In 1997 Bikash Bhattacharjee, the first artist to visit Maihar, was inspired by its surrounds and images of rural landscape. Deeply influenced by his stay at the Heritage Home, on his return to Kolkata he brought renewed life into the images of his canvas. Thus, he became the first of many artists to come and fall in with the pulse of this space. Over the years, painters, ceramicists, sculptors, writers, photographers, film makers and all sorts of creative personas streamed in, making Maihar a melting pot of creative exploration and fusion of various mediums. The project was welcomed with much enthusiasm by the art fraternity including eminent painters like Smt. Anjolie Ela Menon, Shri Paresh Maity (both Padma Shri Awardees) and Shri Ravinder Reddy, to name just a few.
Workshops of different kinds were held every year with people from all over the country and world, encouraging experimentation in art forms new to artists. National and International Artists were invited in unique artist-in-residence programmes. They worked within these walls to leave behind the foundations of what would one day become the Centre. Many faces and memories filled the arches of the home with reminiscent photographs of fun moments and epic gatherings. Today they smile still as if to say they haven't left at all.

Painstakingly adding finishing touches


Narayan Sinha, visual concept & art design

And so they are all part of the story of Art Ichol. Founding Director Ambica Beri realized this space could be the source of something much greater than these random gatherings. That it could all come together under one institution that would last for generations to come by sharing works of art with the world and being a catalyst for fresh talent and established creative people. Here, artisans would be able to enhance their skills, work in scale and mediums of their choice and explore new grounds. Creative people would have a multi-disciplinary skill center to discover new and hidden talent. They could combine their acumen and exploit the modern facilities here to bring out the best of artworks. Resident artists would be able to travel for conventions and receive exposure through interacting, working and learning with various famous artists visiting the centre. Momentous works of art would be created and commissioned here.
Thus for three years under the boiling sun, thunderstorms and power cuts, Ambica Beri and her father, Suraj P Subherwal (architect for Art Ichol) toiled and began to lay down the bricks of Ambica's dreams; blue prints that needed unwavering dedication and hard work. With a core team of three good men the work began with countless hurdles that had to be overcome like uneducated labour, lack of accessibility to amenities, infrastructure & raw material and even some jealousy of local goons. But those involved were empowered by a divine purpose and Ambica's sheer grit, that all was not for nothing.
Longtime friend and sculptural artist Narayan Sinha was brought on board to visualize and create the look to fit the refined yet unique sensibility of the Khaprael Kothi (the centre's main gallery). It was envisioned to have a melange of old and new, traditional and modern, artistic and functional and ecological yet aesthetical. True to Narayan's style he magically turned junk into iconic installations, chandeliers, tables, planters and fixtures. No attention to detail was spared.
Many friends and colleagues of the art world visited while the centre was coming up and each gave an insightful and important addition to the making. True to the mission of the centre, the making itself was testament to what combined minds and hands could bring forth. The centre was created in the Madhya Pradesh palette, with the classical influence of Indian art and craft, inspirited by surrounding ancient architecture and contemporary minimalism. Traditional eco-friendly and economic building techniques were combined with modern technology to create a centre that was truly sustainable yet remarkable in its stance.
The centre opened its doors to the public with its inauguration on 21st February 2015. The opening was marked by a ceremony attended by the near and dear ones of the Art Ichol family ~ friends, patrons and colleagues who have been lending their undying support. Candles were lit by all under a smiling crescent moon, and the Maihar Band performed in the presence of Baba's effigy at the Art Ichol amphitheatre. The centre aims to sponsor underprivileged artists every year, enable and empower the local communities around Ichol and share this goodwill and value-addition with the art fraternity for the years to come. Yearly activities now include residencies, workshops, national and international artists' exchange programmes, and publishing of the annual Art Ichol journal and the MAI (Maihar Art Ichol) Festival for visual and performing arts in veneration of Maihar's deity Ma Sharda Devi and the godfather of Indian classical music Baba Allauddin Khan. Reviving Maihar as a centre for arts and music, the MAI Festival is held on 21st and 22nd February each year in celebration of the centre's opening anniversary.
To all the hands that laid its foundations, Art Ichol is dedicated to its makers, the dreamers and doers of this institution. May it stand for all it was created and fulfill the legacies of its well-wishers and benefactors.

Ambica at the lchol site


Working in a power cut under Papaji's supervision