“We are building over a million-square-foot cultural centre…” – Kiran Nadar: In Conversation

Kiran Nadar is the Chairperson of the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and a Trustee of the Shiv Nadar Foundation. She is a patron of modern and contemporary Indian art and gave India its first philanthropic private art museum in 2010 – the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA). Her continuously expanding, diverse art collection today comprises thousands of artworks representative of all major phases of modern and contemporary Indian art, showcased at the two KNMA spaces in Delhi NCR with a combined display area of over 50,000 sq. ft. Kiran has not only established KNMA as an exhibition platform for new art forms, ensuring art’s accessibility to people but under her guidance KNMA also drives dynamic outreach programs to nurture a museum-going culture among Indian youth.

Mr and Mrs Nadar

Nikhil Sardana: India today is the fifth-largest economy in the world. As per the India Philanthropy Report 2022 by Bain & Company, Corporate social responsibility (CSR), family philanthropy (ultra–high-net-worth individuals [UHNIs] and HNIs), and retail giving cumulatively contribute about 84% of the total private philanthropic capital in India. Family philanthropy is expected to grow at a robust 13% per year until FY 2026. You and your husband, Shiv Nadar, are amongst the top philanthropists in India. When did you start your philanthropic endeavours? How can philanthropy be encouraged sustainably?

Kiran Nadar: In the early 1990s, my mother-in-law asked my husband what he thought his responsibilities were and shouldn’t he give back to society what he was getting. I think that hit a nerve. In 1996, he started the Sri Sivasubramaniya Nadar (SSN) College of Engineering in Chennai which today is a University. That is how our philanthropic endeavours started.

Our philanthropic interests are focused on education at all levels. This applies to art as well. What we are giving to the museum is an endowment. These works will remain with the museum in perpetuity.

It is not an easy task to encourage philanthropy. It must come from your own beliefs. There are people doing good work in my peer group but perhaps it is not being encouraged to the extent that it should.

NS: In the lead up to the India Art Fair in May 2022, you visited every small gallery in Delhi and purchased at least one work of art. Why was it important for you to do so?

KN: The entire art market has been through such a rough time. I just felt that I must do my bit to help. I did buy from almost every gallery that I visited. It was something I enjoyed doing for the sake of art.

The 2022 edition of the India Art Fair had a lot to offer. When I went in to various galleries and enquired about the works on display, I found it very encouraging to discover that they were already sold to young collectors and even first-time buyers.

Kiran Nadar Museum of Art

NS: You are in the process of building a museum and cultural centre opposite Aerocity in Delhi. Would this be an extension of the KNMA? What are your future ambitions for this space?

KN: KNMA needs a new standalone space. Today we have about eight and a half thousand artworks and would like to be able to showcase a lot more than we are with our present infrastructure. We are building over a million-square-foot cultural centre and museum together. Getting footfalls into a museum is challenging. With a cultural centre and art space, they will support each other.

The ambition of the space is to expand our reach for both art and culture. It will be a state-of-the-art building. We are taking inputs regularly from our architects and consultants. We will have two auditoriums, convention spaces, a library, a café and a restaurant. The museum itself will have six galleries with an entrance over 40,000 sq. ft.

NS: How do we encourage young Indians to engage with museums?

KN: Look at history itself… the heritage that India has and how much we have contributed to art in all the generations. We have had it for centuries. More can certainly be done to expand upon this. The KNMA is working on several outreach programs for kids and young adults. It would be interesting if we can inspire children to bring their parents to come and see works of art. Normally it is the parents that take the children, but it would be encouraging to see if the reverse happens.

NS: What do you enjoy listening to in your spare time?

KN: I enjoying listening to Hindustani classical music. I enjoy film music as well. A few years after Shiv and I were married, we used to go to the Shankarlal Music Festival. I remember one night waking up my husband at 4AM because we wanted to go and hear Ali Akbar when he was playing with Zakir. We used to enjoy going for various music festivals. Over time, other things started to take precedence. If there are interesting music programs, then I like to attend.