Founded by the noted dancer and cultural revivalist Rukmini Devi Arundale, the Kalakshetra Foundation is an institution in the South Indian city of Chennai dedicated to the study and performance of fine arts. In its current form, it includes a library, an archive, a museum, a textile-crafts centre, dedicated performance spaces and hostels.
The Foundation was established in January, 1936, by Arundale, who began by training a small group of students in bharatanatyam. At the time, it was known as the International Centre for the Arts and was located on the premises of the Theosophical Society in Madras (now Chennai). The new campus at Thiruvanmiyur in Chennai was established in 1962. In 1993, the Foundation was recognised by the Government of India as an Institute of National Importance and it is now an autonomous body under the central government’s Ministry of Culture.
The fine arts institution at the Foundation, known as the Rukmini Devi College of Fine Arts, offers academic programmes in bharatanatyam, Carnatic music and visual arts to students who reside on campus. These programmes cover subjects such as music and musical instruments, visual arts, history and heritage. Several alumni of the institution have been awarded the Padma Shri and Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards. Among its notable alumni are Leela Samson (who was also the Foundation director from 2005 to 2012), Swagata Sen Pillai and Ananda Shankar Jayant. Apart from the fine arts institution, the Foundation also manages schools of varied academic stages, such as secondary and higher secondary schools.
A year after establishing the institute, Arundale also set up a weaver’s centre, inspired by the deep ties between Indian textiles and the performing arts. The centre, now known as the Crafts Education and Research Centre, produced all the costumes for her performances. In the 1950s, the Centre received assistance from the All India Handicrafts and Handloom Board – which was headed by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay at the time – to set up a new building for the weavers and to establish a research centre to revive the use of natural dyes in textile practices. In 1978, the Srikalahasti kalamkari and the Masulipatnam block-printing styles were also introduced at the Centre. It currently supports weavers and traditional craftsmen, with the latter training women from low-income groups in kalamkari.
The Foundation publishes books on performing arts as well as films of dance dramas. Arundale founded and edited the institute’s quarterly journal from 1977 to 1985. After a hiatus, the journal was revived in 2014. Alongside these initiatives, the Foundation also supports a performing repertory and stages an annual arts festival as well as various performances.
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