Aroon Shivdasani’s laughter and joi de vivre are her signatures. She believes life is not a dress rehearsal, embraces life completely and intensely. She has lived in India, England, Canada and the United States, travelled extensively all over the world, is interested in every aspect of life and has friends of all cultures, ages and religions..
Retired Executive & Artistic Director of the Indo-American Arts Council, Aroon is passionate about its mission to build an awareness of artists and artistic disciplines (performing, visual, literary and folk arts in North America) as well as nurturing and promoting emerging artists whose heritage is from the Indian subcontinent.
A Masters Degree in English literature and drama as well as a Diploma in Marketing & Advertising, Aroon has worked in marketing, advertising, media research, taught both school and college in New York, run a theatre company in Canada, been a docent at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, been Editor of the Junior League Newsletter in Mclean Va, acted, danced, painted, thrown pots, worked in ceramics and stained glass. She left her position as Adjunct Professor of Creative Writing & English literature as well as VP of her husband’s marketing company to take on her current position in 1998. She realized Indian arts were invisible and unrecognized in North America and, along with two others, founded the Indo-American Arts Council to ensure New York City and North America were made aware of artists of Indian origin.
Immersed in the arts since childhood, Aroon conceived and produced the first Festival of Indian Theatre in North America; annual Playwrights Festivals in conjunction with the Lark Theatre,;several film premiers, a film festival of New Films from India at MOMA, the annual New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) of Independent, diaspora, alternate and arthouse films from the Indian subcontinent; an annual Erasing Borders Exhibition of Contemporary Indian Art of the Diaspora; an annual Erasing Borders Festival of Indian Dance; an annual IAAC Literature Festival, several book launches, as well as myriad fascinating theatre, film, dance, music, literary and fine arts events under the auspices of The Indo-American Arts Council.
Equally passionate about humanity, Aroon has always supported and worked for social causes through the arts and directly with the organizations: raising money and awareness for FREA India (front for rapid economic advancement of India), The Spastics Society of India, SAKHI(prevention of domestic violence), CRY (child relief and you), Project India (the street children of Bombay), victims of the Maharashtra and Gujarat earthquakes (raised money and personally went to the disaster areas to assess exactly how the money would help the victims) , prevention of communal violence in Gujarat (presented a play and organized discussions to get people to talk to each other), the Tsunami in India(raised money, sent it to the victims specifying exactly how we would help them get back their livelihoods), and several more. Aroon was an active participant in the raising of money and final placement of a Chair for Indian Politics & Economy at Columbia University.
Aroon sits on the Advisory Boards of the Center for Architecture’s Jugaad Urbanism, Hindu American Seva Charities, Light of India Awards, Special Advisor to the Kandy International Film Festival, Artefacting Mumbai, the Advisory Board of Immigrant Artists & Scholars in New York (IASNY), International Honorary Advisory Board of The Scheherazade Initiative and several other art and charity organizations, and has been on the juries of the Emmys, beauty contests, grants, art, film and theatre contests. A passionate patron and participant of the arts, she is involved in various capacities – as a patron / subscriber / member of the International Womens Forum, Manhattan Theatre Club, Roundabout Theatre, Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), Metropolitan Museum, Theatre Development Fund (TDF), New York Women in Film & TV (NYWIFT), BAFTA, IFP, Lincoln Center Theatre, National Organization of Women (NOW), Museum Trustees Association (MTA) and has been on the Nominating Committee of the The Lucille Lortelle Awards.
She has received Outstanding Citizen awards from the City of New Rochelle, NY in 1988 ( “for the organization and execution of a French Fete to commemorate the 200th anniversary of New Rochelle”); the NY State Assembly in 2001 (“for working to build an awareness of Indian artistic disciplines in New York City, to raise money & social conciousness for domestic violence victims, earthquake victims and the victims of AIDS”); from the City Council, NYC in 2002,(“for exemplary service to the community”); an Honor & Appreciation award from the Gathering International Health Professions Network, Greater Hudson Valley (“for untiring efforts to serve the community”) and in 2010 an award from Children’s Hope (“in recognition of your passionate efforts to bring Indian Arts and Culture to America thru the IAAC”). On January 4, 2015 she was named one of the top 20 Global Indian Women by The Economic Times, India. Aroon was awarded the Bharat Sammaan Award 2014 at the 27th Edition of the NRI DIVAS in New Delhi, January 10th, 2015. On March 5th, 2018 Aroon received an Award from the Society of Foreign Consuls in New York for “Outstanding Achievement & Contribution to Community Empowerment”. On May 7th, 2018 Salman Rushdie presented her with an award from the NYC Arts Community for her passionate and unconditional contribution to the Arts. On July 30th, 2018, the new IAAC administration presented her with a Recognition Award for being a pioneer of Indian Arts & Aesthetics in North America. The same day the Consul General of India gave her a Recognition Award for her contribution to Indian arts.
