The nonprofit has expanded its support of Indian performing arts in Northwest Arkansas.
Srividya Venkatasubramanya has had a passion for dance since she was a child. She recalls being enthralled as she watched dancers at concerts or on a state-run television channel in India.
“I was a very devoted audience,” Venkatasubramanya says with a laugh. “So I used to dance in front of the TV. Whatever I would see them do, I would also do as a kid…that’s how crazy I was about dance.”
Venkatasubramanya now shares that love of the arts with others as the president and executive director of the Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation. This weekend they’re celebrating the grand opening of the Kalaloka Institute of Fine Arts, the educational arm of the organization.
In 2018, Venkatasubramanya moved to Arkansas and for several years organized an annual event called Sargam to bring classical performances to Northwest Arkansas. As a tribute to her parents, she named the foundation Ra-Ve, an amalgamation of their first names — Raji and Venkat.
Originally started as a motivational tool and platform for children learning traditional Indian arts in the region, board secretary Nandhini Varadaraj says their work has shifted with Northwest Arkansas’ population growth.
“There was a lot more people who were coming in who wanted their children to be in touch with our roots, so they started getting their children into these traditional arts classes and we felt the need for more than one event a year,” she says.
The Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation, which became a nonprofit in 2018, offers a variety of classes that are not just for people of Indian origin. Some classes, targeted to children 5 to 12 years old, are offered for three months at a time year-round. They typically meet for about 30 minutes once a week and focus on topics like dance, theater and Carnatic singing. Students can also learn to play tabla, a pair of small drums.
The curriculum, developed in part by Venkatasubramanya, is designed to help students become well-rounded by teaching them more than just a skill.
“You also learn the theory, the history and you gain identity out of that experience which is missing in a lot of other classes,” she says. “And I think that’s very important. That’s one of the reasons why a lot of children don’t want to learn it.”
Classes are offered for teens and adults as well. There are basic drop-in classes exploring yoga as well as Indian music and dance. If participants like those, there are additional, more in-depth classes that require more of a time commitment.
The programming offered by the Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation is designed to “educate, inspire and sustain.” One of the reasons Venkatasubramanya says she founded the organization is because children should not be denied access to traditional Indian arts because of where they live.
“When you come from a civilization that is thousands of years old, you can’t just deny it, you can’t just leave it. It’s a part of you,” she says.
The Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation will celebrate the grand opening of the Kalaloka Fine Arts Institute July 31 and Aug. 1. A combination of in-person and virtual events are planned this weekend including an Indian cooking class, vocal workshop, and a student and teacher workshop. Masks must be worn to the in-person events.
More information is available on Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation’s Facebook page.