Ministry Rolls Out New Strategy to Revitalize Arts

The Ministry of Culture on Tuesday introduced the country’s first strategic cultural policy, an ambitious plan that includes setting up provincial cultural centers, launching arts education in schools, holding annual cultural events and promoting individual artists.

Speaking to an audience that included representatives from the leading arts and culture organizations in the country and several ministries, officials from the Ministry of Culture laid out a plan that they hope will prove a turning point for the arts in Cambodia.

“The statement written in this National Policy for Culture clearly states that this national policy serves as the foundation and compass to bind together culture and national economic development,” Culture Minister Phoeurng Sackona said.

“But the ministry itself cannot do all the work. We need all the stakeholders to work together to make this national policy happen,” Ms. Sackona said, adding that the plan may take a decade or more to implement.

The first step will be a working session in two weeks during which all culture organizations will be invited to exchange ideas with ministry staff, she said.

Questions at Tuesday’s meeting soon turned to money. Ms. Sackona pointed out that NGOs are not the only ones short of funds—the ministry’s 2014 budget totals $12.1 million, one third of 1 percent of the government’s $3.4 billion budget for the year.

Long Ponnasirivath, director-general of the Culture Ministry’s administration and finance department, said the ministry plans to use several strategies to raise funds. They would range from developing partnerships to foster businesses producing goods such as traditional crafts, to accessing international funding through youth programs. It will also try to encourage Buddhist pagodas to establish arts and culture centers.

“This is very encouraging,” said Kang Rithisal, executive director of Amrita Performing Arts, after the meeting, which was attended by about 200 people. “I love the fact that the existence of a policy will encourage more funding.”

“They understand the potential …that the private sector, the NGOs, civil society can help to do that. Being confrontational, we lose time and energy to do what we need to do. But ‘united we stand,’ this is where progress grows,” he said.

Suon Bun Rith, a consultant with the NGO Cambodian living Arts, said he plans to suggest one more strategy at the ministry’s upcoming forums. now that the country has its own class of successful business people, the ministry should consider appealing to them for support as well, he said.

“The ministry could play a very critical role as a facilitator,” by inviting Cambodian business leaders to sit down with arts organizations, he said. They could then discuss how cultural performances or other arts activities may fit into their business plan.

The project of formulating a cultural policy began in 2009 at the suggestion of Unesco, said Anne Lemaistre, the U.N. agency’s country representative. Countless meetings and many drafts led to an 80page text that was recently trimmed down to the 10-page document approved by the Council of

Ministers on July 18, she said. “This document is a framework that is very broad,” explained Ms. Sackona in an interview after Tuesday’s meeting. “We will now develop a master plan and action plan for each item mentioned, complete with indicators and projected results for the first year, the first five years, and so on.” These strategic plans will translate into concrete steps to “deliver all this to local communities,” said Ek Bunta, the ministry’s deputy director-general for cultural affairs.

“Cultural policy is very linked to the locals,” and programs must serve Cambodians, even if they only help people appreciate their own culture and artists, he said.

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