Univeralise arts education beyond certain communities, says Kavita Iyer

Kavita Iyer, the co-founder of Young Artiste.

It is important that children pursue a passion that allows them to express freely as opposed to hiding behind screens, believes Kavita Iyer, the co-founder of Young Artiste, a national level talent competition for school children across India that seeks to promote contemporary and classical arts among students.

Iyer is the Managing Trustee of Singhal Iyer Family Foundation (SIFF), a Bengaluru-based philanthropic organisation that works in education and the arts. Excerpts from an interview:

You are a Hindustani vocalist yourself. Please tell us about your training.

Iyer: Being a student of the Arts, my life has given me a very different kind of training. I was academically oriented as a child — something that later took me to IIT-Delhi and IIM-Ahmedabad. But outside of the classroom, training as a student of the Arts gave me a totally different perspective and played an important role in developing, I could say my life skills.

Unlike academics, it is much harder to measure progress in this field, one has to keep at it even when the results take a long time to come and you have to tap into something deeper inside yourself to grow as a musician or artist.

Today, 25 years after I graduated from IIT, when I look around at my batchmates who are extraordinarily successful or innovative, I see that most of them spent a lot of time training in the arts or the sports field. It gave us many skills, taught us how to connect with others and built our confidence to do real things in life. The best thing about being a student of the Arts is that you can never say that you’ve arrived, you’re done. It’s an ocean and even the best amongst us only go to some depth – it is never ending, the quest for a beautiful Alaap or Taan and there are innumerable ways to express yourself through it.

How did the idea of Young Artiste take birth, and then take shape?

Iyer: India is home to a large number of budding artists and sometimes they do not have access to the right platforms to showcase their talents. Young Artiste was born out of our love for arts. We wanted to make art, in all its forms more accessible to people. Our purpose is to encourage and ease the pursuit of arts.

As trained artists, we realise the importance of pursuing a passion. Art enables people to be more disciplined and expressive in life. It allows for a creative outlet of emotions that is of prime importance in today’s world. It requires determination and grit. The outcome of being trained in arts is beautiful and we want more and more children to experience it. Indian art forms are recognised all over the world and our aim is to build a platform that will enable future generations to carry this tradition forward. Young Artiste was therefore born to build a community of like-minded people to celebrate and co-create art and become a benchmark for performing arts in India.

How will the platform seek to encourage young talent in the classical and contemporary performing arts?

Iyer: Being an unstructured field, it is easy for children in this field to feel isolated without the right acknowledgement and validation. Young Artiste therefore strives to fill the gap by giving every child an opportunity to work at their art and showcase their talent on a national stage, ensuring that each student gets mentored by some of the most acclaimed artists and maestros in India and providing scholarships to young artists to support their learning and growth in the field of arts.

We are not trying to find one super star in the country, on the contrary we are giving thousands of children a reason to work at their Art and come out and express it. There are hundreds of students who will gain from the scholarships and mentorship. And a few thousand who will receive certification at the city, state or national level. It’s closer to the Olympiads or the NTSE applied to the field of classical and contemporary music and dance.

In a day and age where there are virtually countless things for a child to do, how does one stay connected to the arts?

Iyer: In a digitally-driven world, it is essential that children break free to spend time with themselves and pursue a passion/hobby that allows them to express freely as opposed to hiding behind screens. It is the duty of parents and teachers to help children inculcate this habit from a young age. Art helps people evolve into more confident and creative human beings and the world needs more of that. Young generations today often give in to the pressure of social media due to lack of an outlet of emotions. Pursuing an art fills in that gap by allowing people to express freely and building an identity for themselves.

In this journey of learning the Arts, a lot of young children are naturally drawn to music or dance. They may pick up an instrument lying at home or sing along with their favourite artist.

Therefore, when a learning opportunity like a neighbourhood teacher or class comes along, many take to it with enthusiasm. The challenge comes a year down the line when the novelty has worn off. The child is struggling to sound good to even herself or himself and it seems arduous and thankless. It’s that phase which is very important to get through. This is where a good teacher brings in ways to keep the student on the path and committed parents dig their heels in.

This is hard despite their best intentions. And there are so many easier distractions. There are many such points in the whole process of learning where the students find it easier to give up than to go on. We need many things to make this easier – some structure, stepping stones, some encouragement, a community and Young Artiste aims to fill this need.

How can more children get arts education?

Iyer: This is a very important question. How do we universalize Arts education and make it a very integral part of our education so that’s it’s not limited to the very few who have access to the Arts either by virtue of their families or communities who have inherited a certain Art.

The first step is for us to recognize the importance of Arts education. It has to then be a part of our education in school and outside school both. In school to get a taste of different forms of Art and appreciate it. It was fascinating to learn that in the UK, every student has to learn to sing, dance or play an instrument at a diploma level before they graduate from high school. And outside school because going deeper needs more dedicated time, care and attention from the right teacher. Technology can help too because we no longer have to be limited by geography. An interested student can self-learn, find the best teacher in the world and be part of a community of like-minded artists from wherever they are.

What is the role of the great maestros in mentoring these kids?

Iyer: One of the main differentiators of Young Artiste 2020 is the role of our maestros and mentors like Terence Lewis, Shovana Narayan, Aruna Sairam, Rukmini Vijaykumar, Ashwath Narayan, Gurumurthy Vaidya among others who will guide the students to excellence.

The Maestro-Mentors will be sharing their approach and learning through individual feedback after each performance as well as by giving lecture-demonstrations live at the young Artiste 2020 festival. They would be addressing not only the participants but rather everyone in attendance on the dates of the festival, Indian Classical Finale being on August 22-23 and the Contemporary Finale on August 29-30.

The Jury members will be interacting more personally with each individual participant during the advanced rounds. This would be via online interaction. The Jury will provide detailed feedback, to interact with the participants and to really create a personal feeling through this interaction. The Jury will also be interacting live with the top 100 finalists, as they will be mentoring them for their performances at the Young Artiste Festival.

When will the talent hunt begin? Please tell us of the city-wise schedule.

Iyer: Young Artiste is setup to take place in three rounds:

The preliminary round: All the participants may select a category and submit a video entry of their performance. A panel of trained professionals in each category that will evaluate every single entry and provide a few lines of feedback to every participant.

The advanced round: Top Twenty-Five participants will be selected from each category to participate in a theme-based round. This will be a video submission coupled with real-time online interaction with the Jury member. A panel of Jury of national acclaim will help us curate this experience and select the finalists.

The Young Artiste 2020 Festival: The top 100 Young Artistes will proceed to the Festival, where all 100 will be performing on a national stage acknowledged by our Maestros and Jury members, and 20 Young Artistes will be conferred the Young Artiste [category] 2020.

Essentially the competition ends at the conclusion of the advanced rounds, as all 5 finalists will be receiving the scholarships and certification, and 1 artiste per category will win the Young Artiste (Category) award.