Aroon received the Minnie Untermeyer Award for Excellence in the Arts on June 4th, 2023
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.
Aroon Shivdasani, grande dame of Indian culture in US, to retire
By Sujeet Rajan -May 8, 2018
Aroon Shivdasani, founding member and Executive Director, Indo-American Arts Council, in New York City, on May 6, before the commencement of the gala to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the organization. Photo: Peter Ferreira.
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.”