22 Aug 2019 19:05 IST

A city without art is soulless, says Asad Lalljee at MICA

Curator of India’s only opera house, he spoke on cultural economy and how to brand culture

Asad Lalljee, curator of the Royal Opera House in Mumbai, while addressing students at MICA, Ahmedabad, spoke about the art appreciation landscape in India, its vitality in today’s world and whether it can become a viable business. Being a driving force of Mumbai’s cultural scene and putting opera on its cultural calendar, Lalljee is also the CEO of Avid Learning — a public programming platform and cultural philanthropy arm of the Essar Group.

“We need to change our mindset and treat art and culture as serious segments to make it sustainable,” said Lalljee.

Gentrifying the opera house, which was opened to the public after 25 years, not only brought people together but also revitalised the neighbourhood. Nearby buildings have been decked up, restaurants have come up in the vicinity and employment has been generated. This is the whole idea of ‘Arts city, smart city’. “A city without art is soulless,” he affirmed.

Distinct experiences

Talking about unconventional ways to spread awareness for art programmes and performances, he said, “Art needs to be dimensionalised in a way that people engage with it in a more tactile, visible sense. Experiences need to be curated around each event so that people feel they are an integral part of the event and have distinct experiences they can take away with them.”

Compelling instances given by him included placing interactive fashion installations related to the theme of workshops on cine couture, life-like figurines for promoting folk art and hosting acclaimed performances that featured differently-abled artists triumphing over their limitations. He even helped organise opera walk-through well before the opera season began so as to sensitise people with little familiarity about the genre and involve them in its appreciation through workshop modes.

Avid Learning engages in formats such as workshops, panel discussions, gallery, walk through, master classes and festival platforms. Stressing the need to innovate and be as inclusive as possible in marketing campaigns, he discussed Avid Learning’s role in spearheading niche art events and how they can also become profitable engagements.

He said, “Even for seemingly niche enterprises, the boundaries of targeted, innovative marketing can be explored and leveraged to create lasting value — not just in terms of artistic merit but also as a generator of sustained income.”

About Royal Opera House, Mumbai: The space was built and inaugurated in 1911 by King George V and in 1917, it became, in part, a cinema house. However, it was closed by the 1990s. The son of Maharaja of Gondal in Rajkot commissioned its restoration in 2010 and the Royal Opera House was included in the 2012 World Monuments Watch to raise awareness about its history and significance. In October 2016, it was opened to the public.