Saturday, May 10, 2008

Indian Institute of Crafts and Design: IICD, Jaipur: Looking back in 2008

IICD, Jaipur: Reflectiions on its inception and establishment as a sector focused design institute, perhaps a model for the 230 other sectors that need design in India today.

1: What is Craft: A model from the IICD Feasibility Report of 1993

The Rajasthan Government exhibited an unusual degree of imagination and vision when they commissioned the National Institute of Design in March 1991 to conduct a research project leading to the creation of a feasibility report for a new School of Crafts, as it was called then. The then Chief Secretary, Mr M L Mehta and the Commissioner of Industries Mr R S Sisodia were the high level team that spearheaded the Governments’ initiative and at the operational level it was the management of the RAJSICO and the Office of the Director of Industries that was given the responsibility of steering and managing the project as it went through the research, evaluation and proposal phase over the next two years. The feasibility report submitted by the NID team of J A Panchal and M P Ranjan was approved in April 1993 by the State Government and under the direct control of the RAJSICO it was decided to set up an instuitute at Jaipur as proposed in our report, the draft of which had been discussed at a well attended round-table and workshop that was held in February 1992. The feasibility report itself was based on a set of nine models that captured the contours of the domain that was to be influenced and led on to the products and by-products of the proposed institute. These models defined the term crafts as an economic development activity that was located in the cusp of core areas of employment in the rural sector that drew their opportunities from the major agricultural sector on the one side and the social and cultural activities on the other while the central focus had the crafts as an industry that employed the largest number of people after the agri-sector in India. Other models spelt out the linkages and constituents and the profile of programmes and activities. The schedule of education programmes as well as that of spaces led to an organizational structure that was developed with the assistance of faculty from the IRMA, Anand and the IIMA, Ahmedabad. These also envisaged the stages of creation of the institute and the ideal location for its establishment and the impact that it could have on the crafts sector as a whole. The last model enlisted the proposed outcomes. These nine models helped make visible the core ideas that were included in the text of the document and these were particularly significant since many of the stake-holders were not expected to read the full text of the document but could still get a birds-eye-view of the substantive proposals that were included in the report. From our experience this was a very effective strategy since most people had a clear understanding of the intentions of the institute if not the methods and means to realise the stated objectives.

2: Schedule of Programmes for the IICD from the Feasibility Report

The institute was commissioned in early 1994 and a Governing Council was constituted which included representatives from the Rajasthan Government under the Chairmanship of the Chief Secretary. The external members included the Development Commissioner of Handicrafts, the Directors off NIFT and NID as well as some prominent master-crafts-persons and this composition demonstrated the seriousness with which the Government viewed the role of the institute at the very inception. The stated mission of the institute, which was accepted by the State Government, was to make an institute of national importance that would focus on the creation of knowledge and human resources for the benefit of the crafts sector using design as the prime driving principle. This was a visionary step at a time when all the resources that were being invested into the crafts sector were entirely in the nature of grants and aid that supported the training of craftsmen as well as support for crafts promotion activities such as market meets, museums and retail stores for the handicrafts sector. While doing our research we found that there was not a single institute or university department anywhere in the country that was mandated to develop knowledge resources for the crafts sector although NID and NIFT as well as some design programmes at the IIT’s had taken up this task on the basis of faculty interest at these institutes. It was therefore decided to make the creation of knowledge in design, technology and marketing as an area of focus and the creation of educated and capable “agents of change” as the mission for the proposed institute. This was easier said than done. While the mission was understood in its abstract statement the translation of these intentions into action was quite another ball game particularly since most people who had previously been involved in the crafts sector were steeped in their concern for the craftsmen and their present condition and the need for innovation and a shift of focus to these “agents of change” was often seen as another elitist endeavor that took the attention away from the plight of the craftsmen in the field. This mindset was perhaps the biggest stumbling block in the early years of setting up of the institute. The need for a new institute was not disputed and it was agreed that, I quote from the feasibility report – “ There is an urgent need for the creation of an institution of excellence that is charged with the mission of developing the crafts sector in an integrated manner. Design, as defined in the broadest possible sense, shall be the discipline used and nurtured by this institute to affect the envisaged development mission and to realize its objectives. The range of tasks and challenges, which such an institution would need to undertake, implies the use of information and knowledge-rich approach over and above the usually accepted component of skills. Only an institution operating at a level of excellence will be able to command the respect of and attract the best people from various fields to participate as faculty and staff in furthering and realizing its mission and objectives”. – Unquote.

