Calcutta International Classical Guitar Festival 2016: Triumph of community over commerce

A week before the Calcutta International Classical Guitar Festival 2016 (CICGF) was scheduled to open, four out of six shows were sold out. This is really astonishing not only because the classical guitar is an incredibly niche art form (even to traditional western classical music enthusiasts, the classical guitar is an outlier), but because this has happened in Kolkata — a city notorious for being commercially unviable. And all of this, when considered against the overwhelming chaos of demonetisation and financial frugality, is a veritable miracle. In what world, and how, could this be possible when there has been no advertising for the event?

From CICGF's Facebook page

From CICGF's Facebook page

From CICGF’s Facebook page

This was not for a lack of intent on the part of the organisers. The Indian Guitar Federation (IGF), who is organising the festival, has been strapped for funds. Finding out only three weeks before the inaugural event that only one-third of their sponsorship needs would be met with, there has not been a single newspaper, radio, magazine or digital mention of the festival. So the skeletal team of five at IGF helming the festival were forced to reconvene to find other ways. As a result, almost all of CICGF’s advertisement has been through word-of-mouth. Depending on their small, but tight-knit, community of classical music enthusiasts, the folks at IGF created posters and short media specifically conducive to Whatsapp’s format (the posters are, for example, square shaped, keeping in mind how an image comes up on a Whatsapp chat window before you even click on it; all the video teasers are less than a minute each). And it worked. Communities and groups, through Whatsapp, shared the poster and a link to buy tickets online. Musicians, both national and international, who worked with IGF over the years shared information about the festival, even giving IGF’s Facebook page some traction by sharing their posts. Students of classical guitar reached out to IGF to volunteer and help produce the festival.

And IGF is giving back to this digital community that helped mobilise their festival. This is the seventh year of the CICGF, but the first in which the concerts were live-streamed outside the auditorium. With an audience this engaged in the organising, publicising and functioning of an event, the Calcutta International Classical Guitar Festival has borne witness to the transformation of passive concert audiences into engaged members of a virtual (and tangible) community.

The run-up to the festival has been as curious as it has been challenging. Where demonetisation has most definitely impacted traditional networks of organisation (and the arts, usually seen as a luxury, are the first to be jettisoned), it has also generated alternative ways of being. Where IGF still struggles for sufficient sponsorship funding, it has discovered a community of music (and art) enthusiasts who, through their sharing and forwarding, kept the festival running. When the festival opened on Thursday, 15 December, it was a testament, both, to the present challenges of traditional sponsorship in this demonetised economy, and the surprising resilience of communal endorsement. Every single one of the 1415 tickets sold this year, was sold online.

The Calcutta International Classical Guitar Festival takes place each December and brings to Calcutta the best classical guitarists who perform concerts each evening and teach during the day. The 2016 concert series included 10 concerts over 4 days. 

Visit CICGF’s Facebook page for more information.

First Published On : Dec 18, 2016 08:59 IST

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