Aroon’s priority above all is her family: the one she was born into and the one she has nurtured with her husband Indur, daughters Sacha and Misha and grandchildren Maya, Dru Bella, Sloane & Rishi. Their unconditional love and support is her grounding. Aroon lives and works in New York City.
NYC Power Women: Aroon Shivdasani: Democratizing the Arts
JUNE 24, 2018
Aroon Shivdasani with Salman Rushdie and MF Husain at her Manhattan home
The New York Power Women Series:
Aroon Shivdasani: Democratizing the Arts
Twenty Years of Nurturing Cinema, Dance, Music and Art
Tongue-in-cheek, she often calls herself the Fakir of New York, out with a begging bowl for the nurturing of the music, dance, literature, theater and art of India. Ask those in the know and they identify her in reality as the Czarina of New York’s South Asian arts and culture scene, credited with founding the Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC) 20 years ago. She has become the catalyst for many of the city’s burgeoning Indian arts organizations, setting a thriving cultural scene in motion.
When she started two decades ago, the only cultural organizations with a focus on India were The Asia Society and the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. She recalls, “I remember coming to New York and wondering where were all the Indian artistes? New York had such wonderful artistes from around the world but all the mainstream knew here were the names of Satyajit Ray and Ravi Shankar! There are so many centuries of art and culture in our country and such wonderful artistes but people just did not know about it.”
Passionate about the arts, Shivdasani wanted to make Indian art and artistic disciplines visible. “I wanted to build an awareness and showcase them in mainstream venues so that people became aware of them, started recognizing them and enjoying them.”
Four power women at IAAC – Madhur Jaffrey, Aroon Shivdasani, Sarita Chowdhury & Deepa Mehta
She recalls the early start of IAAC, doing just one event at a theater, and trying to get people to come. Many new families, new immigrants who were fresh arrivals had no access to the arts. Like a one-woman band, Shivdasani got initial partners involved, like the late Gopal Raju of India Abroad and Jonathan Hollander of the Battery Dance Company and created an advisory board for the fledgling organization. She partnered with the emerging South Asian galleries and with several contemporary Indian artists who had been working in isolation.
Flash forward to 2018 – and it’s a cornucopia of the arts with countless galleries, events and non-profit organizations. She says with satisfaction, “When we started, Indian artistes were invisible – now it’s a virtual Indian summer. I almost feel ‘Mission Accomplished!'”
After 20 vigorous years of IAAC, New York has got accustomed to some rare pleasures: Salman Rushdie discussing books, lives and more with elegance and a wicked sense of humor; wonderful writers like Suketu Mehta, Anita Desai, Kiran Desai and Shashi Tharoor sitting face to face with the audience, taking them into the world of words. Who can forget the film festivals which brought a rich treasure trove of independent films highlighting regional films, documentaries and shorts? And yes, the celebrity factor was always there with iconic names like Sharmila Tagore, Aparna Sengupta, Konkona Sharma, Rahul Bose, Shabana Azmi and directors like Anurag Kashyap, Mira Nair, Gurinder Chadha, Deepa Mehta, Vishal Bharadwaj and Hansal Mehta.
Shabana Azmi, Shashi Tharoor, Madhur Jaffrey, Aroon Shivdasani -‘Riot’ reading to discuss communal violence in india 2002
As Shivdasani says, “People came for the draw of the big names and stayed for the arts and got acquainted and learnt so much about lesser known artists and the excitement of their work.” Indeed, one of the most important things this spunky impresario has done is really and truly democratize the arts. By keeping the access open and reasonable, she has opened up the world to so many more people. The excitement at the film festival is that just for the price of a movie ticket the audience gets to see not only movies which are normally hard to get hold off but also meet the people who made the movie and brush shoulders with the celebrities at the Q and A. No matter who you are, you have an equal chance of questioning a star and getting your selfie!
Aroon with Shabana Azmi airlifting relief supplies during the 1993 Latur Earthquake
in Maharashtra and
distributed them in villages.
What Shivdasani did was democratize the arts for Indian-Americans. She created and curated, almost singlehandedly grassroots festivals of music, art, books and dance which became stronger with time. Her first initiative was Passport to Art in which people got a chance to go into the studios of Indian American artists and see them firsthand at work. With warmth and personal charisma, she managed to acquire an astounding rolodex of celebrities, creative people and influencers, and opened up galleries and studios, museums and even her own home to a gathering of minds in salons, meetings and happy parties.
Manish Arora presents his Indian Collection.
