Can sustainable development be achieved in rural areas by leveraging local arts and culture? The answer is a resounding yes according to the entrepreneur who created social enterprise Banglanatak.com in West Bengal.
It's a privilege to share the reflections of Amitava Bhattacharya on the power of creativity. The Founder and Director of Banglanatak.com, Amitava was trained as an engineer from IIT Kharagapur and was a Gurukul Chevening Scholar on Leadership and Excellence from London School of Economics.
Banglanatak works across India to foster inclusive and sustainable development using culture-based approaches. The organization works for the protection of rights of women, children and indigenous people and specializes in developing community-led creative industries based on intangible cultural heritage like performing arts and crafts.
Sustainable Development Uses Creativity and Cultural Heritage to Alleviate Poverty
Meg: What was the catalyst for the creation of Banglanatak?
Amitava: During the 1980s, UNESCO envisioned cultural and human assets as drivers of sustainable development contributing directly to socio-economic empowerment and human well being, also articulated today in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The unprecedented COVID-19 situation has possibly created an opportunity today to make this vision mainstream and necessary in order to create a resilient economy and a healthy society.
Noting that lack of employable skills is a major cause of poverty and marginalization in India, banglanatak dot com, a 21 year old social enterprise working in the field of inclusive and sustainable development, identified the immense wealth of cultural and creative skills as means to alleviate rural poverty. We started working on an experimental program on revitalizing India's rural and traditional creative economy, which became successful over the years and was recognized globally as an evidence based replicable model, called Art for Life (AFL) Programme.
Sustainable Development with 'Art for Life'
Meg: Can you give an overview of how AFL works?
Amitava: AFL specializes in identifying, building and strengthening local traditional cultural skills, knowledge and capacities, as resources for sustainable income generation, poverty alleviation, and an inclusive economy. This model challenges the conventional view of the urban economy as the major economy, with the rural economy as a supplier of labour and primary products, and thus heavily dependent on urban economic opportunities. Rather, it holds that the exclusive cultural resources of rural India have massive economic potential on their own, and can grow as a strong entrepreneurial sector.
Over a period of fifteen years (2005-2020), we have worked with 30,000 rural artists across 2600 villages in 4 states of India, and have established rural cultural entrepreneurship and a people-centered approach leading to healthy and strong collective economies, also contributing to SDGs 1, 5, 6, 8, 11.
AFL’s integrated model and focus on local economies have also led to strong rural cultural tourism, with principles of responsible and sustainable tourism at its core. Instead of marginalizing rural youth with temporary labour jobs, this model of community led cultural tourism considers the rural artist communities as the nucleus of this local industry, bringing a lot of pride to village, artist and art-forms. Such local cultural tourism destinations have also significantly boosted local economies and have created opportunities of income and entrepreneurship for youth running local home stays, guest houses, eateries, shops, etc. Thus, it supports holistic development.
The resilience and sustainable nature of this kind of tourism has been increasingly evident during Corona period when national and international travel industry were severely impacted but village cultural tourism dependent on local tourists and visitors survived and recuperated faster. We have seen over 90000 domestic visitors to these rural cultural hubs between Dec 2020 and Feb 2021 and a direct handicraft sales of over 11 Million INR by the rural artists and even got a mention by Honourable PM of India.
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The Power of a Creative Economy
Meg: In your experience, what is the key to stimulating a creative economy?
Amitava: We believe that the three fundamental components of creating a successful community based creative economy include:
Basic skill development programs are held under the aegis of traditional masters (Gurus) for transfer, up gradation and refinement of traditional skills; capacity development workshops are held on business and marketing skills, on digital technology and various ways to connect directly with the markets; design workshops are organized to train the artists in contemporizing and diversifying products for the modern markets; and community artists are organized to form collective institutions to strengthen their unique identity, production capacity and negotiation power. Exchange and collaborations are organized with experts from outside the community, and artists are directly connected to the market through promotion of the artists themselves.
The Power of a Creative Economy
The traditional art forms are documented and publications are developed of print and multimedia content, which help tradition bearers to learn, practice and innovate. IP instruments like Geographical Indications and code of ethics for community art are used for promotion and establishing artists' rights.
Livelihood of underprivileged artist communities are enhanced by creating a sustainable financial and ecological model that works to reduce unsafe out-migration and transforms village to a cultural destination and improves the overall quality of life - in terms of higher income, recognition, self-sustenance, infrastructure and living condition, and creating opportunities for the larger community. Folk Art Centres are established in the artist villages as centers of practice and promotion. Community museums are developed in the villages celebrating the heritage of the place and strengthening collective identity.
The Key to Banglanatak's Success with Sustainable Development
Meg: What is the key to Banglanatak's success?
Amitava: A cross-cutting area includes continuous facilitation of an integrated approach. This is achieved through multi-stakeholder involvement, ownership building of local administration and community institutions, public-private-people partnerships, and policy advocacy with government, and global institutions.
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- Glamour of Traditional Indian Clothing Goes Global
Header courtesy of Banglanatak dot com
Publisher and editor of People Are Culture (PAC). This article was created by original reporting that sourced expert commentary from local cultural standard-bearers. Those quoted provide cultural and historical context that is unique to their role in the community and to this article.