R.A. Mahmud Selim
Director of Music & Dance, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy

The Ganges Delta that makes up almost 90 percent of present day Bangladesh is one of the most ancient human habitats in the world. The vast alluvial plain of Bangladesh is watered by the great rivers of the Padma, the Meghna, and the Jamuna. The land is so fertile that little diligence is required to produce crops, and blessed with monsoons from the Bay of Bengal, the climate is very pleasant. In a word, it is a land of abundance. That is why this land has beckoned people from the furthest corners of the world, thus becoming a crucible of diverse cultures. People of different castes and creeds have been living in this part of the world for thousands of years. Numerous heritage sites and colorful lifestyles of its people bear the testimony of the rich and varied culture of this land.

Considering this, Bangladesh has emphasized the importance of safeguarding its cultural properties from the very beginning of its journey as a sovereign state. The Constitution of Bangladesh itself is the strongest binding instrument for safeguarding its own culture. Adopted in 1972, the Constitution explicitly declares that

the State shall adopt measures to conserve the cultural traditions and heritage of the people, as so to foster and improve the national language, literature, and arts so that all sects of people are afforded the opportunity to contribute towards and to participate in the enrichment of the national culture (Article:23).

In compliance with the Constitution, many government institutions are currently working protect and promote the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of Bangladesh.

As many as seventeen government agencies, including seven exclusive institutions for small indigenous ethnic groups, are there to protect and promote cultural heritage in Bangladesh.

Among all these institutions, the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy (Bangladesh Academy of Fine and Performing Arts) is the apex institution in the field of culture. Located in the heart of the capital city Dhaka and overlooking the historic Ramana Park, an oasis to the bustling city of nearly fifteen million people, the academy is a huge complex of three magnificent buildings that bear the hallmarks of modern architectural beauty.

The Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy is a statutory body under the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. It was established in 1974, under the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy Act. With a few amendments, the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy Ordinance in 1989 was accepted by the National Assembly and now runs the academy. Its main objective is to safeguard and foster national cultures as well as intangible cultural heritage in Bangladesh.

The overall direction for the functioning of the academy is provided by a twenty-nine-member Executive Council (Shilpakala Academy Parishad) headed by the Minister of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. The Director-General of the academy is responsible for its day-to-day administration.

The duties and responsibilities of the academy include promoting arts and national culture as well as creating necessary facilities for their development. The activities of the academy also include organizing workshops, seminars, discussion meetings, short-term specialized training sessions; providing scholarships and financial grants for talented artists; and organizing competitions in the various fields of fine and performing arts, and it regularly holds the Asian Biennial Art Exhibition. Recently it has completed a project in cooperation with UNESCO Dhaka for safeguarding Baul Songs, the only intangible cultural heritage element of Bangladesh on the Representative List. The academy is the premier venue for the expression of traditional and contemporary arts and culture of the people of Bangladesh, and it is planning to extend its collaborative activities internationally, especially through the Asia-Pacific region.