The Ajala Project presents Alisha Aranha, founder of Scribble Foundation.
Along with her band of artists and volunteers, Alisha travels around India conducting art workshops in low income schools and creating murals in their classrooms. Her goal? To bring art to children that do not have access to it.
In 2012, Alisha Aranha had a decision to make. The choice would change how she lived her life. For years, she shuffled along corporate offices and 13 hour work days. Prior to that, she got an undergraduate and graduate degree in economics – a subject she chose over her first passion, art. Art school would be expensive and there was no guarantee of a sustainable career afterwards. Doodling and sketching became hobbies. But in 2012, the mechanics of a 9-5 lifestyle left her exhausted. Art was all she could think about.
“I reached the junction where I either pursue[d] becoming an artist for myself or I do something for society via the medium,” Aranha said. She chose the second and launched Scribble Foundation, an organization dedicated to art education and bringing art to children in India’s low income schools.
“Low income schools or shelters don’t have the time or resources to bring [art to the classroom], “ Aranha said. “When you are already constrained by so much, the first thing that gets thrown out is the arts. And it’s understandable, you are prioritizing the child’s education, uniform or food.”
Thinking back to when financial restrictions stopped her pursuit of art, Aranha is unconditionally driven to bringing art to those with limited access.“It’s important that every child has the opportunity to engage in art…it’s one of the most effective mediums to express yourself,” she said.
Scribble’s hallmark venture is the Classroom Canvas Project (CCP) where Aranha gathers a group of artists and volunteers to travel cross country, painting murals in classrooms of local school partners. The foundation has completed eight canvas projects so far. In doing so, the team has taken a nine hour bus ride and a three hour horseback trek in Jammu; In Orissa, they spent three hours on the daily commute between their hotel and the school.
Every project begins with finalizing a local school followed by an orientation for the students and teachers. Once the classroom wall is selected, local masons are hired. They gut the wall and rebuild it, transforming blank spaces into imagined, multicolored worlds. The project eventually morphs into a collaborative piece with the teachers, students and the community contributing their own lines and strokes.
“[The children] have to be involved in the process,” said Gavati Wad, a full-time artist and Scribble volunteer. “The idea of the mural or the art always originates from the children. It is very important they connect to it [because] they are going to live with that, go to school and look at it.” Telling the kids they will be painting during school (between class periods, of course) is exciting enough. But when they find out their classroom wall is the primary canvas, they squeal, Wad said.
With art being a tool of largely intangible gains, Aranha often interacts with confused parents and skeptical teachers. On seeing the energizing impact of a wildly colorful wall in the classroom, they too come around. For some students, the classroom canvas project is life-changing.
When the Scribble team first met Suman in Orissa, he wanted to grow up to be a driver. He had seen one car in his life and that was the one that carried the Scribble crew on their commute. At the end of the project, Suman had new goals.
“Didi, main painter banoonga (I will become a painter),” he said on the project’s final day.
Artist Gavati Wad marking the end of the Classroom Canvas Project with Suman in Tentula Primary School, Odisha
Scribble is currently funded by individual donations and partners with organizations like the Swaniti Initiative, a non profit working with elected officials to deliver development solutions in India, to help with expenses. Corporations also donate left-over art material like paint, pencils, erasers, etc that Scribble uses for the murals. The Scribble team is a transient group of 20 artists and 40 volunteers from all over the country, but collectively committed to the cause.
In a country where doctors and engineers remain preferred professions, art is a rare career choice. There is, therefore, an urgent need to bring more attention to the practice, Wad said.
“We need to start respecting the artist and [his or her] art,” she elaborated. “The people in communities who have been living and making art for generations are endangered. There’s so much [art] to preserve…we can’t afford to lose this information or resource.”
So far, the foundation has directly worked with more than 500 children, conducting workshops and mural painting sessions across 20 institutes and five states. This year, Aranha plans to register the foundation as a trust and begin groundwork to fund an art scholarship for low income students.
“Our education system, especially in low-income schools, tends to gloss over art and its role in education,” Aranha said. “In the many schools we’ve worked in, the methods of teaching remain outdated. Art-integrated education – visual and other arts – can be an effective tool to increase student engagement and break the monotony of everyday learning activities.
“This can easily transform into better education and thus, more informed social and cultural perspectives,” she said, pointing to her long term goals for Scribble.
After five years, Aranha is glad she founded Scribble. Today, she splits her time freelancing as an academic editor and finalizing documents for the foundation’s registration. But for the most part, Aranha is scouting the next wall to tear down and turn into a canvas of kaleidoscopic scribbles and strokes.
About the author: Archana is an independent journalist, creative writing trainer and a forever wanderer. She is the creator of the Wandering Local, a project exploring the impact of home on individual identity. You can read her work at wanderinglocal.com and follow her on Instagram @thewanderinglocal.