3/19/2006 Houston-- Hari Dayal, president of the Indo-American Association of Houston, isn't content to consult tour schedules or make a few calls when pulling together a performing-arts season.

Dayal, a volunteer, travels to India, his native country, at least twice a year, searching for talent that best reflects the goals of the nonprofit organization, which begins its 10th season Friday. The IAA is a nonprofit organization founded in 1993 to promote the cultural arts of the India subcontinent in an American context. All events are targeted at multicultural audiences. The series has become so well known among Indian performers that there is a waiting list to perform in Houston.

Last year, Dayal's search brought Houston offbeat offerings along with mainstream Indian stars. Sidi Goma, a 12-member dance, drum and vocal troupe that blends African and Indian musical traditions in a tribute to a regional saint, ended a dance extravaganza by breaking coconuts over their heads.

Other of last season's brightest stars included vocalist and composer Shubha Mudgal, percussionist Zakir Hussain and classical sarod master Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. The group has also hosted Ravi Shankar, perhaps India's most recognized musical ambassador.

Every time I go to India I find another treasure," says Dayal. "Most organizations see who is available, who is touring. That is fine, but you are restricted to what someone else wants. Many artists that we present are exclusive to Houston."

In Harris County, Asians in general are one of the fastest growing populations - 7 percent of the total population. According to the 2000 census, the Indian ethnic population in the Houston metropolitan area is 51,959 - or more than 1 percent of all residents. Still, the IAA is interested in reaching beyond its core audience of people of South Asian origin to all of Houston.

"We are trying to blend into the melting pot, like all groups do, trying to blend our culture, music, and dance into the mainstream," Dayal said. "I think India has a lot to offer the melting pot. We want to showcase the arts and culture of India but do it in a way that would appeal to everyone." Dayal said he strives for a balance of classical, semi classical, and folk performances. Many of the represent a fusion of Indian arts with those from other parts of the world.

"The  programs are well diversified. They are not just music or art but also drama, lectures, movies, poetry renderings - it's a blend of everything," says Vinay Panchal of Houston. He also noted that "many of the programs are very rare." He said that it is gratifying to see an increasingly diverse audience at the events. The IAA is doing something to let them know what is going on.

IAA receives funding from the Cultural Arts Council of Houston and Harris County (CACHH) as well as the Houston Endowment. IAA has developed a reputation as a small organization able to deliver the goods in the form of elaborate, quality programming. IAA also works with organizations including Moores School of Music, Asia Society, KUHF Radio, KPFT Radio and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, to cultivate a multicultural audience.

(Contributed by Eileen McClelland)