Nepali Times
Organisers for the arts


Given the conditions that artists in Nepal work under, it is a wonder that they produce art at all. I have written about this before, elsewhere, focusing in particular on the dismal returns of writing Nepali literature. The average print run for a literary book is approximately 500 copies. The price for the book will generally not top Rs 150. This means that if the author gets a 10 percent royalty, s/he earns Rs 7,500 over the course of the year or more that it takes to sell all the copies. This is only if the distributors pay the publishers, who in turn pay the author due royalties. More often than not, of course, publishers do not offer royalties to authors, instead giving her or him free copies which s/he is obliged to hand out, free, to fellow writers, family and friends-who generally do not read them. There is no mystery as to why the quality of Nepali literature is poor today; unable to make a living wage off of literary writing, poets and novelists hold down other jobs to support themselves, and have little time to devote to their craft.

Publishers argue that they earn too little to treat authors better; but the fault for this is largely theirs. They do not invest in editors who could enhance the quality of the books they are publishing, thus allowing proof mistakes, factual errors, wordiness, and stylistic no-no's that scare off potential readers. There is close to no marketing for literary books: How many of us know when Bimal Nibha's latest collection came out? Publishers have also failed to push for a proper distribution network, preferring to open shops of their own in order to keep for themselves the 30 to 40 percent cut that distributors would earn.

Strong business communities are said to foster the creativity of communities. In Nepal, we can see this to be true in the visual arts and in the field of music. Before the Maoist insurgency heated up around the turn of the millennium, the business community was funding much painting, etching and decorative arts, allowing top artists like Kiran Manandhar and Sashikala Tiwari to earn a cool half-lakh for a single work of art (much to the envy of cash-strapped literary writers). And even through the state of emergency and increased violence in the countryside, Kathmandu has supported a hopping jazz and rock scene that is fostering much young talent: Witness 1974 AD, Abhaya and the Steam Injuns, Cadenza, Sitapati.Nepali singers, too, are increasingly able to support themselves off their talent, thanks in part to organizers like event nepalaya and other event managers, and to FM radios and their avid listeners.

The difference between these fields and the field of literature is that the visual arts and music have been able to hook up to the market. The public is willing to pay to sustain these arts, and channels have been created to make this easy, by art galleries and a growing number of hotels and bars. The private sector is working, in these fields, as it should.

The other funding option-in Nepal-is to have aid industry donors support creative work. This has been possible in the field of drama, though not always to the benefit of the field. Street theatre was ostensibly killed by the donor agendas that they pushed (think street theatre for conservation, street theatre for immunisation, street theatre for international women's day). The country's top dramatists too have been tempted away from courting popular support by the ease of obtaining funding from donors. This, of course, is harder to do when the plays they produce are not entertainment-oriented, but challenging, smart and critical, as are the plays of Sunil Pokharel and Anup Baral. Similarly, because of its 'high' or serious concerns, the field of documentary filmmaking has found easier support in the aid industry than in the wider market. Art films too totter precariously on the goodwill of individual patrons.

Private patrons-be they art-loving individuals or organisations-have of course always been a valuable source of funding for the arts; but they alone cannot sustain drama or filmmaking. What is needed in these fields-and in the field of literature-are organisers who create functioning links between the artist and the audience. For literary books: Let the poet or writer earn a decent royalty. Let the publisher earn her or his share. Let the distributor earn her or his share. Let the reader receive a high-quality book that stimulates thought and emotion. For drama and documentary or art films: Let the actors, filmmakers and crew all be able to make a living. Let the halls and distributors support themselves. Let the audiences sit back and watch something rousing.

Artists and readers/audiences alike are debilitated by the lack of good organizers in the art fields. It is time for art-lovers with good business sense to step up and set up systems that make literature, visual art, music, drama and filmmaking viable. Their effort would not be purely philanthropic. There is a profit to be made in the arts. This profit would be a righteous one, one that enriches all of society.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)