Nikhil Sardana: What is the Fundação Oriente? Tell us about your activities in India and around the world. What is the mission and purpose of this organisation?
Maria Inês Figueira: Fundação Oriente is Portuguese private institution, founded in 1988, with the main purpose of carrying out and supporting cultural, educational, artistic, philanthropic and social initiatives. It also seeks to maintain and strengthen the historical and cultural ties between Portugal and countries of Eastern Asia. Granted public utility by the Portuguese government, Fundação Oriente is headquartered in Lisbon having branches in India, Macao and East Timor.
Fundação Oriente’s Delegation in India was established in 1995 with the objective of strengthen ties between the two countries. For this purpose it carries out educational, cultural and artistic activities in India with, for historical and cultural reasons, special emphasis on the State of Goa.
The annual programme of activities in India is developed considering different areas of activity. Therefore Fundação Oriente supports the teaching of Portuguese, publishing and promotion of books. It also supports the preservation of cultural heritage as well as historical and artistic research, by awarding short-term and long-term scholarships to Indian and Portuguese researchers. Its cultural programme includes support to visual arts, focusing on the promotion of António Xavier Trindade’s Collection (permanently exhibit at our Delegation in Goa) and other exhibitions by Indian and Portuguese artists. It regularly offers support to performing arts, organising concerts and festival, performances and workshops and cooperates with other institutions in the organisation of seminars, conferences and other events.
NS: Please share your background. What inspired you to work in this field?
MF: In 1999, I was awarded an MA in Media Studies from the Catholic University of Lisbon and in 2001, an MA in Cultural Policy Management from Warwick University, UK.
For the last 15 years I’ve been working in arts policy and management, mainly on programming and promotion, both in the UK and Portugal.
Before becoming the Director of Fundação Oriente in India, I was an adviser to the Portuguese Minister of Economy in the field of Contemporary arts and Tourism and Director of Communication of the Portuguese Tourism Board in Spain.
I guess what inspired me to study and work in the cultural field was a sense that culture is pure communication, a reflection of what we are, what we aspire for and how we see the world. Working in the cultural sector, apart from being tremendously enriching, gives me a sense of purpose. Through promotion of culture and the arts we encourage understanding among people and understand the world around us.
NS: Tell us about the history of the Monte Festival in Goa. What can we look forward to at the 15th edition in February 2017?
MF: In 1999 Fundação Oriente restored one of Goa’s most beautiful XVI chapels, Capela de Nossa Senhora do Monte (Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount), situated on the top of a hill in Old Goa, overlooking the Mandovi river, its islands and bird sanctuary and the Unesco Heritage Site of Old Goa. It has without any doubt one of the most stunning sunsets in India. Unfortunately, this idyllic scenario has a difficult access, it is badly treated by the monsoon and its chapel is not permanently open to cult. In order to protect it from decaying again, the former director of Fundação Oriente in India, Sérgio Mascaranhas, and his team thought that having an event that would bring people and awareness to the place would prevent its abandonment.
The scenario is greatly inspiring and they come up with a concept for the festival that really suits the place and suits Goa most of all. The top of the hill would be the perfect spot for the East and the West to meet and communicate.
Monte Music Festival is not a fusion festival and it does not aspire to be so; it is a platform for these two rich cultural traditions to simply communicate. During 3 days, the courtyard and the interior of the chapel are the backdrops for a series of concerts that have been inspiring musicians and the public for the last 15 years.
In 2017, we will have the 15th edition of Monte Music Festival and therefore the audience will be able to witness a special programme that properly celebrates this milestone. The programme is still being prepared and more details will be released when we present it to the media at the end of the year.
NS: Are there any music scholarships offered by the Fundação Oriente?
MF: Fundação Oriente does not have a music specific scholarship programme, but artistic improvement is among the eligibility criteria of our short term, annual and research/doctorate scholarship programmes.
NS: Why do you give back to the arts community in Goa? How supportive are audiences and your collaborators? Where do you think this space is headed?
MF: We like to think that rather than giving back to the community, we are creating a sense of togetherness. In our annual programme of activities, a big focus is given to the production of cultural events in partnership with Goan and Indian partners, like the Monte Music Festival or the Portuguese singing contest Vem Cantar. The purpose of Fundação Oriente having a Delegation in India is exactly to foster this type of collaborations and co-productions, to create a dialogue and strengthen a historic connection between Portugal and the Orient.
Fundação Oriente fosters this relationship because we believe that through cultural exchange we can build stronger bridges for the future. For the past 21 years of our existence in India, many achievements have been made possible and led to what we consider to be a better understanding, a more dynamic exchange and definitely a genuine mutual admiration between Portugal, Goa and India.
I must say that Fundação Oriente has a very privileged relationship with Goa and its cultural structures. Along the years we have had the support of some of the most remarkable Goan personalities and institutions that continue to help us creating a stronger network. On the other hand, Goa has an increasingly cosmopolitan, international audience that together with the local public are very supportive of our events.
We obviously see the future with great expectation and hope we can continue exploring new ways of collaborating that truly reflect the needs of modern societies and keep both sides of the spectrum curious.