An institute of fine arts in Delhi is open to students from all walks of life and any age.

Over 100 artists, of all age groups, from pre-teen to those who have witnessed 80 summers, watched their labour of love mounted on the walls of All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society while their mentor, a 40-year-old Ashwini Kumar Prithviwasi, heaved a sigh of relief. No media glare, no interviews and no ‘celebrity’ to inaugurate this annual grand show of 300-400 artworks spread in four galleries at the prestigious, albeit quiet venue in Central Delhi, yet the participants’ glee reflected through their non-stop chit chat.

They are the students of Delhi’s only private institute of fine arts which does not stop giving admission to students on the basis of their qualification, financial status, age, gender, religion or nationality. Welcome to Delhi Collage of Arts which celebrated its 10 anniversary with students from all walks of life ageing from 8 to 86, and of various nationalities.

The institute gets approximately 200 students every year – from the disadvantaged sections to those who don’t want to devote four years to art colleges, from school/college dropouts to home makers, from school teachers to prosperous men and women who could never enrol for lack of required qualification in government institutes, time or any other circumstances.

According to the students’ skill, passion and time constraints, the course, too gives them ample opportunities to pick and choose from eight different timings of the day, at six different campuses across Delhi and Dehra Dun, and period from one month to two years. The course duration from four hours daily to twice a week to once a week, further helps seekers enrol themselves. The course comprises two wings, junior wing from the age 8 to 13, and senior wing from 14 to any age. The course content includes painting , sketching, printmaking, ceramics, sculpture, design, craft, photography and calligraphy, apart from applied art (industrial, graphic design, etc.), “in microscopic details”, as Ashwini insists.

A trained fine arts student from College of Art, Delhi University, and a passionate photographer, Ashwini had sentimental reasons for starting this institute. “I come from a financially feeble background. As a student I used to get only 25 paisa as my pocket money; that, too, in 1988. Even this pocket money used to make a hole in my father’s pocket and once he said it meekly too. I returned that pocket money to him and decided to make my own living. I started white-washing and while studying in the College of Art, I realised how much it required to get admission in a government college and how non-creative the courses were. Hence, with my own money I started this institute with one student for a fee of only Rs. 100.”

Delhi Collage of Arts now has state-of-the art facilities for its students – from fully air-conditioned interiors to wifi and camera surveillance campuses. This year he has introduced video conferencing classes through which he can teach in all six campuses at one time sitting at his main Uttam Nagar branch. He has also initiated online admissions in which with thumb machines, attendance is marked.

Though the institute fee is Rs. 1.6 lakh for a year, physically challenged and senior citizens are taught for free. “Each of my campus has five students who study for free, that makes it 30 every year. This is a part of my CSR activity,” Ashwini says who runs Collage of Art with his “own money”, and even buys his students’ few works every year when they hold their shows.

How does such institute which is not recognised hold any value? “My students get jobs easily as they are highly skilled though they may not be decorated with degrees. Have you ever asked any chef his qualification when you go for good food in a restaurant?” he retorts.

A drummer, guitarist, a music aficionado and traveller, Ashwini doesn’t stop here. His institute bestows ten B.C. Sanyal (Late legendary painter) and nine Life Time Achievement Awards to distinguished artists every year.