Sri Lanka is known for talented artists that add value to the culture, heritage and diversity of the country. Both artists and art lovers alike look forward to ‘Kala Pola’ as Sri Lanka’s renowned annual fair for visual art. Conceptualized by the George Keyt Foundation in 1993 and supported by the unbroken patronage of the John Keells Group over the past 27 years, `Kala Pola’ has been promoting Sri Lankan art and providing opportunities for local artists over the past 28 years.
‘Kala Pola’ focuses on fostering a space for artists and sculptors to learn, network and market art given the limited opportunities that are available to promote their work outside gallery spaces. The ongoing pandemic has exacerbated the challenges. As a solution to gathering restrictions, the art fair was hosted as an online event for the first time in 2021. The month-long event hosted on John Keells Foundation’s digital art gallery site www.srilankanartgallery.com from 21st February to 21st March featured over 4,000 works of 202 Sri Lankan artists. The event received a remarkable response attracting over 56,000 visitors from various parts of the world. Over 240 pieces of art were sold online to buyers in and outside Sri Lanka with artists also receiving commissioned orders. With Nations Trust Bank (NTB) coming onboard as its Banking Partner, NTB’s Private Banking customers were hosted to an exclusive preview of the online event on 20th February, one-day prior to opening for the general public, which also enhanced market potential of artists.
Sharing his feedback on the virtual event, senior artist based in Galle. Mr. Thushan Illeperumarachchi stated that “Even though I was quite skeptical about an art fair being taken online at first, I managed to sell about 17 paintings online and even though it was a new experience I think it was successful as it attracted many local and international buyers. As the event was one month long, it allowed buyers to leisurely go through our work and pick what they like. I hope we can continue both online and onsite Kala Pola in the future.”
The virtual event also featured four fringe events to better engage collectors, artists, kids and art lovers through `A Collector’s Guide – Start and build your own Art collection’, two panel discussions entitled ‘Digital Transformation in the Art Industry’ and `Do Artists have a Place?’ featuring art experts and senior artists respectively and a workshop for kids on leaf painting and clay making with the Cora Abraham Art school, all of which were streamed live and are available on the Kala Pola Facebook page.
The online event was followed by a one-day pilot pop-up sale held at Arcade Independence Square, Colombo 07 featuring 25 senior artists who have been part of the event for 15 or more years. The event which was held in strict accordance to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, attracted 978 visitors and generated over LKR.1.46 million in estimated sales revenue. Over 50 John Keells staff volunteers supported both initiatives.
Mr. Michael Anthonisz, Chairman, George Keyt Foundation said “We are indeed very grateful to our partner – John Keells Group – for being agile and innovative in taking Kala Pola online this year, and providing artists a global platform for their work, despite the ongoing pandemic. Both events created an opportunity to exhibit and sell works of art and in these trying times this was of immense benefit to our artists. The George Keyt Foundation is very happy with the outcome of both events and values the continued support of John Keells in organizing and funding this event.”
“At a time when many local artists have been severely affected in reaching out to buyers as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the John Keells Group together with the George Keyt Foundation remain committed to support and promote Sri Lankan artists”, said Ms. Carmeline Jayasuriya, Head of Operations, John Keells Foundation. “We are delighted at the response received from both artists and buyers to the pilot online event this year and hope to continue hosting such events to further the objectives of Kala Pola as well as the Group’s wider roadmap within the focus area of Arts and Culture”.
Arts & Culture is one of the six focus areas of John Keells Foundation – the CSR entity of John Keells Holdings PLC (JKH), Sri Lanka’s largest listed conglomerate in the Colombo Stock Exchange operating over 70 companies in 7 diverse industry sectors. With a history of over 150 years, John Keells Group provides employment to over 14,000 persons and has been ranked as Sri Lanka’s ‘Most Respected Entity’ for the last 15 Years by LMD Magazine. Whilst being a full member of the World Economic Forum and a Participant of the UN Global Compact, JKH drives its CSR vision of “Empowering the Nation for Tomorrow” through John Keells Foundation and through the social entrepreneurship initiative, ‘Plasticcycle’, which is a catalyst in significantly reducing plastic pollution in Sri Lanka.