Text sourced from The Hindu, Scroll.in, and inUth Beta.
Earlier last week, Chennai was given the honour of being named one of UNESCO’s Creative Cities- an accolade awarded to 64 cities from 44 different nations. It joins Jaipur and Varanasi in Indian cities named in the last.
The city has been lauded for its culture with the organization focusing on the elaborate December Margazhi Festival that takes place annually. A festival that features performing artists, primarily in the fields of Carnatic (South Indian Classical) music and Bharatanatyam, people travel from all over the globe to witness the plethora of concerts that flood city halls.
Artists, of course, are thrilled, with many Tweeting their appreciation for the recognition they feel is “long overdue, but welcome all the same.”
” I was one of the panelists who proposed Chennai’s name. I would say it has been long overdue. Our Sabhas have been promoting the art for more than a hundred years and we have an amazing history of the art being handed over to the generations by the great composers and singers,” Carnatic vocalist Sudha Ragunathan says.
Younger, up-and-coming musicians see the tag as a responsibility to live up to reputation that Chennai has to offer.
Vocalist Rithvik Raja called the accolade “an opportunity to do things we have not done — in terms of music, quality, infrastructure, etc,” hoping that this means grant money will be available to Chennai to evolve the Season to adapt with the current cultural climate.
Keyboard Sathya, a popular young instrumentalist in the arena today, was optimistic.
“We must take advantage of this tag, and ensure Carnatic music gains in popularity, and is also once again, sought after by youngsters like me. This also opens up new frontiers for all to explore the city and its music,” he said.
And yet, the award has its naysayers as well. While many appreciate the tag given, scholars such as arts critique Sadanand Menon and writer/activist Nityanand Jayaraman say this is no reason to celebrate. Instead, it’s a reason to examine the art form, its enabling environment, and those associated with the scene as a whole.
Sadanand Menon, in an op-ed piece with The Hindu’s Sunday Magazine, tore into the UNESCO recognition, calling Chennai a venue of “unequal music.” He calls for reflection in the city, hoping to usher in a new age of artistic opportunities in a city that he says “has grown stale with age.”
Nityanand Jayaraman, however, appreciates the accolade. While he criticizes the platform the classical arts have gotten, pushing aside the lesser-known, local art forms, he says the cultural revolution has already begun.
A Unesco press release notes that “all Creative Cities commit to develop and exchange innovative best practices to promote creative industries, strengthen participation in cultural life, and integrate culture into sustainable urban development policies”.
In that respect, Chennai indeed has a lot to offer culturally. While some are completely supportive of UNESCO’s ‘award,’ others are critical. And yet, the takeaway seems to be the same: live up to the reputation that we now are recognized for, worldwide.
“It is easy enough to be given a badge of creativity. But living up to that reputation requires hard work, commitment and a deep understanding of the power of art and creativity,” says Jayaraman.
The city is about to change. It will transform, glittering with musicals silks and the artistic prowess to match.
The Margazhi Season is upon us, ready for a revolution.
Multimedia compiled by Lavanya Narayanan