What she did was quite powerful – she made the arts of the Diaspora a part of daily life. By keeping the tickets low and open to everyone, anyone could become an arts connoisseur. She iced the cake with a lot of free events, book readings, movies and panel discussions where you were a heartbeat away from celebrity and also on the exciting journey of discovering unknowns who were on their way to becoming celebrities. I recall a screening of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ – it had not yet become the huge, huge worldwide success and few knew about it. Still there was a buzz and the hall was so packed that people stood and sat on the floor, captivated by what they were watching
Bollywood & art film directors, actors & crew with film curators, volunteers & MIAAC director Aroon Shivdasani at the MIAAC film festival
In fact, many movies which were screened at the NYIFF by festival director Aseem Chhabra and Aroon Shivdasani went on to win national awards and acclaim. For the audience, the thrill is in discovering new worlds in the darkened theater, and seeing their favorites often get awards on the final night. And afterwards a chance to party with the stars!
The democratization process was taken even further with the Festival of Indian Dance, where in collaboration with the Battery Dance Company there’s the Downtown Festival of Dance where a free festival of Indian dance brings rocking Kathak, Bharat Natyam and Oddisi dancers – not to mention vibrant Bhangra – to the somber streets of the downtown financial area. All as free as the sunshine and air! The literary festivals have also showcased major writers like Salman Rushdie and Shashi Tharoor but also given a wonderful podium to new and emerging writers who benefit from sharing the same space and audience.
One of the strongest feature has been Shivdasani’s own open nature where she has given the same interest to big names and to the smallest, unknowns with big aspirations. Many careers have started at the IAAC and many volunteers have gone on to jobs in the arts world. One of the strongest assets of IAAC has been her army of talented and loyal volunteers, nurtured over the years. The arts run on passion and with Shivdasani and her team of eager, creative young people, there has always been a buzzing happening vibe to all the events
Diaspora artists who got new exposure and support through IAAC pose with noted artist Natvar Bhavsar
And so in this, her 20th year of IAAC’s endless parade of dance, music, art and cinema, Shivdasani announced her retirement with one final last hurrah – the 2018 NYIFF with some stunning films and the 20th year celebratory gala aboard a yacht where celebs like Salman Rushdie, Mira Nair, Aasif Mandvi and Madhur Jaffrey gathered to add their accolades to those of the New York community which had turned up in full force
“I have loved every minute of this high energy, fabulously fun, fascinating, madly interesting, intellectually/emotionally/psychologically satisfying 20 years with the Indo-American Arts Council,” says Shivdasani. Her New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) was the impetus for several new South Asian Film Festivals from Dallas to Chicago. Now with so many younger people joining in, the arts of the Diaspora are on a roll, thanks to the passionate efforts and nurturing of one woman. In recognition of all that Shivdasani had done for the arts, IAAC and she were honored this year by both the UN and the NYC Mayor.
Salman Rushdie, Aroon Shivdasani & Madhur Jaffrey at the IAAC Gala
Aroon Shivdasani, Bardroy Baretto, Aseem Chhabra, Palomi Ghosh, Photo:-Jay Mandal/On Assignment
For all those who thought that IAAC would be closing down with the hard-riding New York Czarina hanging up her spurs – there is some wonderful news. “A group led by Dr. Nirmal Mattoo will take the reins of the IAAC effective July 1, 2018,” says Aroon Shivdasani. ” They will retain my vision as well as the IAAC mission to showcase, promote and build an awareness of the performing, visual and literary arts of the Indian Subcontinent – giving the artists platforms to tell their stories and display their talent.
Aroon Shivdasani has the arts in her DNA so she won’t ever be too far from the action but she does want to devote time now to travel and her growing family. For all those who were despondent that the IAAC and the NYIFF were going to end, and the lights would dim on the Last Picture Show, the happy news is that it’s not ‘The End’ – there will be a Second Act and the Show will go on!
The IAAC Story
facebook.com - AVS - Asian Variety Show
IAAC 20th Anniversary Gala
May 12, 2018
It was a bitter sweet evening aboard the Cornucopia Majesty Yacht as the @Indo-American Arts Council celebrates it's 20th Anniversary and executive director Aroon Shivdasani announced her retirement. Thank you Aroon for your two decades of service to the arts!
May 18, 2018
The Indian EXPRESS
Indo-American Arts Council Celebrates 20 years of Giving
MAY 11, 2018
IAAC 20 years of Giving pdf
Aroon Shivdasani, grande dame of Indian culture in US, to retire
Sujeet Rajan, May 8, 2018
NEW YORK – The grande dame of Indian arts and culture in New York City, or for that matter, in the United States, is retiring. Aroon Shivdasani, the founding member and Executive Director of the Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC), who has molded – like fine vase from clay – ingrained Indian culture in all its myriad forms into the consciousness of the Big Apple, popularized it amongst the Diaspora to organize much-anticipated annual festivals of revelation, bonhomie and revelry, has called it a day, 20 years since the inception of the 501(c)3 arts organization.Shivdasani, 72, broke the news of her retirement at a press conference at the Indian Consulate in New York City, on May 5, to launch the 18th edition of the annual New York Indian Film Festival, IAAC’s flagship event. When she did the same at a celebrity-studded gala on May 7, on board the Cornucopia Majesty yacht, announced she was stepping down for new leadership to take over the reins of the organization, there were groans all around the tables in the ballroom.
