Engineers on a mission to build India’s art scene
In January this year, Platform For Artists launched their website through which an artist could be hired
As a bachelor’s degree student of metallurgy at the College of Engineering, Pune, Pawan Rochwani was better known among his classmates and teachers for his theatre exploits than his academic performance.
“The first year, I was part of the theatre team that worked backstage. During the next three years, I was writing, acting and even directing plays. I was introduced to a whole new world of performance arts and it made me more serious about my hobby," recalls Rochwani, now 25.
Despite spending more time outside the classroom, Rochwani did relatively well in his final year, scoring a CGPA of 8.2. He was also the first person from the metallurgy department to land a job in 2016 through on-campus placements.
After a month of training, he was sent to Satara to work as a quality engineer with Swedish company Alfa Laval. He soon became too absorbed in the daily grind of a conventional 9-to-5 job, far from the excitement of his engineering days and theatre, which had been his passion since childhood.
“My work each day literally lasted under an hour, but I had to warm my desk for over nine hours. I would spend time reading online, until the human resources department decided to disable my internet access. My friends were still working with theatre artistes in other cities. The frustration resulted in falling ill quite frequently and seven months later, I quit my job," he recalls.
Rochwani went back to his family in Aurangabad and told them he had been asked to work from home. In the meantime, he started researching on a solo travel plan that he would fund with his savings. However, just days before he left, the guilt forced him to spill the beans on his job.
“My family was shocked and wondered what I was going to do. It was only when I promised to chase an MBA on my return, that they allowed me to leave," he says.
During the 52-day trip, he travelled around India and Nepal. What stood out the most during those days were the interactions he had with the residents, who told him how the art scene was organized in their own country.
“There was a lot of emphasis on collaboration and I realized it was missing in India," he says.
So, in 2017, along with his junior at college, Kshitija Sarda, Rochwani founded Platform For Artists (PFA), a space to create a chain of artistes across India.
The building challenge
After returning from the trip, Rochwani put out a post on social media to invite other artists for a discussion, and followed it up with a similar exercise in seven other cities. Most of the responses reflected a need for a platform that would help them stay connected and reach out for opportunities to collaborate. Though it sowed the seeds of an idea, it took a while for it to transform into a concrete business plan.
The initial thought of setting up Platform For Artists as a social network for artists was scrapped in a jiffy. It initially started as a space for ticketed meet-ups and workshops in April 2017. To run operations, Rochwani took a loan of ₹1.5 lakh from his parents, and three months after the start, Sarda and joined the platform.
On her suggestion, the meet-ups transformed into artist getaways in other towns and cities. “The first one was in Manali, and though it was quite popular, the numbers dropped after the fourth trip. We realized that we were doing these getaways too frequently. Besides, we weren’t making money, so we had to sit back and think of a better plan," Rochwani says.
After another loan of around ₹2.5 lakh and an experiential art show in April 2018 that tanked, the two were at their wits’ end. They still needed an idea that would fetch them money—and that came through a practice that had been a part of the Platform For Artists’ work all along.
“Whenever we had an inquiry, say for a photographer or a graffiti artist, we would simply connect the two. One fine day, it struck us that this could be a role that could earn us money and balance the business and creative aspects of our platform," Rochwani says.
In January this year, Platform For Artists launched their website through which an artist could be hired. If the deal worked out, the artist would pay them 15% of the project value as commission. For the first few months, they approached brands, event companies, restaurants and wedding planners on their own. By June, they had started receiving inquiries for artists.
So far, PFA has helped provide faculty for a media institute in Uttarakhand, graphic artists for a startup in Bengaluru, hosted comedy and music events for corporates and photographers for 30-odd weddings in the season ahead. Besides, they have a database of 26,500 registered artists. “A friend once told me that in business, risk is equal to profit. We took a while to arrive at the idea, but I’m happy to say that these days, we are finally making money," Rochwani says.
Career Detour features people who quit their 9-to-5 jobs and made their passion work. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org