Sonal Motla writes about Sir JJ School of Art becoming a university

Sonal Motla writes about Sir JJ School of Art becoming a university

The company is called ‘Sir JJ School of Art, Architecture and Design Foundation’

Sonal MotlaUpdated: Monday, July 17, 2023, 01:50 PM IST
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The Maharashtra State Cabinet, on June 28, approved the proposal to form the ‘Sir JJ School of Art, Architecture and Design’ a de novo — deemed to be a University. A Section 8 Company has been formed as a sponsoring agency to enable efficient administration and transition.  The company is called ‘Sir JJ School of Art, Architecture and Design Foundation’. Typically a high-performing institution, a Deemed-to-be-university is given the status of autonomy by the MHRD’s

Department of Higher Education. They have complete autonomy to decide their offered programmes, syllabus, application, and admission procedure as well as fees. If a deemed university continues to perform well, they have the potential chance of becoming a full-fledged university. 

This is a milestone shift for India’s premier institution for Design, Fine Art, and Architecture. By now most of you know this. However, I’d like to share a personal journey the way I witnessed this unfold.  In 2019, Collaborating and working with different art & design institutions, as the curator of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2020, helped me gain insight into the potential and the gaps in our art and design education system.  Holding mentoring sessions and workshops with institutes like KRVIA, Rachna Sansad, Shrishti, and Sir JJ School of Arts, gave me a chance to interact closely with the students and the faculty of the respective institutes. 

My association with the Sir JJ School of Arts, demands special mention for various reasons. Besides the rich lineage and heritage, the school has a legacy of great artists as its alumni. For me, the Dean, Vishwanath Sable Sir, was very supportive and graciously offered a space to work out of the gorgeous premises. Working from within the institution for months was a rich and insightful experience, students were excited and the faculty was helpful. Even then, certain gaps and lacunas were glaring in the well-meaning, but outdated system. 

For example, when I expressed a desire to see the ‘computer lab’, it turned out to be a surreal moment! The ‘lab’ had broken old furniture stacked, instead of the computers. I was told that 40 Apple desktops had been donated but they were damaged and a few were with the admin. The students had never been taught to use the computer for creative use as teachers were not trained to teach digital creative media. MFA students whispered their concerns about their financial future which seemed so unpredictable, this was disheartening to see such talent with such insecurity. 

On one of those days, a student enthusiastically came up to me to ask me to come and meet the DOA, the Directorate of Arts, who also happens to be the principal of the Architecture college on the campus. This was my introduction to Rajiv Mishra Sir, a salt-pepper-haired gentleman, surrounded by people, he glanced and asked, “So, Madam, are you happy here?” I smiled and thought this was my moment to be pleasant and grateful but I found myself replying ”Sir do you want the correct reply or the truth?’ He looked up from his reading glasses hanging on the tip of his nose and asked “Is there a difference? I want the truth.”

And I found myself replying, against my good manners, “Sir with due respect, you will be responsible for destroying an entire generation of students!’ I could not believe I uttered these words! Guess I was disturbed by the enormity of the issue on hand. He looked at me and said we will discuss it soon. An hour later he messaged to meet. I put forth my concerns and issues, for an urgent requirement for an upgraded syllabus and infrastructure. To my surprise instead of being offended by my accusations, he said he completely agrees and shares my anxiety. He then mentioned that he and his team have been working to make a shift in an age-old institutionalised system. On a lighter note, he said “If I had three more Sonal I would bring about the change at rocket speed!” “Try One” came my reply! Since then two things happened, my respect for the man rose, as he took the criticism in a constructive manner which is so unusual, and secondly, I saw him work tirelessly to change the format.  It was then concluded that to change things quickly one needs autonomy which could come only by getting a status as a DeNovo for Sir JJ School of Arts. 

Rajiv Mishra and his team worked diligently at getting the new ‘avatar’ for the institution, but only to wake up to the fact, that he was overthrown as the Directorate of Art, overnight for this insistence. It was a coup of sorts. If he had quietly followed the flow and not worked at trying to change things, he could have saved his seat. 

The process of becoming a deemed university seemed to stall with this setback. But the general environment was changing, especially with the New Education Policy 2020, a need for multidisciplinary education, made an upgrade in syllabus necessary. Perhaps the department understood and realized the time was ripe to give autonomy to the school. Rajiv Mishra got reinstated as a DoA in January 2023 and Sir JJ School of Art was approved to be a deemed university. 

The proposal will now be put forward to the University Grants Commission UGC, for their final approval. The Maharashtra State Government and the Cabinet have had the foresight to carry it forward. We hope that now, the team invests time and effort in bringing together the best minds in creating the syllabus and an effective delivery programme. This will mean good infrastructure, good syllabus creators, and teachers’ training, which will all be crucial to the success of the new status.

It is the coming together of the three institutions on the Sir JJ Campus, the Sir JJ School of Art, the Sir JJ College of Architecture, and the Sir JJ Institute of Applied Art as a single de novo University.

The doors to change are open and all eyes are now set to see the unfolding of the new avatar of the institution in the coming future.

(Sonal Motla is an art curator and Director at Rachna Sansad, working towards issues on art education, craft and design as a visiting faculty with a few educational institutions like NIFT Mumbai, among others. Send your feedback to: sonal25fpj@gmail.com)

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