Grand Plans to See Ship Transformed Into Floating Arts Center

Two mainstays of the Phnom Penh arts scene are working to transform a decrepit ship moored on the Tonle Sap river into a huge floating arts center that will attract locals and tourists alike.

As those in charge of the project explained on Friday, the 80-meter-long vessel’s five-story superstructure will house art galleries, studios, theaters, dance and theater rehearsal rooms, and spaces for special events. 

The ship set to become an arts center on the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh (Alexis de Suremain)
The ship set to become an arts center on the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh (Alexis de Suremain)

Programming and gallery de­sign for the floating arts center will be overseen by Dana Lang­lois of JavaArts. Her partner in the endeavor, Alexis de Suremain, is the one who came up with the idea several years ago. He has two main goals for the project.

The first is simply to support local artists and encourage their work. But as founder of the MAADs Hospitality Management Company, which operates several properties including The Plantation Ho­tel, he said, “I’m always trying to come up with ideas to increase the attractiveness of both our places and the destination as a whole.”

Besides the Royal Palace, the National Museum and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh needs more compelling tourist sites so that visitors will extend their stays and spend more time exploring the city, Mr. de Suremain said.

With this in mind, he negotiated for the use of an unfinished ship with 6,000 square meters of floor space that has been moored on the Tonle Sap for several years. The owner of the ship—a French-Cambodian businessman whom Mr. de Sure­main declined to name —agreed to rent it out for that purpose. The ship lacks electricity and plumbing, but is otherwise sound.

“The place needs a lot of renovation, a lot of love to get where we want it to be,” Ms. Langlois said. “I do believe, though, that, in the short term, we will be able to do a miniature version of the program.

“For me, the heart and soul of the whole thing has to do with what I’m calling the creative hub. It is an entire floor that is dedicated to inciting creativity: artist studios, international residencies, projects spaces. In addition, we will have long-term residents we will do collaborative programs with.”

The floating arts center is being sponsored by Unesco, which is providing non-financial support to help the project get on its feet, according to Anne Lemaistre, Unesco’s country representative.

“I believe it is lucky for the artists,” she said. “It’s important to support projects that help creative industries.”

A fundraising campaign for the project will begin soon, Mr. de Suremain said, the goal being to open the center by mid-2016.

“The first thing that we’re working on at the moment is find it a name,” he added.

People are being invited to submit their suggestions to name the arts center in an online competition dubbed #NameTheBoat. Within 24 hours of the start of the contest on Thursday night, more than 200 people had suggested names.

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