Charity Uses Music Videos to Spread Message

Two years ago, the U.K.-based charity Epic Arts decided to produce a music video as part of its campaign to dispel misconceptions about what physically disabled people are capable of.

So with only rudimentary filmmaking equipment and no budget to speak of, disabled artists trained at the organization’s school in Kampot City produced a cover of Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy.”

Chhom Nimol, left, and Onn Sokny perform in Epic Arts' 'Shake It Off.'
Chhom Nimol, left, and Onn Sokny perform in Epic Arts’ ‘Shake It Off.’

When the video quickly garnered more than 100,000 views on YouTube, the artists were shocked, said Anthony Evans, a senior manager at Epic Arts.

Buoyed by this result, the artists came together again last year and—with $3,000 from Unicef—made a version of Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk.” The result: more than 150,000 views, with statistics showing that most of the fans were Cambodians, Mr. Evans said.

This year, Epic Arts asked contemporary dancers from Amrita Performing Arts, circus artists from Phare Ponleu Selpak, hip-hop dancers from Tiny Toones and Dengue Fever vocalist Chhom Nimol to help them with an even more ambitious project, a cover of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.”

“We felt the lyrics were extremely appropriate in that people are shaking off any barrier, any strain that they might have in order to be who they want to be,” Mr. Evans said, explaining that the video was made for $5,000 using funds donated by the E.U. and Unesco, and shot by British production company Junction 15. It features Onn Sokny, another senior manager at Epic Arts, who uses a crutch to walk.

The video went online on February 26. As of Friday evening, it had been viewed more than 12,000 times.

“It is an incredibly powerful tool to reach our audience,” Mr. Evans said. “All week, we have been inundated with comments from Khmer people contacting us and offering their support.”

His wife, Laura Evans, also a senior manager at Epic Arts, said that while the videos had proved enormously popular, their effect on attitudes toward handicapped people would not be immediately apparent.

“Gauging the impact in perceptions takes many years,” she said.

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