Delegates Gather to Discuss Future of Cambodian Arts

Some 100 delegates from 20 countries gathered in Phnom Penh this week to discuss the role and future of the arts in the region.

Hosted by Cambodian Living Arts (CLA) and held at the Institut Francais since Thursday, the 3rd Conference of the Asia-Pacific Network for Cultural Education and Research has focused on strengthening arts alliances in the region.

“I think the work we are doing can only be done with those networks and that kind of partnership,” said Phloeun Prim, CLA executive director.

“It cannot be just the usual way, like one institution needs to find funding and makes it happen. It has to be how we can collaborate and how we can partner and how we can really develop those projects.”

“The arts is no longer a discrete freestanding entity: It is part of an ecosystem that needs to contribute, coalesce, intersect, intervene, communicate and dialogue with others,” said Venka Purushothaman, vice president of the Lasalle College of the Arts in Singapore, who introduced the keynote speakers Friday.

The profound changes that globalization along with the Internet, social networks and phone applications have brought to Asia require leaders, he said, “to define a world that we all seek to flourish in.”

In the field, leadership often means being capable of “hard choices” so artists will thrive and arts activities remain viable, said Huot Dara, chief executive of Phare, the Cam­bodian Circus, in Siem Reap Delivering the keynote speech Friday, Mr. Dara outlined the importance of looking ahead even when it can be a tough financial decision for an organization.

At Phare, he said, they have focused on helping their students plan their futures-—a circus artist career is relatively short—and extend health insurance coverage to their families.

By doing so, the organization has successfully invested in the future of its company, the community surrounding it as well as the arts, said cultural economist Shiu Margaret in her speech.

“The main point is changing the mindset: That the arts are not just the arts.” Governments must be made to understand that allocating budget to arts and culture is investing into the future of a country, said Ms. Shiu, who is an adviser to the Ministry of Culture in Taiwan.

That type of advocacy, however, depends on a vibrant arts sector.

Aleksandar Brkic, coordinator of the Asia Pacific Network for Cultural Education and Research, which initiated the conference, said that he hoped such support networks will continue to grow within Asia.

“My dream is that various exciting things from Cambodia and the region at some point become benchmarks and examples for other parts of the world so that exchange between east-west, north-south becomes more balanced,” he said.

The conference ends Saturday.

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