Outsiders go to war with the cultural elite

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The Independent Culture
A cultural divide split old from new in the art world yesterday as the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London lobbied visitors to the Degas exhibition at the National Gallery, exhorting them to "come and see living art at the ICA".

The institute employed sandwich-board protesters to lobby the queues outside the Degas exhibition with the message: "You're Discovered".

Katie Sender, deputy director of the ICA, said last night: "We are very serious about this. We find it very hard to get sponsorship for contemporary arts because we can't always tell the sponsors what is going to appear on the walls, and because what we do is controversial.

"The National Gallery and the Tate have the weight of the establishment behind them. They can command the establishment to come through their doors.

"As far as our public funding goes we get pounds 750,000 a year and the South Bank Centre gets pounds 12m a year." Ms Sender added that one reason for this was "a lack of understanding of the work we do".

The ICA did not seek permission from the National Gallery to send people on to their premises to woo visitors away, but a National Gallery spokeswoman said: "We wouldn't have any comment on what they do in a public space.

"As long as none of our customers complain they are being harassed it would be inappropriate for us to comment."

An altogether different cultural divide, between East and West, will be bridged today as the Festival of India's South, a celebration of the culture of southern India, starts with a four-day street extravaganza in Covent Garden. The festival, to be held at various venues in London until the end of June, showcases the region's music, dance, drama, films, food and paintings and includes performances by some of its best-known artistes.

Asians in general and Indians in particular welcome the festival as an opportunity to put ethnic art on the map. But there were claims that British Asians found such cultural events in this country too ethnocentric. However, "most Asians would respond much more to what's on offer in a festival like this one rather than to British art," according to Jitender Verma, artistic director of Tara Arts, Britain's leading Asian touring theatre company.

"There are a number of Asian arts activities throughout the country," he said. "But the general perception is that they are of minority interest. So leaving aside the Salman Rushdies and the Hanif Kureshis, the mainstream tends to ignore them.''

Suman Bhuchar, an Indian journalist and television producer, said: "Though there are a fair amount of performances here ... Asian art does not get the kind of promotion ... and serious analysis it deserves.''