Sirish Rao Artistic Director & Co-Founder, Indian Summer Festival

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Sirish Rao Artistic Director & Co-Founder, Indian Summer Festival

Sirish Rao is committed to playing his part in ensuring that Vancouver is engaged in global conversations. A writer, producer, and curator with deep connections to the international cultural world, he spent a decade as Director of one of India’s most respected publishing houses and has worked in event production in India and Europe prior to moving to Canada.

He published his first book called Leaf Life at the age of 21 and has authored nineteen additional books on topics ranging from mountaineering to retelling of Greek plays, and children’s books. His books have been translated into seventeen languages and won several international awards.

Sirish has worked with some of the world’s leading art institutions including the Paul Getty Museum, Museum of London, National Institute of Design Ahmedadad, Musee du Quai Branly in Paris and Kunsthal, Rotterdam. He has been a member of several juries including the 2015 Ethel Wilson Prize and the 2015 City of Vancouver Book Awards. He maintains his connection to international publishing in his role as Adjunct Professor in the Publishing Department at Simon Fraser University.

Since co-founding Indian Summer Festival with his wife Laura Byspalko in 2011, Sirish has been responsible for introducing some of the world’s most noted Nobel, Booker, Grammy and Oscar winning artists to Vancouver alongside emerging talent. This year’s festival is themed: Tricksters, Magicians and Oracles, and features artists who disrupt, have a cheeky wisdom, or a prophesy for the future.

Birthplace: Bangalore (now renamed Bengaluru), India

Came to Canada: 2009 to visit and officially moved in 2011.

Highest Level of Education: High School in Bangalore. I decided to travel the world and find teachers to guide me, instead of going to a traditional institution.

Favourite Past-time: I love the outdoors and Vancouver is the perfect playground for this. But mostly I spend as much time as possible with my 3-year-old daughter who I absolutely adore.

Toughest Professional Decision:

To start a not-for-profit arts organization. Vancouver is expensive and the culture of philanthropy for the arts is not quite as strong as in some parts of the world. I admire the Ismaili community for being so aware of their narrative and their legacy, where they invest and support such programs. I would like to see more of this. Supporting the arts isn’t as simple as paying for entertainment – we are investing in the storytelling of our community and our people, keeping a thread alive to our past and this requires investment. Artists need to be paid. Every festival, we walk a tightrope, when what we really should be building is an unshakeable foundation.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

There was a period when I wanted to join the Indian army. But I always loved poetry, expressing myself, and did all the geeky literary things like spelling bees and writing embarrassingly profound articles for the school magazine.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Think bigger. We now live in a world where global significance is possible so the impact could always be bigger than the geographic location or intended audience.

What does the future look like?

I’m interested in how we build, nurture, and create hope so that it spreads like a fire. I’ve also spent the last 9 years working on enabling some amazing artists, but I’d love to start carving out some time to work on my own expression again.