Evolution of the Bengal Arts Programme
The Bengal Arts Programme was envisioned in 1987 to nurture and encourage the practice of the arts in Bangladesh, and to highlight its rich visual heritage. Starting with the support to a landmark S M Sultan exhibition at the Goethe Institut Dhaka, Bengal Foundation formalised its engagement with visual arts by opening the Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts in 2000 to support artists, by offering them a dedicated space in which to exhibit their works, at a time when such opportunities were few in the country. The Gallery helped lay the underpinnings of a local art market from which artists could draw revenue and support their practice. By contextualising artworks in publications of quality, the ambition of the gallery was also to encourage the appreciation of art by the general public, therefore contributing to the development of a local art market from which artists could draw revenues and support their practices. The opening of a second gallery, Bengal Art Lounge, in Dhaka, in 2011, was made to broaden the same goals.
Over the years, the Arts Programme has also been consistently providing grants to artists, either to directly support their practice or to attend relevant educational programmes. It has directly opened or supported various initiatives across the country with the mission to further the education and practice of visual arts, such as the Safiuddin Bengal Printmaking Studio in Dhaka, or the S M Sultan Bengal Arts College in Narail. It has supported the first-ever participation of Bangladesh to the Venice Biennale in 2011. The Arts Programme launched the Daily-Star Bengal Arts Precinct, in 2014, to provide a space to artists and performers to deepen their practice and connect with the public.
In early 2016, with a small but robust art market solidly rooted in Bangladesh, Bengal Foundation decided to gradually move away from its commercial affiliates and to focus its Arts Programme on research, exploration and inquiry.
Today, still rooted in its local context, the Arts Programme acts as a platform where artists, curators and researchers can exchange ideas and pursue their practice all year long.