There was gloomy perception, and rightly so, that without Shivdasani, her effervescent zeal and commitment, influence to bring big name celebrities like Salman Rushdie, Mira Nair, Madhur Jaffrey, unfailingly to events, the IAAC was torpedoed. As if in tandem with that palpable feeling, the luxury yacht couldn’t cruise around the waters of Manhattan as it was scheduled to; was becalmed due to sudden engine trouble.
“In 1998, Indian artists were invisible, unknown and unappreciated in North America. For well over 20 years, we have blazed a trail promoting, showcasing and building an awareness, in North America, of the hitherto invisible arts of India through presentations of Indian film, dance, art, music, theatre, literature and fashion,” Shivdasani explained of the journey of IAAC, since it was founded in 1998. “My baby turns 20 this year and it is time to let go.”
Shivdasani founded IAAC along with the late Gopal Raju, founder of the India Abroad weekly English newspaper, Talat Ansari, Senior Partner, Kelly, Drye & Warren), and Jonathan Hollander, Artistic Director, Battery Dance Company.
Shivdasani, who grew up and lived in Mumbai and England, before emigrating to Canada and then the US, comes from a zamindari family who traces its roots in Karachi and Hyderabad. She has a master’s in English literature and drama from Iona College, New York. Her mind-boggling resume includes stints as running a theatre company in Canada, a docent at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, Editor of the Junior League Newsletter in Mclean, Virginia.
Shivdasani has “acted, danced, painted, thrown pots, worked in ceramics and stained glass,” it says on her website. She left her position as Adjunct Professor of Creative Writing and English literature as well as Vice President of her husband’s marketing company. Her husband Indur, is an alum of IIT Bombay, runs also a realty development company in New York City.
Apart from NYIFF, Shivdasani conceived and produced the first Festival of Indian Theatre in North America; annual Playwrights Festivals in conjunction with the Lark Theatre, a film festival of New Films from India at Museum of Modern Art, an annual Erasing Borders Exhibition of Contemporary Indian Art of the Diaspora; an annual Erasing Borders Festival of Indian Dance; and an annual IAAC Literature Festival.
A passionate philanthropist and humanitarian too, Shivdasani has raised money for umpteen organizations, and causes in India. Some of them include, FREA India (Front for Rapid Economic Advancement of India), The Spastics Society of India, SAKHI (for prevention of domestic violence – a cause for which she had invited some activists and journalists to her apartment on the Upper East side one day many years ago, including this writer), CRY, Project India (for street children of Mumbai), victims of the Maharashtra and Gujarat earthquakes (she raised money and personally went to the disaster areas to assess exactly how the money would help the victims) , prevention of communal violence in Gujarat (presented a play and organized discussions to get people to talk to each other), and for victims of the ravages of the tsunami in India. She was an active participant in the raising of money and final placement of a Chair for Indian Politics & Economy at Columbia University
Shivdasani also sits on the boards of several institutions and has received many awards, though she is yet to get a Padma Shri or more from the Government of India. If there is one Indian American who truly deserves it, but is yet ignored, it is she. Perhaps the Consul General of India in New York, Sandeep Chakravorty, who attended the gala, too, might read this, and recommend her for it.
For this writer, however, what stood out too is Shivdasani’s innate courage and commitment in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, refusing to let go of her cause and mission, despite the chaos and uncertainty that prevailed. She not only kept her festivals going, but admirably, expanded them, creating a bouquet of festivals. She was also huge inspiration for many young women in New York City who wanted to nurture the artist in self, found an outlet by volunteering at the festivals Shivdasani organized. Both benefited: Shivdasani was able to keep costs from overwhelming her; the volunteers cherished the experience.
There are examples like Priyanka Mathew, who emigrated to the US from Delhi in 1995, and today is Principal Partner, of an exclusive art dealership, called Sunderlande, which she founded. Mathew volunteered for many years with the IAAC, started her own theatre company, and then went on to work for Goldman Sachs and Sotheby’s too, before she decided to get fully into the arts world, which was what she really loved, and founded her own company to buy and sell art. Mathew was there this weekend at the gala, as a guest.
Then there is Priyanka Das, an aspiring filmmaker, a graduate from a filmmaking school from Ohio, who volunteered for the first time at this year’s IAAC festival. She will miss out on the mentoring after this year’s NYIFF concludes over the coming weekend.
Film director Mira Nair, voiced the sentiment in the room, at Shivdasani’s departure: “A lot of us have loved these 20 years.”