An idyllic setting, a museum of Modern Art from Bengal, galleries showing curated short-term exhibitions. Add to that a museum shop and a well-equipped conservation laboratory, an auditorium and a cafeteria and you know why Arts Acre has found its place as the latest tourist hub of Kolkata.
With winter giving way to spring, Arts Acre is buzzing with children from over 250 city schools, who are camping out in the sun and spending hours soaking in the art on display in the museums of Bengal Art and Indian Art, taking in the workshops where artists are creating live art every day. “We have tried to create an atmostphere that would remind one easily of the art appreciation courses taught in European schools. The children — when visiting the museums — are inbibing a chronological history of modern art from Bengal and India”, said veteran artist Shuvaprasanna.
The brainchild of Shuvaprasanna, Arts Acre also has space for workshops and studios, an open-air theatre, guest apartments and conference facilities. The facility was formally inaugurated on March 6, 2014 by Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal and luminaries representing major arts from across India - Mahashweta Devi,
Karan Singh Balmuralikrishna, Pandit Birju Maharaj, Anjolie Ela Menon —came together for the launch — which was punctuated with a lyrical presentation of music and poetry. Subsequently, the Sarla- Basant Birla Auditorium at Arts Acre was inaugurated by MK Narayanan, the ex-Governor of West Bengal, in the presence of Sarala and Basant Birla. Designed by visionary architect and urban designer Partha Ranjan Das, Arts Acre is a self-complete mini-city for artists and art lovers — one of its kind in this part of India.
The 165,000 sqft Arts Acre campus is a seamlessly flowing gallery space with the corridors, the double-height atrium, lobbies, foyers and flexible multi-utility halls representing a continuous exhibition of paintings and sculptures and walls serving as a canvas for expressing creativity.
The new Arts Acre campus is located at Rajarhat Newtown, east Kolkata’s rapidly growing satellite city. Minutes ride from the Axis Mall and Hidco Bhavan, just ahead of The Tata Medical Centre, Arts Acre was conceived as an institution for nurturing young artists in the field of visual arts. On March 3, 1984, the sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar laid the foundation stone of the original ArtsAcre.
This crystallised into an institution of national and international importance. Gradually, the campus became a shelter for budding artists and a meeting point for men of letters.The modestly-built original campus was inaugurated on January 11, 1987 by Nobel laureate Günter Grass with an exposition of his drawings. Chintamani Kar, Mrinal Sen, Bhabesh Sanyal, Subhas Mukhopadhyay, Ashok Mitra, Santosh Kumar Ghosh, Arun Mitra, Mulk Raj Anand, Khushwant Singh, Sibnarayan Ray, NS Bendre, Annada Shankar Ray, Satish Gujral and Manjit Bawa among other eminent personalities were associated with ARTS ACRE. They visited the campus often to encourage the artists. Guest artists from around the world came and worked at the old Arts Acre. An exchange programme with international artists led to exhibitions by Arts Acre artists in London and Washington eventually.
So what is the new Arts Acre all about? The Museum of Bengal Modern Art is one of its kind in India. It showcases the evolution of Bengal art from colonial times including traditional art forms, different group movements, the works of pioneering stalwarts to the new generation of artists. The 40,000 sqft space includes English lithography, Chorbagan prints, Kalighat pats, the Tagores, Ramkinkar Baij, Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy, Paritosh Sen, Ganesh Pyne, Bikash Bhattacharjee and new generation artists like Samir Roy, Chandra Bhattacharya, Bhabotosh Suttar.
The Museum has galleries, named after donors, such as the Surrendra Paul Gallery, Emami gallery, Purna Chandra Paul gallery, Saroj-Jyoti Poddar gallery and Prabhat Chandra Sen gallery. The Museum presently has in its possession about 1000 artworks. The collection is envisaged as one of the most important bodies of Modern Bengal Art. Debdutta Gupta and Nilanjan Banerjee are involved in curating the museum. “We are also building a museum of modern Indian art. But it is not yet complete”, confirms Shuvaprasanna.
Trustees of Art Acre and noted art collectors have contributed liberally to the museums’ collection, he added. Conservation Laboratory: The 1,600 sqft Conservation Laboratory is one of its kind. It offers infrastructure and expertise for restoration and conservation of paintings, sculptures and manuscripts. It has a sophisticated and well-equipped lab, that is managed by experienced conservator Partha Pratim Saha and team. The lab also has storage facility, natural light area for restoration. The Conservation Centre organises workshops, camps, seminars and trainings conducted by in-house and well-known conservators from around the globe.
The Auditorium: The Sarala-Basant Birla Auditorium, Samlap, is a state-of-the-art facility with the seating capacity of 400 people equipped with appropriate green rooms, lighting, projection and sound systems with skillfully engineered acoustics that ensure a high quality viewing experience. It is a multi-functional theatre where plays and other performing arts including film screenings can be hosted.
The Workshops: Studio- Workshops of 700 sq ft to 1500 sq ft with 15 feet high ceilings are used by artists, both professionals and aspirants. The fully equipped workshops include Graphic (Printmaking), Ceramic, Painting, Serigraphy, Sculpture, Photography, Film making and Lithography. Each workshop can comfortably accommodate at least 20 practitioners at a time. They are well equipped with modern infrastructure. The workshops are headed by noted artist Samir Ray. Swapan Jana, noted ceramicist, is in-charge of the Ceramic and Pottery Workshop. Acclaimed graphic artist Atin Basak is in charge of the Print and Graphics Department. Film workshops will be conducted under the guidance of celebrated film maker Gautam Ghose.
The Studios: There are 15 Studios of about 300 sqft each. They are well illuminated and airy. Available for artists working independently, they have round-the-clock water, electricity and other basic infrastructure. Besides a host of special privileges, the 2000 sq. ft. Friends of Arts Acre Lounge offers exclusive access to members to relax, unwind and socialise away from the city’s din and bustle.