Tuesday, July 31, 2012

When AAA went to school…

The fifth edition of Art Arattai Aarpattam has been different and unique on my aspects, but the one which definitely stands out, is that we have tried to create the AAA experience within the school campuses, thanks to feedback from the children who have come back every year, to be part of the experience that is Art Arattai Aarpattam. Allow us to quickly take you back a few minuscule particles of time in the existence of mankind, to tell you how this happened.

So. February 2012. We had just begun planning for the big event and in our attempt to make the festival more meaningful for the children that we try to reach out to, we invited them over and had a discussion. About 15 children from various government and private schools, who had attended the last editions of AAA, came in to our office to offer their expert advice. Over cups of tea, biscuits and frantic note-taking, we arrived at a plan for AAA 2012. One of the key feedbacks that we got that day, was that they wanted to host the festival in their schools. They wanted to be a larger part of the experience, they said. It was their own Art, Arttai and Aarpattam, happening right within their own classrooms. How could we say no?

This year, Art Arattai Aarpattam travelled to 12 schools across the city – both government and private schools spread across Chennai, from Somangalam (which felt like travelling to a different city – it’s beyond Tamabaram) to Triplicane (where it’s quite a struggle spotting the school building) to Mehta Nagar. Two events were organized in each school – an ArtSpeak lecture and the screening of a blockbuster children’s film.

As part of ArtSpeak, an eminent artiste was invited to conduct a lecture-demonstration about their specialized art form, in attempt to introduce the art form, inspire children towards learning it and appreciating it. At the end of each session was also an interactive Q&A round, where children were encouraged to ask questions. The best 3 questions that came from the children were awarded with gift vouchers from Pothys, our principal sponsor. We were indeed blessed to have the support of several artistes such as Dr. Sriram Parasuram – eminent carnatic singer ad musician, Dr. Padma Subramanyam – well-known Bharatanatyam dancer and scholar, Keshav – cartoonist at The Hindu, Tripura Kashyap – dance educator and movement therapist, Bala – Creative Director of Theatre Nisha, Ilango – popular artist and art teacher, Kalieaswari – Theatre performer and trainer, Dr. Chitra Madhavan – Historian and Archaeologist, Vedant Bharadwaj – Musician and composer, Geetha Ramanujam – Story-teller and educator and Jai Undurti – Writer and Graphic Novelist, who took time out interact with children at these schools.

Cartoonist Keshav being mobbed for autographs at a Govt school in Thoraipakkam :)
Each of these sessions was extremely enriching, even for us, as we watched the children interact with the stalwarts – losing themselves in the art, their eyes filling up with wonderment and their questions often stumping the experts themselves. We marveled at their talent. We swelled with pride. We resolved to go one step further in our efforts to integrate the arts into their lives. And when it was time to say goodbye to the artiste, there was always a small voice from the audience that went, ‘Can you teach me to dance like that?’, or ‘Will I be able to draw like you?’. Yes you can, we said. That’s what we are here to do.

While the ArtSpeak sessions left children dreamy-eyed and with a glow on their faces that only the excitement of learning something new brings, the film screenings were like seeing their dreams come to life on screen. It was a pleasure watching the children travel with Simba in his attempt to re-conquer his territory, fighting the peacock villain with Po and his friends, cheering on for Dumbo as he proves his mettle and laughing at the antics of King Julian & his sidekicks.

At the screening of Lion King - MBN Girls Hr Sec School, Chrompet
Photo Courtesy: Shrinath Sundaram
The experience of visiting these schools has given us a lot of perspective into the needs of these children. We now know what their classrooms look like, how long they travel to come to school every day, what their interests are and so much more. We have also learnt that, contrary to popular opinion, the school principals and teachers are extremely enthusiastic and keen on providing the children with exposure to the arts. The chatty lunchtime conversations and quick hellos as children pass-by in the corridors have given us more insight into their lives than hours of sifting through surveys and research material. We're extremely thankful to the schools for having partnered with us on this journey.

The dust has settled, the stage has been cleared and the festival has come to a close, but the faces filled with wonder, the applause, the whistles and the bursts of laughter will stay with us forever, egging us on to travel to more schools, meet more children and add more smiles to our precious collection.

Monday, July 30, 2012

AAA 2012: The magic that was...

Come June every year and the entire NalandaWay team seems to go through a sea change…deadlines loom larger than before, people who usually wrap up by 6 pm end up staying past 8, lunch (usually a happy one-hour affair) is more on the run and between tasks. You get the picture. For those of you who know at least one member of this cracked-in-the-head-but-heart-generally-in-the-right-place team, you can imagine how different this is from ‘normalcy’. Well, we have a 3-word answer for you – Art Arattai Aarpattam J

This year’s hardly been any different. What added to the excitement was the very fact that we were experimenting with a new format of the festival itself this year. While all our previous editions have been held at central venues, this year, we decided to go to the proverbial mountains ourselves – we believed that in order to reach out to more children, we needed to go to the children and create conversations with them. And that’s exactly how we did it this year. By partnering with 12 schools across the city and organizing activities for the children within their own school premises.

Showing them some moves - A lecture demonstration on contemporary dance at a school in Triplicane
Each of the 12 schools had a lecture-demonstration by an eminent artiste, as well as the screening of a blockbuster Hollywood children’s film. Besides the activities across the 12 schools, AAA2012 also included a series of arts-based workshops for teachers, parents and students, all aimed at exploring how arts can be introduced within the classroom itself, in such a way that it makes learning more fun and engages the children more, during the very process. No AAA can be complete without school competitions, that magnificent showcase of talent which provides opportunities for children from diverse background to match their skills and abilities with each other. Add to this, a play that attempts to explore how a child perceives the very complicated concept of death – and there you have it. The potpourri that is Art Arattai Aarpattam is complete. 

To say that this year’s edition of AAA has been memorable is saying the least. Every edition of AAA has been memorable for us simply because there is so much that we learn from the children.  The one aspect that strikes us each and every time is the sheer scope that exists, the scope for learning for the children. And what makes it more amazing is the uninhibited and spontaneous response from the children. Nothing makes us happier than the excitement on a child’s face as she watches Simba the lion cub or the rapt attention with which a teenage boy listens to a talk on temple heritage. It makes us wonder again and again – why is it that we are yet to create a system that effectively taps into the immense potential that exists amongst the marginalized children in society?
The amount of talent that we have seen amongst the children in the last 2 weeks has been immense and indeed, impacted us profoundly. And yes, it makes us that much more determined to renew and re-double our efforts to help these children gain a continued and more sustained exposure to the arts, which will, no doubt, help them acquire various other skills and behaviors. Art is the only way to run away without leaving home, said Twyla Tharp. This is something that makes so much sense to us at so many levels J What we’ve achieved this year would have simply not been possible without the support from our various sponsors, partners and the various artistes who took the time to be with us. The end of the festival has been bittersweet for us. What keeps us going is knowing that the next edition of Art Arattai Aarpattam will be right back!

Photographs Courtesy: Shrinath Sundaram