Banglanatak is showing the world how folk art forms can revivify communities and sustain them.
“I believe that the real treasure of India is its traditional arts and culture,” says Amitabh Bhattacharya. Amitabh is the founder and director of Banglanatak, an organisation that uses culture as a tool for sustainable development. The organisation has worked extensively with folk artists and singers in West Bengal and increasingly in other parts of the country.
Banglanatak believes in developing entrepreneurial skills of the folk artists. Amitabh says “The artists who were used to thinking of themselves as penniless and destitute have today evolved.” Banglanatak uses Art for Life (AFL) as a methodology to alleviate poverty and create village based micro economies. The first step in this pioneering pedagogy is to encourage and revivify the cultural practices. Banglanatak then seeks to link the artist communities to the market and to appreciative audiences that they might not themselves have links to. Finally, they also facilitate international cultural exchange and residencies to enrich the traditions further. In the past seventeen years using AFL, the organisation has helped transition over 10,000 families across the poverty line.
Arman Fakir is a baul–a community of itinerant folk troubadours spread over West Bengal and Bangladesh. “Artists like us have mostly been dependent on agriculture, traditionally. So we would work in our fields and work and research our art in our spare time. In 2004 Banglanatak came to our village and gave us training. They started sending us to various cultural events all over the place. Due to these programs today we have recognition. After the training, it changed the way we view ourselves as artists. There used to be 40-50 of us in the village. Now there are over 100 artists,” says Arman. Banglanatak has created a wider appreciation of baul music not only in the state, but around the world.
Bhajan Das has travelled the world with his earthy folk songs. Banglanatak facilitated his travel to Czech Republic to perform at a cultural event. “It was an incredible experience being there: the world knows about our baul music! They greatly appreciated and and respected our music. And this despite not understanding our language. They applauded and encouraged us. Since then we have collaborated with international artists in festivals here. It was great fun: we were creating new forms of baul music!,” adds Bhajan.
Through partnerships with Micro, Small, Medium Enterprises and Textiles, Government of West Bengal, West Bengal Khadi and Village Industries Board and UNESCO, Banglanatak is helping over 23000 folk artists today in the state. In the last 24 months alone, traditional artisans working with the organisation have sold crafts amounting to over 21 crore rupees. “I don’t think we can eradicate poverty from India in the next 30 years. Bangalnatak alone, definitely can never do all. But if we could at least create some successful models, that would mean something,” feels Amitabh. Banglanatak’s journey in the past 17 years has truly been inspirational. They have helped define sustainable development while preserving traditional cultural forms. Their model should be replicated on wider scale to help folks artists not only in India but across the world.
Video by Community Correspondent Rebeka Parvin
Article by Madhura Chakraborty, a journalist in the VV editorial team