I’m delighted to announce Make Happy’s partnership with the G5A Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the project from Founding Director Anuradha Parikh. I first had the pleasure of working with Anuradha back in 1986 on two documentary films between finishing school and starting university. Two weeks ago I travelled to Mumbai to meet her again, as well as the staff, artists and local community behind the project.

Anuradha and I had discussed at length the creative community in Mumbai. In a city seeing rapid regeneration and economic change, the arts and innovative processes have suffered, and G5A responds to this. Its mission is to be a centre for creative expression that encourages participation from the marginalised as well as the elite, and to build a model of participatory neighbourhood governance and management within the local community. These goals will empower its inhabitants to enact effective change.

Urban studies academic Richard Florida theorises that to define a city as creative it must nurture the ‘3 Ts’: talent, technology and tolerance. G5A pushes for these through its mission. Additionally, Anuradha and I fervently believe that the best approach to tackling the issues Mumbai faces is in itself a creative one.

To this end, I facilitated a number of workshops at G5A’s launch week aimed at getting people thinking about what constitutes a creative city, harnessing applied imagination to empower participants to take real world actions. The workshops opened people up to techniques that allowed for radical change of thought to address problems. I introduced Lego Serious Play as a tool to nurture open communication, with people from diverse backgrounds getting comfortable around one another. Each person built a model expressing what they thought was a key characteristic of a creative city. We brought models together to discuss what, how and why each element could come together to produce a harmonious whole.

Paramount to the success of the workshops were the broad-ranging backgrounds of its participants. Teachers, fishermen and shop-keepers from the local community collaborated with high-profile individuals from the world of arts and culture. These included film makers, musicians, writers, architects and artists, including Kunal Kapoor, trustee of the world-class Prithvi Theatre.

Whilst my time at G5A was limited, I believe we succeeded in opening people up to the power of workshop techniques in facilitating better conversations. Moving forward, G5A will not only be used as a venue for the arts, but as a base to train a generation of workshop facilitators who can go back to their individual communities to discuss their own specific issues.

UNESCO doesn’t list Mumbai as a creative city at present and this we need to change. The city has huge potential to reinforce its reputation as the place for creativity and innovation in India and potentially the destination for an annual innovation and creativity conference. I hope we see the success of G5A reflected in a creative spark throughout Mumbai. If ideas facilitate other ideas, people will be challenged and pushed to learn from one another, enacting effective change in the process.

In terms of geographical distance, Make Happy has an obstacle to overcome with helping G5A. However, we’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge, and look forward to finding creative ways in which to support the centre on an ongoing basis.

If any readers have an interest in developing the arts, culture or creative innovation in Mumbai, we’d love to hear from you, as we will soon be hosting a series of events following on from G5A’s launch.