India's first ever three-day festival that celebrates art is tentatively scheduled for September this year. The organisers aren't saying if they have lined up the sponsors, but the festival will be a large gathering of musicians, artists, cultural personae, environmentalists, social cause evangelists and of course, people interested in art. Explocity speaks to Kabir Ahmed about the concept and what it takes to create an event like this.
Kabir Ahmed calls himself a cultural agent, not an event manager or organiser.
This unassuming 27-year old Bangalorean was instrumental in organising one of the biggest music festivals the south has seen. We refer, of course, to the MAD festival in Ooty in 2012, which saw dozens of bands and thousands of fans bring that sleepy mountain resort to life.
Not many know (until now, of course), that Ahmed is back on the job, organising a new festival. He calls this the Earth Festival - being touted as a convergence of art where performers and patrons of art, theatre, dance, music, poetry, photography, food, magic, yoga and various other creative forms will perform and network.
Earth festival is scheduled to take place over three days this September, which is right around the corner. During this interview, Ahmed's cell phone did not stop ringing. "We are about three months from show time and there are a lot of follow-ups, pitches and meetings," he explained, a trifle apologetic for the constant interruptions.
Ahmed says he is considering Ooty as the venue, but he is sure that the festival will not take place in Bangalore. He explained that a large number of festival enthusiasts live in cities like Bangalore and Chennai. "The whole idea is to get people to take three days from their regular lives, have a holiday and be a part of this. We want people to be there the whole time. We don't want them to come see a performance and then wade their way through traffic to get back home," he said.
Ahmed would not reveal (or maybe did not know yet) the final list of artists but he said fans could expect to see artists from India, Pakistan, the African continent and South East Asian regions performing at the Earth festival.
The festival will also partner with 'Festival au Desert', an annual event that used to take place in Mali but was discontinued due to a conflict with Sharia law. The festival will host “The Caravan for Peace” - a global intervention to support the Festival au Desert and its director Manny Ansar. Ansar will bring artists from the region and they will be led by African Grammy winner, Oumou Sangare.
Ahmed hopes that Indian artists will join their African counterparts and participate in a number of concerts and also when the Festival au Desert returns.
Ahmed said the festival is so named because it has a strong environmental bias. He plans to hold workshops and discussions on saving the environment.
"Don’t festivals and events like this leave a lot of waste and garbage at the venue?" we asked. "They do. But we will encourage people to clean up their mess. In fact, we plan to conduct a complete clean up drive of the host city and the venue, with the help of volunteers. We are trying to get international installation artists to actually use the waste that we collect and turn it into something artistic and symbolic of what we do."
Festivals like this do not come cheap. Ahmed explained that it costs between Rs 2-3 crores to organise the Earth Festival. He believes about 50% of that would be a good amount to expect from title sponsors and the rest he reckons could be generated via smaller sponsorships, associations, ticket sales and food and beverage sales. "Artist fees, travel and hospitality are the three biggest expenses. If these are covered, you can give complete attention to the creative aspect of the event."
He seems hopeful of covering costs. "So far the event has been steadily moving because of the support from friends and family," Ahmed said.
He also said he would love to receive some help from patrons of art and culture and has even contemplated crowd funding the event, "but that requires a different initiative and planning. You need to think about how you plan to reimburse the people who fund you and there are a lot of other complexities that could come up. I'm not ruling crowd-funding out, but not this year, may be the next edition."
So is he already planning more editions? "The first edition will explain to the audiences, participants and patrons what we are trying to achieve. The forthcoming editions will drive this point and eventually establish the Earth Festival as a creative property," Ahmed replied.
Ahmed sees this festival not merely as a business venture but as a larger expression of social good. "The idea is to create a global community," he says. This Bangalorean’s belief in things good and human seems genuine.
"We are here to celebrate life, to imitate Earth by creating new life, to link hands and hearts with each other so that we can feel the planet coursing through our veins,"
Ahmed explained that he holds on to that sentiment by standing up for things he believes in. He said that he was and continues to be perturbed by differences between people on the basis of religion, race, colour, regions and zones.
"Borders are transient lines on a state of permanence, and we cannot let them divide us," he concluded.