Bengaluru: Local artists have taken to the streets (and social media) protesting the government’s decision to privatise Venkatappa Art Gallery by handing it over to Abhishek Poddar of the Tasveer Foundation. The naysayers come from the philosophy that the PPP is not the ideal model, arguing that the gallery should remain state-run and be administered by the artists themselves. Although the VAG Forum has flatly refused to debate the matter with Poddar, he has broken the silence by addressing, in writing, the chief accusations coming his way.
The current state art collections will be removed from the museum.
Answer: Through a signed agreement with the government the Foundation has legally assured that the Venkatappa and Hebbar collections will continue to be on public display at the new VAG, upon the relaunch of the museum. Further, these will be displayed as per professional museum standards, in order to stop the current decay of these important artworks.
Ticket prices for the Venkatappa and Hebbar collections will go up, and become unaffordable.
Upon relaunch, the new museum will get rid of the current ticketing system for the Venkatappa and Hebbar collections, making them absolutely free. The new galleries being built, for new collections and exhibitions, *will be ticketed, but at certain times during the week, these will also be absolutely free.
The Foundation and the members of its board and associates will profit from this project.
The Foundation and its division MAP is a non-profit and charitable entity. Any charged activities by the Foundation at the VAG will be reinvested directly back into the running of the museum, as per a signed and publicly available document with the government. Further, a reputable and independent audit firm will be employed to look after the project's finances.
There is a conflict of interests between the Tasveer Gallery and the Tasveer Foundation.
The Tasveer Foundation is a completely different legal entity from the Tasveer Gallery, and has a completely separate management board. However, the similarity in name has led to much confusion, and has wrongfully been used as part of the conspiracy theories around this project. To avoid future confusion, we have already applied for a change of name of the Foundation where it would not contain the name Tasveer anymore.
This museum project is an illegal plan for a private party to gain ownership of the land the VAG sits on.
The building (existing and new) will always be owned by the government, as will the land and the existing collections. After the agreed lease period (of 5 years, extendable by another 5 years), all immovable and existing assets of the museum, will be handed back in full to the government. At no point, will the Foundation, *MAP, its board or any party other than the government, own any part of this land. This is a government-owned project, which is only funded by private companies, as CSR.
The new plans will get rid of the system of artists being able to show their own work at the VAG, and for them to conduct talks in the auditorium, at the current rates.
The Foundation will be adding a ‘project space’ gallery at the museum, precisely for this kind of activity, and for the benefit of working artists. In many cases, rather than a fee, this will be given for free – decided upon by a professional panel of curators. An additional open auditorium is also being planned, which can be booked for free by artists, in addition to being free for the public at all times.
The modernisation plans, and the new museum, will not be sensitive or respect the old VAG
The Foundation has the utmost respect for the history of the VAG and the role it used to play in the art scene in Bengaluru. The history of the VAG will be clearly articulated at the museum (which it currently isn’t), and more will be done to encourage the continued use of the space by artists than ever before in its history.
The VAG and MAP will become elitist spaces
As mentioned, the Foundation is making entry to the existing collections free of charge, and pledges to make the VAG more inclusive than ever before in its history. In fact, the idea of inclusivity is one of the key and founding principles of MAP, and the Foundation will invest considerably in schemes and programmes to welcome people from all walks of life to engage with art – both on and off site. Despite these responses all being legally provable, and publicly stated time and time again, the accusations continue to be used as the central part of the VAG Forum’s propaganda and defamatory rhetoric to try and discredit and ultimately block the plans to modernise and improve the VAG.
VAG Forum’s refusal of dialogue
At the advice and suggestion of the management board and advisory panel, the Foundation had wanted to meet this group, and to see how it can discuss a way of proceeding which takes into account some of their more valid questions regarding how artists will be able to continue to use the space, and how they can be involved in the project. However, the offer of discussion has been turned down repeatedly, and the official line of the VAG Forum remains a complete refusal to enter into any discussions, promising that the campaign will only stop once the plans for the modernisation of the museum are cancelled.
The Foundation believes that this campaign by the VAG Forum, its refusal of dialogue, and the intentional spreading of incorrect and defamatory information, which involves personal character attacks and criminal accusations, is ethically incorrect and highly problematic, and has got in the way of intelligent debate and discussion which should have been a key part of this process.
Future of the gallery
As part of this new scheme, which aims to raise more than 15 cr in funds, as mentioned, nothing would be taken away from the existing VAG, but a significant amount of infrastructure would be added: more galleries and exhibitions, a library and research center, a new auditorium and performance space and educational programmes. Land and additions to the structure will remain government-owned, while money raised goes back into the running of the gallery through the Tasveer Foundation.
How we got involved
In light of the research the Tasveer Foundation had already conducted into launching a new initiative for the visual arts in Bengaluru, the GoK invited it, as part of its scheme to improve numerous sites across the state, to put forward a proposal to help regenerate a key example of an old-fashioned state gallery – the Venkatappa Art Gallery (VAG). The Foundation thus signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the GoK to renovate and modernise the VAG and to enlarge it to include a new museum wing, called the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP).