ENVISIONING A LARGER ART ECOSYSTEM
Kala Pola 2020
The George Keyt Foundation, founded in 1988 by Cedric De Silva and Sita De Silva and a group of admirers and friends of the renowned modernist painter, George Keyt, has pursued a relentless drive to provide new opportunities for artists. In celebrating the life of George Keyt, and upholding the spirit of his chosen profession of an artist, the Foundation utilizes his legacy to pave the way for those that have followed emergent. The cornerstone of their many initiatives was Kala Pola which has recieved the dedicated support of the John Keells Group for the last 24 years. While Kala Pola was initially inspired by the concept of open air summer art fairs in European capitals like the legendary Montmartre in Paris, the underlying rationale for its existence goes beyond the search for fascinating colour, exuberance and camaraderie. The primary objective of Kala Pola is to provide a platform to launch and sustain the careers of talented artists and sculptors, foster the development of a clientele, facilitate the exchange of ideas among artists for collective growth in style and genres, and promote art as a potent and professional career. Over the years, Kala Pola has also become a reputed means of popularizing the appreciation and patronage of visual art by the general public in a fun-filled atmosphere of music and camaraderie.
Kala Pola has helped many artists in Sri Lanka to grow their craft and showcase their work both locally as well as internationally. Dileep Mudadeniya, Head of Brand and Marketing at Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts mentioned in response to the subject of reaching a larger audience and ecosystem through the art industry, “There is something called ‘Soft Power’ in branding a nation. Why do you need to brand a nation? So that it attracts more tourists, and provides a better outlook worldwide. You can’t do it through expensive advertising campaigns, you can’t buy reputation. In this context of ‘Soft Power’, the artists can play, have played and will play a critical role. One is through looking for authentic content and then other would be story-telling. This is where art meets development. And there’s no better person than an artist who can tell a story of a village or country in an expressive manner, to make people fall in love with the place” Kala Pola becomes a platform of an attempt to reach beyond local contexts into the international expanse while showcasing Sri Lanka in the global perspective, using art as a significant element that allows this transpiration across boundaries. Dileep mentioned France’s L’Atelier des Lumières as an example of ambition that Sri Lanka has yet to reach, while discussing the Sri Lankan art industry’s potential to aspire and succeed in this notion.
The George Keyt Foundation, together with John Keells Foundation, have also initiated much change in the livelihoods of Sri Lankan artists over the years. John Keells Foundation is the CSR entity of John Keells Holdings PLC, and drives multiple long term and sustainable CSR initiatives under six focus areas, Kala Pola is its main CSR initiative under the focus of Arts & Culture which seeks to develop and promote Sri Lankan arts and artists towards enabling sustained and balanced social development. Nadija Tambiah, Head of CSR, John Keells Holdings, explored the critical role that the CSR and JKH instils in the system of the art industry, “The John Keells group throughout history has a heritage of supporting the arts, whether through buying art or Kala Pola. We try to contribute and support different entities to make up an ecosystem to grow art. When you look around the world, sales of art, through Kala Pola or museums are one part of that ecosystem, which is the secondary market. The primary market is getting people to talk about and engage in art. To some extent, Kala Pola has played that role. But there are ways in which Sri Lanka needs to uplift that exhibition space, for museums and art festivals, that’s part of this entire ecosystem. John Keells has been part of all of it from supporting the Museum and Kala Pola. We are humbled and proud to have done this.”
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