Kala Ghoda precinct in South Mumbai (India) is a vibrant, crescent-shaped area with a concentration of historic buildings, restaurants and cafés, as well as a flourishing art scene generated by numerous galleries, designer boutiques, and culture-related activities. The most popular of these is the annual Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, a nine-day event held each February, which attracts a wide variety of artists, performers and craftspeople. Yet Kala Ghoda was not always a lively centre of arts and culture; 20 years ago, it was known primarily for its surrounding libraries and colleges, and many of its historic buildings were in disrepair.
This began to change when the Mumbai-based Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI), along with a group of architects, conducted a survey of the neighbourhood and discovered a high concentration of contemporary art galleries. In their Kala Ghoda Conservation Plan, UDRI proposed that Kala Ghoda be designated as an arts district, prompting the precinct’s artists, gallery owners, and cultural institutions to come together to form the Kala Ghoda Association in 1998. The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival was launched one year later and was an instant success. With the funds generated from the festival, the UDRI began a process of improving Kala Ghoda’s street furniture and pedestrian access, while also restoring its historic buildings, including the David Sassoon Library and gardens, the Elephantine College, the Institute of Science, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly the Prince of Wales Museum), and the Horniman Circle garden. Before long, new shops, restaurants and cafes arrived and Kala Ghoda emerged as the dynamic arts district South Mumbai’s residents know today.
The success of Kala Ghoda offers several key lessons that might be applied to other contexts. For example, community participation proved essential to the designation of the precinct as an arts district and the development of the art festival. The restoration of historic buildings served to give Kala Ghoda a unique identity in a city of more than 18 million people. Moreover, in Mumbai, where public space is at a premium and pedestrian access is scarce, the highly-walkable Kala Ghoda stands out, encouraging both tourists and residents alike to enjoy its cultural offerings and historic urban fabric.
Source: Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, report for Study Area 5