarm response, association chairperson Maneck Davar said the show would go on. “The festival is looking for crowdfunding as our title sponsor expressed its inability to raise the entire amount required. They are still involved in providing media support and helping us get sponsorships,” he said, adding that other sponsors onboard this year include Bank of Baroda, LIC, Jaslok Hospital and Bajaj Group.

According to association members, the budget for the nine-day festival is approximately Rs 3 crore. Davar said while the association pays the BMC approximately Rs 25 lakh for license fees and other charges, this year, they have approached the municipal commissioner requesting a concession on this fee.

This year’s budget of Rs 3 crore is substantially lesser than the previous years. Artist Brinda Miller, the former KGAF director, said that in 2016, the budget was around Rs 4.5 crore. Miller resigned from her position in 2017 but continues to be a committee member in the association.

After the announcement of the crowdfunding campaign, several celebrities had come forward to show their support. Actor and VJ Anu Menon, popularly known as Lola Kutty, tweeted, “When the economy is on the back foot, the first casualty is always the arts.” Industrialist Anand Mahindra also tweeted that the KGAF “has brought much needed artistic relief when the city needed it the most. Now let’s rise up to the occasion and be generous when it needs us”.

Amid concerns that the festival is scaling down, Davar said that is hardly the case. “The festival is not scaling down. We have the same number of 14 verticals and over 500 events. The only concession we have had to unfortunately make is that performances at the Asiatic will not be held on the last two evenings.” Unlike previous editions, this year’s closing weekend for KGAF won’t have special star performances.

The KGAF, since its inception 21 years ago, has become a major part of the city’s cultural landscape. It draws a number of visitors, both from the city and tourists who visit the nearby Gateway of India. Unfortunately, for these same reasons, the festival, many believe, has become too huge to manage, both in terms of budget and the crowd. Many visitors hardly view the art, preferring to take selfies for social media.

“This year’s edition will be a test. Asiatic is a big chunk of money and Bollywood (performances) has been cut substantially,” Miller said. In the future, she added, stalls could be put up twice a year; they could have fundraisers; and may need to do events round the year, instead of just once. But the spirit of the festival will hopefully remain the same. “Entry is free of cost at KGAF. You don’t see this at any other art event,” she said.