3: Proposed Education Programmes for the IICD from the Feasibility Report

The State Government made a valiant effort to set up the institute and get it running while plans were afoot to find a location for its proposed building to commence the education programmes. A core faculty team was appointed in 1995 and the basic activities of curriculum building commenced soon thereafter. The institute was formally registered and a committee of teachers from NID and NIFT were given the task of developing the curriculum for the first Craft Design programme in the country. This task was completed in April 1997, which set the stage for the commencement of the first batch of design students at the Post Graduate level. In the intervening years the institute conducted several craft specific training programmes of three and six months duration as well as commissioned and undertook a number of craft documentation and design projects that were handled by the faculty as well as other resource persons from NIFT and NID on a sponsored project basis. This helped the institute commence a number of activities that could be handled in a collaborative mode even when its own staff and faculty strength were still at a nascent stage. The next year the faculty strength was stabilized with the induction of fresh members and the PG programmes were commenced from rented premises in Jaipur city. The first batch of students gave the faculty a realistic platform to develop a design curriculum that could address the needs of the crafts community across many material and technique categories as well as the huge number of locations in India where an enormous variety has been catalogued and studied. The challenges of the programme and the fledgling institute were many. However the spirit was one of exploration and discovery in which all members took great pride in participation and the journey was quite exciting for all participants. I was involved directly for two years as an acting director in the years leading up to the first programme at the request of the Government and NID made this possible by offering my services on a part time basis in a project format that was handled under the Outreach Programmes of NID. However this arrangement was not continued and the NID involvement got disconnected due to political uneasiness that seemed to emerge from the two roles played by an NID faculty, one as a director of a new institute while continuing to teach and work at NID.

4: Expected Products from the IICD as expressed in the Feasibility Report

The State Government appointed a full time director with administrative authority and the institute expanded its programmes and activities over the next few years. However it was felt that the massive role that was set for the institute could only be achieved if the organization had the autonomy and the requisite funds without being burdened by the Governmental mode of functioning although in the intervening years a new campus had been established and a number of batches had graduated successfully. Last year the State Government decided to transform the management style of the institute by inducting an industry partner to fund and manage that activities in a flexible and effective manner while the ownership of the instutute remained with the Government. A call for partners culminated in the selection of the Ambuja Education Foundation being co-opted as the private sector partner with Suresh Neotia as the Chairman of a new Governing Council which was established with five nominees each from – the Government, the partner and from a pool of independent expert members. This Governing Council has now taken charge and a new director, Prof Sangita Shroff a graduate of NID and a former faculty of NIFT, has been appointed to lead the institute on a planned programme of growth and experimentation as envisaged in the feasibility report.

5: Handmade in India – Evidence of a living tradition that can support the Creative Economy of India

Read more about the Handmade in India book here
The crafts of India is indeed an ocean of opportunity and with the anticipated evolution of the creative economy we see a new role for the crafts based producers in becoming a vibrant entrepreneurial pool of resources that can help transform the rural and urban employment settings by creating value added opportunities that can help create wealth and sustainable livelihoods for a huge population of skilled people in the country. The institute will need to scale up and expand its activities in research and knowledge creation tasks so that the needs of this creative economy can be supported by the products of the institute which would be both in the form of trained human resources as well as design, technology and market strategies that would be innovated as part of the research driven agenda in the years ahead.

Download Feasibility Report as pdf file 386 kb
Link to the IICD website here

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