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     Volume 6 Issue 18 | May 11 , 2007 |

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Listening to the Artbeat

Mustafa Zaman

Artbeat is a fitting name for a monthly newsletter that has its finger on the pulse of the current art scene in Bangladesh. Not that this publication dares to dabble in evaluation, analysis or even criticism. The newsletter, within its eight-page spread, simply endeavours to showcase what is going on in the country's art scene. It manages to put in a lot of information by converting newsworthy events into short, snappy pieces.

So, why does one need such a publication when there are daily newspapers to do the same job? The answer is found in the response of Jafar Iqbal, editor of Artbeat, who claims that the dailies often fail to give space to exhibitions by artists who are standing at the threshold of their careers. “We try to accommodate all the events pertaining to art and make sure that the young and striving artists are getting their fair share of exposure through Artbeat.” One can also add that Artbeat continuously tries to widen its circumference by including news from far-flung areas of the country.

Recently, Artbeat has completed one year of publication. This certainly is a feat which a number of other vernacular newsletters failed to accomplish. With any art newsletter, staying the course is the most formidable challenge the publishers face, as patronisation for such publications is almost nonexistent. And the prospect of gaining returns from the sales to ensure its existence is also dim, as it only has a miniscule readership consisting of artists and art lovers. Dhaka has already seen two to three similar publications trying to target the same niche market that Artbeat is banking on. However, all of them failed to become regular.

According to the editor of Artbeat the people at the helm of a publication of this nature faces twofold problems -- one while collecting printable matters as art writers are few and far between, and the other while trying to rope in advertisers. After one long year, Artbeat has set a precedent by setting a proper mechanism for accumulating news and information as well as photographs alongside attracting advertisers who are at last seeing the benefit of being represented by an art publication.

“It needed a lot of effort on our part to getting companies to agree to place their ads in Artbeat. We were turned down flatly myriads of times but we kept at it,” says Iqbal. He and his team consisting of a few writers and patrons has been making sure that the quality of the publication both in terms of its content and look does not falter. Regarding quality Artbeat remains as committed as it was at time of its launching.

To mark the 1st year anniversary of Artbeat, a roundtable was arranged in its own premises. The authority invited the art writers and critics as well as a number of artists to share views on how to improve the content it carries. As Prof. Syed Manzurul Islam, the noted academic and art writer, pointed out during the discussion that Artbeat needed a few extra pages dedicated to 'views,' as at present it is the 'news' that remains its main focus, some of the discussants immediately concurred. But others were cautious fearing that this might stand in the way of its regular publication.

“Additional pages means additional expense. And on top of that there is a dearth of writings that express views. We are always making an effort to get our hands on articles that expressed views and are running them as our lead story in the current format,” says Iqbal. He and his team prefer to continue publishing in the same format. However, he also adds that in future, when the time would seem appropriate, Artbeat might think of adding those extra pages dedicated to critical writings.

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