From Chitpur art to Chiaroscuro: Art Rickshaw's Devanshi Rungta on the challenges of running a community art space

Art Rickshaw’s Devanshi Rungta tells us how the art space strives to connect the people of the city with individual artistic pursuits
Workshop at Art Rickshaw
Workshop at Art Rickshaw

The popping, muralled building on Hindustan Road featuring Chandranath Saha’s artwork  couldn't have possibly missed your attention; Art Rickshaw, the three-year old art studio is anchored by the intentions of furthering community art in a very practical way. You can drop in on any random week day just to paint a canvas and clear your mind. Besides organising the city’s biggest street art festival, Art Rickshaw, founded by Shailja Rungta and her daughter Devanshi, has evolved into a space which lets you connect with art as a form of therapy. From reviving age-old craft techniques to letting enthusiasts find their creative zone, Art Rickshaw is one of the most significant cultural spots on the city’s map.  We talk to Devanshi Rungta about how it all came about:

What was the idea behind Art Rickshaw?

My mum wanted to come up with a space which could boost creativity, where anyone could walk in and engage with art, craft techniques, no matter how old they are or how amateurish they are in art. Art Rickshaw conceived as a safe space for anyone who is passionate about art and could use it as a form of therapy, mingle with like-minded people and cultivate their creative selves.

We host fine arts classes which consists of acrylic, charcoal, soft pastels, watercolour lessons. We have a number of skilled mentors coming in every day for the sessions. 

What have been some of your anxieties while starting something as unique as Art Rickshaw?

I remember we had our first pop-up on March 26 and that was filled with people we already know. Now we have around a 100 students who come in weekly, we have people from all age demographics coming in for our special workshops, and the journey hasn't been easy. With the street art festival, we were quite nervous as to how people would perceive it, but we've been so lucky in that aspect, people really appreciate it. 

Is it the biggest street art festival in Kolkata?

When you look at it that way, Durga Puja is the biggest street art festival in Kolkata. But yes, our concept is very novel to the city, which is why it has been welcomed so widely because people in the city do want newer experiences. 

Art Rickshaw's workshops have a focus on homegrown, heritage artistry...

Yes, we've been trying to uphold local homegrown arts, we have had pottery, terracotta classes as part of our curriculum since 2017. We used to have people coming in asking for workshop on Urdu calligraphy or kantha stitching, so we made a way for that to happen. In Kolkata, people appreciate the arts. 

So, we are thinking about adding in regular local art and craft classes to our program besides the fine art classes to let people connect with the homegrown design techniques or crafts so that they don’t die out. From stamp makers and book binders of Chitpur, to clay artisans, we’ve hosted them;  it’s also a way of making indigenous forms of art accessible to people.

What has been one of the most significant challenges in running a space like this?

The kind of challenges we face throughout the year are very different, like during summers, our challenge has always been to put up the best quality in our workshop or the classes. Operating something like this is difficult in Kolkata, especially with the art market being so tricky. There are months when the business is slow and there are months when it's really well, but that's always going to be a part of what we’re doing.

Have you observed people personally connecting to the art?

This one time, we had a calligraphy installation at Chaitanya library in Chitpur and as a part of it, we had made these stamps of Urdu words, designed by local artisans. There was one stamp with the word ‘Muzavir’ which means artist in Arabic, and its font was exceptional. This young woman got a tattoo of the font the next day!

More than anything, art has always been about being able to connect you with yourself, to be able to make you happy, be it through the workshops, street art festival, it's about putting a smile on your face. 

Are you planning any long-term changes

We have been looking to expand in the near future, and we slowly we add more intensive ethnic art forms in our curriculum so that they don't die out and it is still practised 

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