Friday, January 13, 2023

Academy of Fine Arts struggle for survival continues, now against the 'so-called' politics


People would have died for the Academy of Fine Arts, situated in the heart of the city in any other metropolis. None could have ignored the Academy which has a periphery of green public space, highly conducive to public transport, six free-flowing exhibition galleries comprising an area of 6300 square feet, an auditorium that has been hosting historic and revolutionary plays over the decades, and exceptional collection of contemporary paintings (not less than 1300), textiles, carpets, manuscripts as well as the sculptures created by legendary Ramkinkar Baij. 

The Academy of Fine Arts has not been unfortunately taken care of by the state government even though the sprawling Rabindra Sadan, Sishir Mancha, and Nandan with Bangla Academy were acquired by the state government as its property. The consequence was clear. The historic institution that was originally introduced in 1933 on the premises of the Indian Museum and later shifted to its present location following an initiative from Lady Ranu Mukherjee and her husband late Sir Biren Mukherjee and started its journey in 1959, began to decline from its pinnacle gradually since the era of Lady Ranu Mukherjee when she presided over its destiny in the 1960s and continued till the 1990s. 

During the period that spanned more than three decades, the Academy of Fine Arts was called the 'nerve center' of Kolkata. It was instrumental in creating space for the 'public art culture' and offering audiences to have a feel and appreciation. Distinguished scholars of the history of art and theatre-world across the country made incessant productions of culture and new explorations over the years.

The hall received a rude blow in 2020 that lasted till the middle of 2021 courtesy Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. According to the general secretary of the Academy of Fine Arts, Kallol Bose, the hall used to have an average earning of around Rs 12 lakh monthly before it was closed due to lockdown. The earnings were totally zero for two consecutive years even though 30-35 employees' salaries including permanent and non-permanent employees were cleared most of their monthly salaries after the executive committee took an overdraft of Rs 40 lakh. 

Since the beginning of last year, the scenario began to change. The Academy of Fine Arts started earning and Bose informed they had earned an average of Rs 10 to Rs 11 lakh every month throughout the year. But again, the organization is facing the hazard that is taking the traditional institution to vulnerability and this time, the obstruction is coming from a section of its staff. According to general secretary the particular section of the employees is actively associated with the ruling party of the state. 

Bose complained, "The particular section of the staff is demanding back-logs of their salaries for 2021 even though we have promised it would be cleared. Secondly, they agitate and try to jeopardize the operation by calling strikes against the demand that a non-permanent staff must be made permanent who was alleged of theft. How can we fulfill this demand?" 

Amidst the disturbance and lack of financial assistance, the executive committee is trying to make a reformation of its famous museum that has been closed to the public for around the last 10 years. Bose lamented, "The budget for the reformation and repairing of the museum along with the galleries was around Rs 8 crores. We received only Rs 50 lakh almost 15 years ago through a central government scheme. Still, there are nearly 1300 rare paintings and a few rare manuscripts. We have approached the central government, and state government a couple of times for financial assistance, but have not yet received any response." 

Still, patchwork is going at the museum and it is likely to be opened to the public once again soon. The people will again obtain the opportunity to witness the rare paintings of Nandalal Bose, and Abanindranath Tagore, and rare manuscript of Bhanusingher Padabali. 

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