By Adria Carpenter
Divya Karan can’t dance and can’t sing — on key at least — but from Hindi and Urdu literature to social justice performing arts, she’s a patron of earnest creativity. It’s partly why she loves the Twin Cities.
“This is a really good place for creative people to deploy their artistry and be supported by the state in that endeavor. I don’t think there are many places in the U.S. that do that so well,” she said.
“When I was in high school, I would go to the library, and that was like a sanctuary for me in India.”
Karan moved to the metro area with her partner, and brought up their two now college-aged sons here, and added two dogs named Reese and Masti (which means “playful mischief”) to the family. For the past eight years, she’s worked as an independent consultant in the IT field.
After resettling, she started following the arts scene in Minneapolis, particularly the Ananya Dance Theatre, a performing arts group founded in 2004 by Ananya Chatterjea, a professor of dance at the University of Minnesota. The ensemble is composed of BIPOC women and femme artists, and it explores the intersection of contemporary dance and social justice.
Karan has been a consistent attendee since the group’s inception, and each show “really [resonated]” with her. After years of warming the theater seats, she felt honored when asked to join the board of directors.
“A performance art that illuminates an issue and leaves the audience with questions to grapple is to me the truly important and meaningful art,” she explained.
From activism to education
Karan spent her childhood and adolescence in the Uttar Pradesh state of northern India, and although she lives thousands of miles away from her hometown, she’s still invested in the country’s state of affairs and developing politics.
She’s active in South Asian advocacy groups, expressing solidarity around issues like dismantling the caste system, better education, and women’s rights.
She’s also an executive board member for the School of India for Languages and Culture (SILC), an all-volunteer nonprofit established in 1979 that offers classes on Indian languages, history, culture, etc. to children from Pre-K to 12th grade. Karan teaches her native language Hindi to help strengthen intergenerational connections.
“Teaching kids is really, really satisfying. It’s very rewarding to see the kids who are so excited, so curious about learning. They’re just soaking everything that you’re teaching them with such eagerness and interest,” she said. “And our school is curating its own library of children’s books in Indian languages!”
The ‘critical role’ of Libraries
Education motivated Karan to become a Friends of the University of Minnesota Libraries board member. From an early age, she recognized the “importance and really critical role” libraries serve in social advancement.
“My mother is a retired librarian. She was the first librarian I ever knew, and through her, I had access to this whole college library,” she said. “When I was in high school, I would go to the library, and that was like a sanctuary for me in India, where there are no public libraries, or at least in my town there weren’t.”
Karan joined the Friends of the Libraries (FOL) after an invitation from Gary Peterson, the managing director of Ananya Dance Theatre and fellow Friends board member. For the past year, she has served on the nominations committee.
“I see myself as more of a community member who has benefited from the University Libraries and from the things that FOL has done,” Karan said. “It’s just great to be part of a group that is there to support the Libraries.”