Arts Council – a haven for budding artists

By Tooba Ghani
Fri, 07, 22

Abba: “Aese parhai karo jo kaam ayae. Painting kar ke kia mile ga?” (Study something that is useful. How will painting benefit you?)

Arts Council – a haven for budding artists


Abba: “Aese parhai karo jo kaam ayae. Painting kar ke kia mile ga?” (Study something that is useful. How will painting benefit you?)

Dania: “Abba, I have to go for it. I don’t think I can study anything else other than fine arts. Trust me, you will be proud of me one day.”

This is one of the first few exchanges between Dania and her father. This is how Dania started to convince her parents to let her study fine arts. Finally, Dania’s hard work paid off; her parents allowed her to enroll for a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. Her time at the university wasn’t easy. After every semester, she would think if she was really going to earn a decent living. She was always confused and, to add insult to injury, her parents couldn’t pay for her pricey oil paints and polychromes. There were also days when Dania felt like giving up, but her passion kept her going. Now, she is a homebased artist selling her paintings to big furnishing houses in Karachi and is running a successful online business. She says her house is filled with her paintings and not a day goes by when her parents don’t appreciate her.

Arts Council – a haven for budding artists

Arts is as important as any other field of studies. In fact, due to its interdisciplinary nature, arts is even more important today. With the rise of social media, and public art awareness programmes, society’s views are changing and they are slowly and gradually learning to value artistic pursuits. Now, all we need is better learning institutions where young, talented, interested and passionate individuals can study arts.

Talking of art institutions in Karachi, one place that we can’t stop thinking about is Arts Council Institute of Arts and Crafts. A general perception is that Arts Council is a place where only theatrical performances and literature festivals take place, but Arts Council is way more than that. To learn more about its potential, we met Shahid Rassam, the Principal of Arts Council Institute of Arts and Crafts.

Shahid Rassam has been painting and sculpting for the last 30 years and has exhibited all around the world. His prominent works include the largest copy of Holy Quran created with script made in aluminum and plated in gold. His work was also exhibited at Dubai Expo.

Tell us about Arts Council. What degrees and programmes are offered at arts council? How are students supported here?

After partition, this was the first institution built in the ’50s. It was called Central Institute of Arts and Crafts. So many great personalities like Azar Zubi, Ali Imam, Ahmed Pervez, Sadequain, Imran Mir, Naheed Raza and Qudsiya Nisar were associated with this institute. But, unfortunately, in the last 30 years, the standard of the institute went down due to various reasons.

I joined in 2013 and started a scholarship programme to assist students who were genuinely interested in studying arts.

We offer two-year and four-year diploma programmes in fine arts, textile designing, communication and design and graphic designing.

The construction of our building will be completed this year. After that, we will start our degree programme.

Tell us about the scholarship programme at Arts Council.

Arts Council – a haven for budding artists

At Arts Council, I started this unique scholarship, and I am really thankful to the Arts Council for giving me this opportunity to do this with them. What we do is look for young people who are deprived of education and sent to work for an earning. They are talented kids who could do so well after getting an education in arts. Convincing parents to let their kids study arts was a very difficult job. Parents were reluctant to send their kids because they were earning for the family.

The problem with art education is it is an expensive affair. We know art supplies are expensive, so it is very difficult for the people to continue their studies. Our scholarship offered not only free art education, but also free art supplies along with some money to take home.

Along with that, we also started a support education programme to work on their basic skills like language, Urdu and English literature and teach them philosophy of arts and other disciplines of fine arts and performing arts.

Why did you choose to be the Principal of Arts Council?

I have been teaching for more than 20 years now. After coming back from Canada in 2016, I joined Arts Council. I thought to myself it was time I should pay back and contribute to our society. I am from a very humble family. My mother always wanted me to get quality education. So I thought the process should be continued.

Arts Council – a haven for budding artists

Luckily, I grew up around some of the great artists and poets like Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi, Anwar Sadequain Ali Shah, Zehra Nigah etc. In fact, Jaun Elia gave me the name “Rassam” meaning unique painter. I learned a lot in the company of these great personalities.

I always wanted to establish an institution where arts education would be accessible to people who couldn’t afford to buy even a pencil. I have been through that situation and I know what it is like to struggle. I remember it took me a year and a half to collect my first colour set.

What’s your vision?

We want to establish a world-class fine art and performing arts institute that will be an example for the rest of the society.

We want the society to understand how important arts education is; and, I believe, without educating the people, we should not expect anything from them.

If someone decides to get into arts, people question their decision and call it an impractical career choice. This attitude is difficult to change, but as principal of an arts school, I would really want to work on changing this mindset.

What’s the scope of arts education?

Generally, people think that after studying fine arts or textile designing they will find it difficult to get jobs. Or that these are underappreciated careers. But I always tell my students that if they have passion for any kind of art or skill – no matter how unpopular it is – they should go for it. There is always a vacant position at the top.

For example, Gulgee is a famous Pakistani artist, but not many people know he is an engineer and studied at MIT and taught at NED. We know Dr Anwar Sajjad for his work as a playwright, though he became a doctor on his parents’ wish. Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi and Anwar Maqsood were also bankers, but the world doesn’t know them as bankers; they are remembered as artists and writers.

It is also important to know that arts is an interdisciplinary subject. All fields of studies include arts in some way or another. Arts is as useful to society as medicine and business studies are.

Let me share few success stories. We had a student, Raza, whose father filled forms at the passport office. When I joined this institution, he had a debt to pay. So, we supported him and he went on to do animation work for the The Donkey King. And, currently, he is with an animation company at Hollywood.

Similarly, we have Jabbar from Lyari. His father sent him to work in a shop where he painted banners and earned 500 rupees weekly. For the last three years, he has been getting the highest grades in his department. We have found out that 99.9 percent of our students are doing well in their jobs.

Arts Council – a haven for budding artists

How do you deal with underachieving students?

A good faculty makes a good institution. Here, at Arts Council, we have extraordinary artists who are doing magical things. Their work is sold for thousands of dollars and they are just here to contribute and pass on their knowledge to the students. They act as role models and they are the ones who keep students grounded and motivates them to work harder to achieve their goals.

In third year, we send students on a compulsory internship programme. That also keeps them motivated.

How do you plan to revive Arts Council?

This year, our building will be completed. So, we will start the degree programme. President Arts Council, Mohammad Ahmed Shah, is also trying to take the Faizi Rahmeen Art Gallery, so it could be converted into a world-class fine arts and performing arts institute where education is affordable for all.

Best compliment you have received?

It was from my mother after my Quran Project came out. She complimented, “Mera beta hone ka haq adaa kardia.” I felt very satisfied!

Arts Council – a haven for budding artists

How do you deal with criticism?

I don’t waste my time listening to people saying unnecessary things because you can’t please everyone. There used to be a time when there was healthy criticism. One example of healthy criticism is Akbar Naqvi’s book, Sense and Insanity that explores my work and gives a critical analysis on that.

And, talking about social media, I don’t even check or bother to see what people are talking about.

A piece of advice for our readers and students studying arts?

I always tell my students to hold hands and never turn down someone who comes for help. Your success belongs to you and your family. But what matters is how you become a source of comfort to other people.