It is the middle of nowhere, so the sudden appearance of the imposing edifice is rather startling. But there it is – a huge brick-and-mortar structure surrounded by lush landscaped grounds, done up tastefully and dotted with installations and murals. This campus in Rajarhat promises to be the new cradle of art, a place to nurture, patronise and promote creativity in almost every conceivable form under one roof, and it is all thanks to the artist Shuvaprasanna – it is his dream come true, the fruition of decades of back-breaking work... his Sistine Chapel ceiling, if you will.
Arts Acre, as the artist calls it, aims to be a creative hub that will see a convergence of diverse artistic activities. Here, artists can work, learn, experiment, discuss or just swap ideas and contemplate their next work.
Long years of struggle
Spread across six acres, Arts Acre will house a museum of Bengal modern art, galleries, workshops, studios, an auditorium, cafeteria and living quarters for artists. But as you drive into the sprawling campus, what strikes you – apart from the scale of construction – is the amphitheatre. It leads you to the museum, now receiving the finishing touches before it is thrown open on March 6. The circular seating arrangement around a concrete block that serves as the main stage is a throwback to the medieval era. A flight of stairs rises from the amphitheatre to the museum door. Standing at the entrance, one gets a breathtaking view of the campus.
The place radiates creative fervour, which is the essence of Arts Acre, according to the man behind the Rs 30-crore project. Shuvaprasanna had nurtured this dream since 1983, when he started Arts Acre on a much smaller scale. After running it for more than a decade, “circumstances” forced him to bow out. Years later, he revived his dream and targeted a plot in Rajarhat that was being developed. That was the late 90s, when plots in the township were being sold at throwaway prices. He says he decided not to seek government support. Instead, he raised money from generous donors.
Shuvaprasanna and the Arts Acre campus
The idea behind the convergence of art forms is to encourage a creative interface between artists. “Creative people connect with one another. A playwright could be enthused by a painting. Here, they might join hands to come up with something that’s artistically unique. At Arts Acre, creative people can meet, discuss and work without the shackles of government rules. Even artists from abroad can forge partnerships with our artists,” he says.
It is any painter’s dream, but Arts Acre has a lot to offer to any creative individual. Apart from the Museum of Bengal Modern Art that spreads across 35,000 sq ft, it has five art galleries, 20 studios for artists, a 400-seat auditorium and 20 guest apartments for those who choose to live and work there. What’s more, the centre will provide cheap working materials. And artists can also display their works at the galleries. But Shuvaprasanna clarifies that the artists will not be spoon-fed. The Arts Acre Foundation, that will run the show through a trustee board, will not assist them to market their works.
Depicting the rich heritage of Bengal
The museum will showcase the rich history of Bengal art through the ages. It will have works by Abanindranath Tagore, those from the Government Art College, Calcutta Group paintings and paintings by modern greats like Hemen Majumdar and Jamini Roy. It will also have paintings from the Madras and Lucknow art colleges.
An artist's impression of Arts Acre
“It will depict the Bengal influence in Indian art,” Shuvaprasanna explains. Visitors to Arts Acre are easily enamoured by it. Poet Ashok Vajpayee, for instance, believes the country has never had such a centre before. “The facilities here are truly enormous. It is innovatively designed and planned. Arts Acre will be one of the most important artistic centres of the country,” he feels. Sociologist Ashish Nandy says: “I was very impressed by it. It’s not easy to set up an institution of this size. Arts Acre is a landmark.”
Architect Partha Ranjan Das, who designed the buildings, including the museum, said the emphasis was on giving the campus an “open” feel. “Each of the three blocks has connecting corridors that allow natural light to come in. We also have courtyards where artists can interact. The amphitheatre gives the centre a heritage look and provides an informal platform for lectures and interactions. The brick tiles on the facade lend a Bengal flavour. The focus was on making the interiors comfortable, informal and energy-efficient,” he explains.
Industrialist Harsh Neotia, a member of the centre’s trustee board, feels it would be a unique meeting place for artists. “They can work, display their works and even live there. There will be a permanent gallery there and a museum, which make it a dream destination for every artist. Arts Acre has been Shuvaprasanna’s dream and he has worked tirelessly to give shape to it,” Neotia says.
How to get there
The artist, on his part, says he is ready to work even harder. He is already putting together a collection of paintings for the museum. “I have approached collectors in Kolkata for paintings. I will be getting in touch with more around the country,” he signs off.