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Awards in the world of performing arts
- Ananda Shankar Jayant

May 20, 2016

(This article was featured in The New Indian Express dated May 14, 2016)
The Sangeet Natak Akademi, (SNA), the apex body for performing arts, under the Ministry of Culture, also has as its mandate, the selection and awarding of senior and young  artistes across the fields of dance, music and theatre in the annual national awards. This year’s SNA awards, timed in with yearly March – April appraisals, across sectors.
As human beings, many of our goals for success and self actualization are intrinsically linked with recognition, growth and awards. For a sportsperson, a medal, a victory, or a ranking, defines achievement. For bureaucrats, career advancement is determined by annual confidential reports (ACR), which are enumerated and graded, a transparent evaluation process, with an individual also being able to access the ACR’s, and even appeal and seek correction or change in them.

In the corporate world, though April is appraisal month, employee assessment is a continuous process.

At the SNA, an eminent group of musicians, dancers, theatre personalities and bureaucrats constitute the executive board and general council, who select artistes across disciplines from across the country. SNA already has many unambiguous caveats in place to ensure transparency. For example, a sitting member cannot receive an award, a family member cannot be recommended, etc. However the process of selection of awardees itself is understood to be   based on consensus and collective decision of the SNA members, based on a show of hands, causing more angst than happiness to artistes!

This subjective procedure, besides being opaque, does not provide a level playing field to either the selecting members or the artists being selected or otherwise for the award.

Firstly, performing arts in themselves are not easy to evaluate.  Add to that, an extensive spectrum of art forms from across the country, a range of performers, gurus and maestros spread across wide age spans, to be evaluated by members from diverse art backgrounds, varying levels of understanding, aesthetics, and ground knowledge of a particular art form;  a sure recipe to complicate and obfuscate the evaluation process! 

With the Prime Minister ringing in transparency in all areas of Government working, and in a digitally enabled world, it is prudent, nay, imperative, for SNA too, to put into place, clear systems and processes for transparent evaluation in the selection of artistes for SNA’s national awards.

Some ideas:
  • Clear parameters to be prepared for every field, with a written recording by all members and the same tabulated and graded.
  • Members’ recommendations, positive or otherwise, regarding artists of their own field   to be given special weightage. 
  • Recording dissent, with negative enumeration.
  • A final weighted average and grading be drawn for final selection of the awardee.
  • Making the proceedings available online etc.

An exercise in transparency will only enrich and embellish the prestige of the SNA award and the awardee.  For an artist, it is not medals won or ACRs that decide an artist’s calibre and further growth but an endorsement and approbation of an artiste’s many decades of dedication, commitment and contribution to the field by gurus and maestros, in the select field, which is the leitmotif of a national SNA award; an award that can only become more prestigious, and sought after, when such a selection process is transparent.
 It is time for the SNA to ring in some systemic improvements!

Ananda Shankar Jayant is a bureaucrat, classical dancer and dance scholar. She is the artistic director of Shankarananda Kalakshetra in Hyderabad.

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