The City of Joy it had to be called, for it is here that the seeds of literature, arts, music, film and culinary culture were sown and cultivated, it was here that the finer senses were fed since centuries, it was the city that first charmed foreign settlers. The land of the puritans and the land of the progressives alike. If Tagore were standing where I was, looking out of the third floor glass walls of the Kolkata Centre for Creativity out into the green paddy fields that lay across, he would approve of the romance of what lay above, and below. That is the romance that defines KCC, an art space that is revolutionizing the long-standing landscape of the artist’s city. Here, grassroot meets grandeur, local artistic talent shares home with masters from across the world; here, everybody can engage, and even the most private connoisseurs can find suitable art services.
We mapped about a half-hour ride to KCC from the 220-year-old Tollygunge Club, teeming with greens and exuding an elderly warmth. Of course, there was much snaking in store for us as we took bylane after bylane to avoid a big festival jam, in turn feasting on old city architecture, street scenes and traffic marshals taking us back in time. A good conversation with the gracious Charlotte Sluter of Sutton about our travels earlier that year added more cheer to this journey.
At some point, under a flyover – that unmistakable sign of a city under transformation, that bridge between the old and the new, we crossed over from the chaos into a corporate sub town, Anandpur, shining with its new constructions and promises. Just round a bend off the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass at the far end of which we caught glimpses of village and pond life, stood the majestic Kolkata Centre for Creativity, part glass, part wood – part modern, part historical.
Spearheaded by the Emami Group’s Richa Agarwal and designed by creative director Pinakin Patel who has to his name Mumbai’s Museum Art Gallery and the Karl Khandalawala Wing at the Prince of Wales Museum, KCC welcomes you with the perfect play of sunlight through its paneled walls. Arguably, that’s the best artwork about the place – it is perennial, energizing and self-renewing, after all. If, of course, you were open to comparing it with the likes of the late Dashrath Patel, whose School was the inaugurating exhibition. Positioned as a key destination for artists, visitors and art collectors, the multi-dimensional space aligns with the Emami Group’s mission to support artists and artisans and contribute to society’s wellbeing.
Richa’s vision is dominated by a concern for young Indian artists. She is deeply engaged in the advancement of art appreciation and that made her embark on a project that presents itself as an important playground for art and commerce in the east.
The ground floor has a 10,000 sq ft gallery space to host a regular programme of curated exhibitions by artists of regional, national and international acclaim. The first floor showcases art, craft, antiquity and product design, specially inviting its creative minded audience to participate in a living dialogue on improving contemporary culture. It continues on to the 2nd Floor where there is a special area on Indian handicrafts. The elegant College Steps – cum - Amphitheatre for casual interactions and creative contemplation also adapts as a platform for ‘baithaks’, ‘addas’ and other cultural events.
The second floor is for multimedia exhibits such as those by Amruta Patil, depicting Indian mythology that has been brought to life through advanced technology. At the end of the second floor gallery is a culinary arts section cum café, Grace, which refreshingly celebrates vegetarianism in the fish-eating heartland. The root of this affiliation may be the patronage behind the centre but the message of going the green way is not only interesting but very important as we battle unprecedented environmental degradation and disease.
It is the third floor where curiosity enlivens the cat. A daunting and yet lovable larger than life Ravana stares straight into your eyes, the glass roof allows in a flood of sunlight, and the library of books and art material leaves you wide-eyed with its careful curation. There’s every twig and rare element used as raw material in creation, the best of art penmanship from across the world and ample space for the mind and body to experiment. It is here that you make art your own -- the play chairs here are as good as glue. This floor also houses a Conservation Studio offering conservation services for the Arts.
The fourth floor has event spaces, a dance cum performance studio, and a maker’s section that encourages users to develop skills as well as prototype ideas on digital and 3D printers and laser cutters.
The place has been created freely and fabulously, a good example of responsible patronage and great creative freedom. “The space was created to inspire, so it had to be free and at the same time enriching,” says Pinakin.
KCC reflects the soul of Kolkata today, one that keeps the best of its cultural lineage and lets its rich history hold up its contemporary cultural revolution.
Text Soumya Mukerji