Chennai’s artists — both professionals and students — have always flocked to the rather poorly maintained IOA Complex in Royapettah. Home to the famous Hindustan Trading Company, which is widely considered the sanctum sanctorum of art supplies and materials, the complex also houses printing, framing and canvas stores. It is the ideal day-out spot for those who find themselves giddy with joy among neat stacks of stationary.
Now, a shining white cube in the midst of all noise completes the dream: Ashvita’s Community Art Centre (ACAC) thus attempts to bring a quiet energy in the form of a gallery-cum-community space in the unlikeliest of locations.
Though at the moment, the IOA complex is characterised by construction debris, and loud thumping noises, its open atrium recently lent some artists the much-needed sunlight to develop their own cyanotype prints. As part of its opening in late September, ACAC hosted a cyanotype exhibition and workshop led by Chennai Photo Biennale. The idea behind starting a space for the art fraternity came from “self-reflection as gallery owners,” says Ashvin E Rajagopalan, founder of Ashvita’s Gallery located at Radhakrishnan Salai.
“It is very critical for us to build curated programmes to cater to the market and in doing so, we made our own gallery unavailable for young artists.” Ashvin has had to turn them away owing to the requirements of the curated programmes. “So the community art centre happened in the direction of providing support to any artist in the city who wants a gallery space,” continues Ashvin. (Ashvita’s as a brand completes 20 years in the market, this year).
The accessibility of the centre is not restricted to the fact that it is situated in a commercial complex. Availability of parking, accessibility by public transport and the centrality of location are key components. “It’s already a hub. So, it completes that ecosystem,” says Ashvin. Building a community — be it of up-and-coming, student or established artists —that thrives on participation is the goal.
The shining white cube-approach will also force people to address aesthetics, in a public-facing complex. Apart from the glass entrance that allows natural light in, the centre is flooded with central lighting inside. “You can walk past, and look at the artworks. There is nothing stopping you from looking at what’s inside.”
The polished concrete floor is an ode to the raw quality the space hopes to champion. A small storage space beyond is already home to framed artworks, yet to be unboxed. Plans are on to have a digital-first approach. “We are exploring an app-based entry. We may not man the space always.”
“We also want to bring in an open library. The books are going to have RFID tags which means it will be connected to your phone and are tracked,” says Ashvin. The lending library will have arts and culture-related books.
Priced at ₹3,000/ day, the gallery is one of the cheapest in the country. While being more accessible to people who are starting out, the space does not exclude itself from the art market and its processes, says Ashvin. “It brings in the idea of walking in without an agenda, to a space from where people don’t throw you out,” he chuckles.
ACAC is located in IOA Complex, Royapettah High Road.