DIVERSITY in the arts is the passion and inspiration of Indu Sharma, the founder of Swindon’s ground-breaking South Asian Performing Arts Centre.

Indu is a woman with a mission: “We want art and culture to be open to everyone. A diverse culture should be part of overall culture,” she said.

Indu, who lives near Cricklade and is now deputy chairman of SAPAC, wants to everyone to share in the vitality and creativity of performing arts from around the world, wherever they are from.

And she has a particularly personal inspiration for continuing the quest – just her beloved husband Chandra died in 2011, he urged her to keep going.

“He encouraged me,” she said. “He said, carry on. So it’s in my heart, that I have to carry on.”

Indu and her family moved to the Swindon area from London 20 years ago, and set up SAPAC in 2009.

“I noticed there were quite a few communities in Swindon of South Asian origin, but they were divided into different groups,” she recalled. “They arranged various festivals and cultural programmes, however they were not really available to a lot of the people in Swindon.

“A lot of the time, these communities were not even going to each other’s programmes. I thought, why don’t we make it available to everyone and we could share it?”

Working with the Swindon Tamil Association, the Swindon Indian Association and the Hindu Samaj, she set up a partnership to offer multicultural events and activities on a regular basis.

Since its formation, SAPAC has offered regular South Asian cultural programmes, with larger performances by professional artists, and visits from well-known performers to inspire learners.

They set up a programme of training in music and dance. These included classes in Hindustani classical vocal and tabla (a pair of drums), in Bharat Natyam, (a type of classical dance that originated in Tamil Nadu) and workshops in various classical dances including Kathak (one of the eight major forms of Indian classical dance) as well as ancient folk traditions like Giddah, a popular folk dance in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan, and contemporary styles popularised by Bollywood cinema.

“Our focus so far has been to present diverse cultural events. We would like to share these with the general public – with whoever is interested.

“We have organised quite a few events using big international names and artists over the year, and they have been very successful with a lot of people coming. Sitar, tabla classical music and dance – people have seen that the artists we have are of a very high standard.”

Evidently the events are very popular: a recent SAPAC performance, at the end of June in Swindon Dance, completely sold out.

“The artists really appreciated it, and we hope to continue with it every year,” Indu said. “We work closely with Swindon Dance, and collaborate a lot with them. We aim to work with like-minded organisations.

“We want people to experience diverse arts – different ways of experiencing themselves – then the arts will grow.”

She would like to see the creation of a cultural hub in Swindon, one that was central and visible, and regretted the failure of the bid for £12 million Heritage Lottery Fund money for a new Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.

“We need to fight and be passionate about it and get together with like-minded people to make sure it becomes visible, and people are excited about it.

“We want to show that Swindon people can enjoy themselves, and it is not a drab grey town. Together we can make a difference, and make a real noise.”

Indu believes an enriched cultural landscape in the town will have widespread benefits for the whole community – and will encourage more young people to stay in the area.

“Once people begin to realise what art and culture we have here, businesses and culture will also benefit,” she said.

SAPAC has won the support of the Arts Council, twice receiving grants to support events, and in 2009 had a grant from Swindon Borough Council, and the Wiltshire Community Foundation, for which Indu said they were very grateful.

“We use our funding very wisely and make it work,” she said. “When we work collaboratively, then the money goes further. We can share manpower and word gets around quicker.”

SAPAC is joining in just such a collaborative project, celebrating diversity and the arts in Swindon – the performance presented by the High Sheriff of Wiltshire Nicky Alberry and called Uncelebrated Journey.

This spectacular project on October 6 at the Wyvern Theatre tells the story of Swindon and Swindon people through the eyes of the Hammerman Poet, Alfred Williams, a self-educated writer and poet who was born into poverty in 1877 and was employed in the Great Western works.

Uncelebrated Journey will feature an eclectic mix of dance, music and film, including a contribution from SAPAC.

“It’s based on a poem Alfred Williams wrote, about a place in India he stayed in during World War I, when he was in the army,” Indu said.

He stayed in Ranikhet, a hill station in the Almora district in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, in the foothills of the Himalayas.

“It is a beautiful place and he was taken by the beauty and spirituality of it. It was in his heart. He learnt Sanskrit and translated children’s stories into English,” she explained.

The poem was transformed into a dance by choreographer Divya Kasturi, who was commissioned by SAPAC. Open auditions were held in Swindon and a diverse cast of ten talented young local dancers was recruited.

“The dance has some classical steps but a lot of different steps as well,” Indu said. “We have commissioned the music as well, to fit in with the dance, and bring the image of Ranikhet on stage. We will have visuals at the back.”

SAPAC will be joined in the performance by Rachael Gillespie and Ashley Dixon by permission of Northern Ballet Theatre, Paul Turner and Caroline Dale, Ten in a Bar, Janice Thompson Singers, Wessex Male Voice Choir, Swindon Choral Society, Swindon Dance Centre for Advanced Training, Judith Hockaday School of Dance, Commonweal School Choir and Prime Theatre.

For more information on SAPAC, visit sapac.co.uk. Tickets for Uncelebrated Journey are £26. To book, call 017943 524481 or visit swindontheatres.co.uk.