President Maithripala Sirisena declared open Sri Lanka’s first permanent road-side gallery for the 60 plus artists who sell their work on the side-walks of Green Path, along the leafy, Viharamahadevi Park in Colombo 07. The project, initiated by Hon Faiszer Musthapha, Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government, was launched amongst a host of government dignitaries, diplomats and corporate luminaries.
The gallery is a composition of 25 sheltered display units that were handed over to their respective owners at the opening ceremony by the President who noted that the project was very much in line with the government’s vision to empower and encourage local artists as he believed that creators, through their respective media, have the ability to inspire a more sensitive, sensible and a perceptive society.
Commending the initiative, treasurer of the Colombo Street Art Society, Lakshman Dissanayaka said: “The Open Air Art Gallery is a dream comes true for us. We have been on the streets for the last 10-15 years and requested every government during that period to give us a space like this – with a roof over our heads, at the very least – so we don’t have to take our paintings and run for cover at the slightest drizzle. We are grateful to Minister Musthapha for listening to us and taking the initiative in creating a comfortable and dignified atmosphere we can thrive in.”
Minister for Provincial Councils and Local Government, Hon Faiszer Musthapha said he was delighted to provide the permanent display structure cum shelter, for the artists. “This is a long felt need by the artists and I felt it my duty to assist in providing the structure. This is the 1st step in a long path towards perhaps global recognition of the artists and creating an ‘art hub’ which will attract art enthusiast from all over the world. Notably, the avenue will become a ‘must visit’ for tourists to visit and pick a piece of Sri Lankan art”
“Furthermore, these talented professionals need not run for cover to protect their precious work every time there is even a drizzle of rain”
Another street artist, Sarath Yatawara believed that the Open Air Art Gallery was a timely investment especially considering that fewer new artists enter the industry currently compared to a decade ago due to the perception that creating art is not profitable in Sri Lanka.
“There were several obvious disadvantages of selling our work on the either side of Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha. First was safeguarding paintings from harsh sunlight, dust and rainy weather. The second challenge was people’s negative perception about street art as it is still a relatively new concept to Sri Lanka; most people subconsciously associate street and pavement with qualities like ‘cheap’ and ‘substandard. I believe the new gallery will help with fixing this mindset.”
Yatawara who has been a street artist for over 12 years said that he was confident that if the government continues to extend its assistance to artists, Sri Lanka in near future can emerge as an ‘art hub’ that attracts art enthusiasts from all over the world.
In the second phase of the project, further 25 sheltered units are to be installed allowing more artists to showcase their work and to have a dignified marketplace.