The Telegraph
Thursday , March 6 , 2014
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Acres for art’s sake: artist’s dream takes shape

The Arts Acre Foundation, Museum of Bengal Modern Art, at New Town. Pictures by Bishwarup Dutta

As masons set the last lump of mortar to dry and painters mixed an emerging palette of delicate hues, artist Shuvaprasanna’s decades-long dream of a composite arts hub began to bloom.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee will inaugurate the Arts Acre Foundation, Museum of Bengal Modern Art, in New Town on Thursday.

Metro takes a tour of the newest art address in town.

Waterbody, outdoor canopy and artwork at ArtsAcre

The genesis

The seeds of Arts Acre were sowed in 1983 and writer Mulk Raj Anand had a hand in it. He had told artist Shuvaprasanna, then in his thirties: “Young artists like you should grab land and start something for the arts.”

“I decided to lay the foundation for what I then intended to call the Arts Acre Village in 1984,” Shuvaprasanna says.

A scrap-metal installation of crows by Shuvaprasanna

Pandit Ravi Shankar laid the foundation and Nobel laureate Gunter Grass inaugurated the space that started as a small art project in north Calcutta. “It had to be shelved for various reasons. I began to save for my dream project and spent Rs 18 crore in acquiring this plot in 2006 and developing it. Today, it is a Rs 32-crore project and an extension of what I had dreamt of three decades ago,” the artist says.

One of the workshop rooms

The concept

The 4.5-acre arts hive will bring artists, enthusiasts and creative communities to one platform with the sole purpose of focussing on Bengal art.

It will provide affordable accommodation to artists and creative groups who cannot afford high-rent commercial spaces to practise or pursue their art.

The state-of-the-art auditorium

Shuvaprasanna says anybody from the creative arts — from ceramic and puppetry to dance and music, for instance — can move in to advance their thoughts, activities and research.

They will enjoy a range of facilities such as a theatre, galleries, living spaces and seminar rooms. There will be 20 units complete with bedroom, drawing room and a verandah. “Painter, writer or musician… any guest can stay comfortably and work,” says the artist.

The living quarters for artists

The look

The giant silhouette of a baul stands in front of the red Arts Acre facade. Three classically styled, terracotta-tiled buildings nestled in the midst of wide spaces, a water body and an amphitheatre hark back to the ancient seats of learning. This is what Shuvaprasanna had envisioned for his foundation.

“I have been fascinated by the architecture in Nalanda and Takshashila that has lasted through the ages. Bengal is defined by its red soil and terracotta is our colour. Arts Acre is a combination of my aesthetics and (architect) Partho Das’s skills,” the artist says.

The structure

The three conjoined buildings, connected by an overhead bridge, have four floors each. The front building will house the museum and galleries while building No. 2 will accommodate eateries, a conservation lab, offices, a library, edit rooms and seminar halls. The third building houses the auditorium, studios and guest apartments.

The museum

It’s in the main building, spread over 35,000sqft and four floors. The evolution of Bengal’s modern art will be showcased through original paintings and detailed literature. “The display will start with early Bengal and influences of folk art, patuas and Kalighat to how the tradition of the Government Art College has grown, art movements… and how Calcutta groups evolved.”

The permanent gallery will be on the top three floors, while five galleries on the ground floor will host temporary exhibitions of “artists who need space to exhibit their work”.

Shuvaprasanna in front of his dream

The display

A “rare and remarkable” collection of 500 artworks under a glass dome that will include painters and collectors who have “donated or loaned” Arts Acre paintings and sculptures from their private collection. “The range includes Ramkinkar Beij, Bikash Bhattacharjee, Paritosh Sen, Ganesh Pyne and Meera Mukherjee… to Hemen Majumdar and Somnath Hore and others,” Shuvaprasanna says.

“This will be the place for anybody to turn to and gain knowledge about modern Bengal art. We have purposely not stretched our periphery beyond that because we wanted to solely focus on Bengal art, which has directly or indirectly, influenced and inspired Indian art and artists. I want to keep this captured for the younger generation.”

The auditorium

Named after Sarala Birla, one of the donors, this 400-seater has cushioned chairs, soundproofing, green rooms, control room, innovative lighting, a Bose sound system and a 55x40m stage.

The studios

Twenty 600sqft studios and eight 2,000sqft light and temperature-controlled workshop units. Artists can take one on rent for a day or months.

The trustees

Shuvaprasanna and wife Shipra, Arun Kumar Poddar, Harsh Neotia, Debashis Sen and Karan Paul.