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Cultural Flavors of India Add Diversity to Northwest Arkansas Arts Scene

June 17, 2019
Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation is increasing access to traditional Indian dance and music

Srividya Venkatasubramanya developed her passion for Indian classical music as a child growing up in the cities of Chennai and Delhi.

Her parents and grandmother all sang in the home and – when they weren’t singing or humming – played CDs of all the Indian greats. An avid concertgoer, Srividya remembers having front row seats to a performance by master flutist Hariprasad Chaurasia and hearing “the limits of the human voice” at a concert by singer Parveen Sultana.

“It’s just so mesmerizing when you see these masters on stage,” she says. “These performances left me joyful, excited. The talent that each musician and dancer brought to the stage left me in wonder and always moved me enough to want to go back.”

Srisanjana Ledalla performs at Natyam, a showcase of Indian dance in Northwest Arkansas.

Those childhood experiences shaped Srividya’s love of Indian dance and music, which endured long after she moved with her family to the United States in 2001.

Now as a mother raising her own children in Northwest Arkansas, Srividya is determined to ensure other Indian-American families in the region – and the arts community at large – have the opportunity to access the richness of Indian arts and culture.

As founder president of Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation, Srividya is a driving force behind efforts to get youth and adults of Indian heritage to learn and perform traditional dance and classical music in the region.

Soumya Kolluru strikes a pose at Natyam, a traditional Indian dance performance hosted by Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation.

At the same time, RVCF is developing a robust series of music and dance performances throughout the year featuring acclaimed visiting artists from India.

“Growing up in America, you are surrounded by American culture. I don’t have to make any effort to expose my children to western culture. But I do have to make an effort to make sure they don’t lose touch with their Indian heritage,” Srividya says.

Srisanjana Ledalla.

Srividya identified a need for a platform to present Indian arts to audiences in Northwest Arkansas. Her objectives were to sustain Indian arts in the region and bring more diversity to the local arts and culture scene.

She started organizing an annual event called ‘Sargam’ in 2009, which successfully brought together local students, dancers and singers and visiting artists every year. Srividya founded RVCF, named after her parents, in 2018.

The organization seeks to inspire people to learn, teach and sustain Indian performing arts. It supports local artists, teachers and students in developing their interests through exposure to, and engagement with, Indian artists from across the country and the world.

“I believe very strongly that Indian music and dance contribute a fresh and different sound to the world music stage,” Srividya says.

Dancer Megha Chander, performing in Bentonville, Arkansas.

“It is when different cultures meet that different experiences are created and one learns about the other.” she adds.

“Hosting these events in Northwest Arkansas helps keep Indian Americans in touch with their culture and heritage. It is also an opportunity for non-Indian Americans to experience a bit of India locally, without the cost of the plane ticket and the heat.”

Vinitha Vijayam performs at Natyam.

A grant from the Walton Family Foundation has helped RVCF develop consistent year-round programming. This funding helps advance the foundation’s efforts to develop a diverse array of cultural experiences available to the region.

“When we came to Bentonville (in 2008), I was not expecting other people to be as passionate,” Srividya says. “When I found out there were enough families who also wanted the same experience, I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ ”

As president of Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation, Srividya Venkatasubramanya has helped increase access to traditional Indian dance and music in Northwest Arkansas.

RVCF’s arts programming now includes two sets of ‘community showcases’ a year featuring local dancers and musicians holding performances in Bentonville. Those shows complement a ‘master series’ of concerts featuring established artists from India.

Recent performers have included violinists Vittal Ramamurthy and V.V.S Murari, mridangist Srimushnam Raja Rao, ganjira player K. V. Gopalakrishnan and bharatanatyam dancer Rukmini Vijayakumar.

Shreya Ramani performs at Natyam, a performance hosted in Bentonville, Arkansas by Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation.

“The Indian community, in the last 10 years, has grown a lot in Northwest Arkansas. There are more children learning traditional dance and classical music,” Srividya says.

“In order to learn, they need access to live performances and to see artists in person. Watching people dance on YouTube isn’t the same experience. You have to go to a show, watch a concert, listen to it. We need to have big name artists to come in and perform and inspire us.”

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