Students get a look at how the arts transform Cambodian society

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Warm-up activity before presenting reparation programme. Vann Channarong

About 15 students from New York University Abu Dhabi were recently given a hearty welcome by Cambodian Living Arts (CLA) as they started a culture tour of Cambodia under a programme called Arts for Transformation, the case of Cambodia. Throughout their five days in Cambodia, they immersed themselves in Cambodian culture by visiting historical sites, meeting Cambodian artists and cultural practitioners and building networks with students from Pannasastra University of Cambodia.

According to Prim Phloeun, executive director of CLA, this is the second time students from New York University Abu Dhabi have arrived under the Arts for Transformation programme to engage more with Khmer culture. He came up with the idea of creating the transformation curriculum after being invited to teach a special class at NYUAD.

“Arts for Transformation aims to highlight the role of the arts in national development, achieving a sustainable economy, healing trauma and many other things. So the team at CLA and I had the idea of creating this curriculum, and it has attracted many students from NYUAD,” Prim Phloeun said.

He added, “Then we then thought about how to engage Cambodian students in these activities; we wanted to see what they think about this programme. They study various majors and have not necessarily shown an interest in arts and culture before.”

Mr Phloeun said the programme changes its focus from year to year. Last year, it focused on arts for healing (memory); this year they are focused more on justice (post-Khmer Rouge reparation projects) and also economic sustainability.

Mr Phloeun said the event this year included many activities like taking the students to Siem Reap province to see its many temples, the Centre for Khmer Studies, Phare, The Cambodian Circus, and Artisans Angkor. They also took them to many places in Phnom Penh including the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (to learn about healing trauma), the Bophana Centre, a series of performances showcasing Cambodian royal ballet and Khmer masked dance, and a number of other historic buildings, including those designed by the beloved late architect Vann Molyvann).

CLA is now negotiating with universities and students in Phnom Penh to create an Arts for Transformation centre to help convey the important roles of the arts not in only Cambodia but beyond.

Each country can apply it differently based on their unique culture, Mr Phloeun said.

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