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Sriram Emani: Quality Education and Sustainable Livelihoods in the Performing Arts

Sriram Emani: Quality Education and Sustainable Livelihoods in the Performing Arts

Hi friends, it’s Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making the world a more equitable place! I have one more interview for you this week. Today I’m excited to cruise around with Sriram Emani, the founder and CEO of IndianRaga. Are you ready to be inspired?

Spiffy: Hi Sriram, thanks a million for talking to me today. Tell me, what challenge is IndianRaga addressing?

Sriram: It’s great to be here, Spiffy! IndianRaga is addressing the challenge of preserving cultural traditions in a way that is relevant and accessible to a wider community today regardless of socio-cultural background. Quality education in performing arts for a better society and decent livelihoods for performing artists is our goal.

Spiffy: What motivated you to do it?

Sriram: I believe all the skills I have built that have led me to personal and professional success have been a result of my training and exposure to quality education in performing arts. The performing arts are an often neglected yet indisputably critical part of our lives that have multiple benefits. I have learned to be respectful of others' subjective opinions, improvise with unexpected new ideas and perspectives, pursue discipline and perfection, learn to work in teams, share stories and be creative, and be in touch with my own inner self through my continued engagement with performing arts since childhood. In a world that prioritizes numbers and finite measures, we need arts education more than ever and I'd like to help ensure that.

Spiffy: That’s so awesome! Can we talk a bit more about how you are working towards a more equitable world through IndianRaga?

Sriram: Sure! IndianRaga has released over 2000 high-quality artistic productions entirely free on social media to reach over 200 million audiences across 65 countries. This includes members from all socio-economic and cultural backgrounds who may or may not have been aware of these traditions. Our work is a window into these traditional artforms for millions of people, at no cost to them. Ever since patronage stopped for performing arts, especially in developing countries, the arts have remained without a sustainable model for support while keeping them accessible. Concert tickets are not affordable to all, but social media has opened new possibilities. IndianRaga is leveraging these to make the arts affordable and accessible to everyone, everywhere!

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent IndianRaga milestone or initiative. What impact does it make on your community?

Sriram: We recently became one of a select few Indian arts groups to perform in the United Nations General Assembly Hall where we presented both a music and a dance segment to a diverse audience that may or may not be familiar with these traditions. The impact this has is to educate and promote awareness for these traditions in a broader group while making this a landmark achievement for the artists involved, who have since gone on to receive several performance opportunities. We also expanded our fellowship program to support young artists building a brand for themselves. From four fellowship weeks collaborating with 60 artists a year only in the USA and India, we now offer ten a year entirely online working with hundreds of artists across ten countries.

Spiffy: Wow. Next up, can we talk about an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from it?

Sriram: When we launched our video collaborations for artists, we did not get the kind of viewership online as we had envisioned. We kept putting high-quality work online but it did not generate traction for well over a year despite increasing our marketing and digital advertising spends. I realized that marketing and social media traction works by generating strong SEO and riding on popular trends, and I directed my team to do an Indian classical version of Ed Sheeran's ‘Shape of You’. The video went viral and boosted viewership for our entire catalog of videos. I learned that money is not the solution to everything and that we need to be part of broader conversations to stay relevant. The arts have always been a means of social critique!

Spiffy: Before I let you go, what is something you've unexpectedly learned from someone recently?

Sriram: I learned recently from a TED talk that contemporary neuroplasticity studies show that the brain continues to grow since we learn new things even when we age. The dominant narrative in several South Asian circles was that learning stops after a certain age, and we are now actively disseminating this message to several senior citizens and adults so that they can pursue learning an artform regardless of age.

Spiffy: That’s certainly inspired me! Thanks for speaking with me today, Sriram—it’s been an honor!

Sriram Emani is the Founder and CEO of IndianRaga. He is a TEDx speaker who has previously worked in strategy roles at Lincoln Center and Sony Music. He started the marketing and business development team at the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in Mumbai, and was a Consultant to Disney Theatrical Group. Sriram is an alumnus of the MIT Sloan School of Management where he was a Siebel Scholar and a Tata Fellow. (First published on the Ladderworks website on April 4, 2022.)

© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.