The prolonged lockdown to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus has left many groups without a source of income – among them, India’s performing artists. With concerts cancelled and none on the horizon, some musicians are even struggling to buy food. In an attempt to help these artists tide over their troubles, prominent musicians such as TM Krishna, Shudha Mudgal and Aneesh Pradhan have launched fund-raising initiatives.

“With the majority of the country in the unorganised sector, most performing artists do not have the means to earn a living now,” Krishna said. “With temple festivals and small cultural events cancelled, artists who do not have the privilege of digitalness have no work. Our aim is to gather funds for the artists on the margins of culturally popular artforms as well as practitioners of marginalised art forms.”

On March 29, Krishna performed a concert from his home in Chennai that was broadcast on social media and kept the video online till March 31. The proceeds from the ticket sales to this concert along with donations from artists and organisations Krishna contacted for help have yielded funds until now to support 652 artists and their families, largely within Tamil Nadu. Each family on an average have received Rs 3,500.

“The money should reach these artists in the next couple of days,” Krishna said. “The idea is to see that these artists get through this month first.” Among those who helped Krishna were organisations like Kattaikkuttu Sangam, theatre artists Dharanidharani and Sreejith Sundaram, and Parai artist Mani Maran.

Elsewhere, musicians Mudgal and Pradhan have organised a fund-raising drive called the Assistance for Disaster Affected Artistes, which aims to raise Rs 35,00,000 by mid-May, so that over 100 artists and their families can be provided Rs 5,000 per month for the next six months.

These funds are meant to support not just performers across music, dance, and theatre, Pradhan said, but also those who provide ancillary support to these artforms, like instrument makers. Mudgal added “jugglers, puppeteers, and acrobats” among the beneficiaries.

Mudgal noted that the months preceding summer and monsoon are crucial for performing artists as few performances taking place in these seasons. “With the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown snatching away the opportunity to earn in the months of March and April, they have lost out on earning and saving for the coming months,” she said.

Pradhan listed several ways in which the lockdown had hurt performing artists: “The cancellation of programmes, the uncertainty of future programmes, the uncertainty of teaching assignments, the uncertainty of providing ancillary support since the performers do not have any fixed schedule,” Pradhan listed.

He added that freelancing artists do not fall under the category of daily-wage labourers so they cannot benefit from any government schemes.

Though some performing artists are trying to make some money streaming their performances to an online audience, Krishna said that the ability to pay to watch these concerts is not available to most Indians. “Only the culturally privileged artists and audiences have means to do digital concerts,” he pointed out.

Pradhan added: “With regard to digital concerts, this has not been possible in the truest sense for those who practise acoustic music and for those who do not perform solo. The absence of a live ensemble cannot be substituted by electronic devices for obvious reasons.”

Also part of the organising efforts are cultural practitioners Arundhati Ghosh and Sameera Iyenger, actor-director Rahul Vohra, and producer-casting director Mona Irani. They have teamed up with 10 on-ground partners across 10 states.

They include Jana Sanskriti (West Bengal), Imphal Talkies (Manipur), Samudaya (Karnataka), Assam Cultural Academy (Assam) Sanatkada Trust (Uttar Pradesh), Pehchaan (Rajasthan), Yalgaar Sanskrutik Manch (Maharashtra), Chennai Kalai Kuzhu (Tamil Nadu), and Nrityanjali Academy (Telangana). These partner organisations have drawn up a list of the artists and their families who will receive the funds.