The performing arts industry is generally taken as one of the most pristine forms of art and entertainment all around the world. Most people in developed countries revel in the creativity and effort that goes into artforms like music, dance, and theater.
In Nepal, however, the story is different. Artists are forced to undertake double jobs just to sustain themselves because art doesn’t pay here. Musicians, dancers, and actors live lives that hardly reflect the creative potential that they carry. So why is it that the entire performing arts industry is so undervalued in Nepal? We will go over the details of it in this article.
Current state of the Performing Arts
It is common knowledge that most Nepali films are straight-up trash. A few movies like Chakka Panja and Kabbadi Kabbadi stand out but even so, they are no cinematic marvels. More than 98% of movies that are released don’t even cover the investment that went into them. The reasons? Well, copied narrative, subpar acting, gross cinematography, the list goes on. The film industry in Nepal is artistically the most unpleasant performing arts industry in Nepal.
This is not to say that artists are bad. I have seen videographers like Jholey, Abhin Bho, who is absolutely amazing. But here’s the catch: they aren’t in the film industry. Good artists decide to pursue individual projects that at least pay them enough. But again, they aren’t getting what their art should be selling for either (reasons discussed later on).
Nepal has some pretty impressive dancers. While there is certainly talent in the industry, it is by no means doing well. In this sector, the problems that I am going to discuss later come into play. But the end result is the same as the film industry. Good artists are left without opportunities and it is widely agreed that the industry lacks the scope. Some outliers might get lucky and find jobs in music videos and movies, but since both of them don’t do well anyway, dancers are left with nothing.
With the music industry, it can actually go both ways. Singers and songwriters do have a decent opportunity to showcase their music. The opening of several cafes, pubs, and creative houses around Kathmandu gives them a platform to make their name. But the industry isn’t without its share of problems. Firstly, any opportunity people have are limited to Kathmandu and maybe Pokhara. Second, and more importantly, only singers are given recognition. For instrumental musicians, lyricists, and independent music creators, the story flows similarly to that of the dance industry.
Money is rare in the performing arts
There are only a handful of artists that can rely on their creative skills to earn them a sustainable income. The audience is few and opportunities are fewer. The sheer lack of capital in the industry steers artists away from it and onto other fields that they shouldn’t be pursuing, given their potential.
The audience problem
This can largely be attributed to the lack of demand for their “products” so to say. Most Nepalis struggle to hold together their daily livelihood, art is a luxury only the bourgeoisie can afford. Even if it is affordable, there is a societal tendency that is biased against art.
The bias is a result of upbringing and culture. Unless you have been educated in elite schools, you have probably felt your school’s and parent’s utmost focus on academics only. Nepalese people in general seem to regard art as only a hobby, the idea that it can be a profession is unknown to them. This culture, in turn, leads to fewer people being interested in art and the cycle continues. The end result? Artists are left without an audience to perform for.
The lack of capital
So, if there is no demand for something, why would investors be willing to risk their money in the performing arts industry? It is pretty simple when you think about it that way. Businesses will, quite reasonably, overlook the performing arts industry and invest in something that actually yields profit. Hence, artists are left without any money to sustain themselves.
The (un)creativity cycle
Since people are not accustomed to the performing arts, they project it in their culture. The culture then leads to less and fewer potential artists getting the resources they need to better themselves. At the same time, good artists are stuck doing other full-time jobs and aren’t recognized either. this results in a lack of creativity in the industry, which in turn, again steers the audience away. The cycle hence starts over again.
This continuous process is basically why the performing arts are so undervalued in Nepal. Until it can be broken at some level, the future is bleak for budding creatives.
How we can break this cycle
This problem is quite complex and there is no way I can fully explain the solution in one article. However, it could be summarized to this: “Support good artists, and enough create resources so that they can support themselves.”
To commercially grow the performing arts industry, there needs to be more promotion of their material. The quality of their work should be reflected in the recognition they receive and vice versa. Adding a curriculum that encourages extracurricular activities from a young age can also be a powerful tool.
Most importantly though, the culture of disregarding the arts in our industry needs to be changed. As long as people see the arts as something secondary, the industry will not do well. Obviously, there is more to it than that, but a change in perspective can go a long way.
Looking ahead and final thoughts
The cycle starts with the audience’s problem. The audience problem, in an oversimplified statement, solves itself when people’s standard of living increases. And fortunately for us, at least in urban areas, the standard of living is increasing. Pubs, cafes, and small businesses are opening all around Nepal. People are starting to support artists through commission work, promotional ads and as the young generation takes over, artists are starting to be valued more and more.
The fundamental problems I laid out are still far from being solved. But looking ahead two, three decades, I see hope for the industry. Extraordinary young artists like Abhin Bho, Sajjan Raj Vaidya, Jholey, Abhisek Bhadra among others, are evolving and steering the performing arts towards a new generation of recognition, stability, and creativity. Overall, the future doesn’t look so bleak.