After a nine-month hiatus, the Phare Circus is back in town.
The Cambodian circus act, first established in 1994 by returning refugees after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, held its first performance in Phnom Penh since public gatherings were cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The performance saw recent graduates of Phare Ponleu Selpak” school, which translates as “The Brightness of the Arts” school, display their acrobatic skills to a limited audience to “help reduce the stress and problems the organization is currently facing due to Covid-19,” according to Urban Village founder Catherine Chan.
Phare Ponleu Selpak Executive Director Osman Khawaja told Khmer Times that the not-for-profit organisation was not spared from the adversity brought on by the drop in tourism due to the pandemic.
Khmer Times reported last year that close to 51,000 jobs had disappeared from Siem Reap’s previously flourishing tourism industry, with as many as over 2,800 related businesses across the Kingdom having shut their doors due to the pandemic.
“COVID-19 shut down performances in both Battambang and Siem Reap due to the drop in foreign tourists, which [had] made up 90 percent of our audience. We hope that with our most recent performance in Phnom Penh, we can attract enough locals and expats to fill the seats to allow the artists to earn much-needed income to support their families,” said Khawaja.
Currently in dire financial straits, Phare Ponleu Selpak’s Battambang requires some $800,000 per annum to remain in operation, according to Khawaja, who stressed that securing funding this year was an “uphill battle”.
“The school in Battambang was 60 percent self-financed, but due to the pandemic we have had to rely heavily on donations. Building appreciation among locals for the arts and having locals spend money on attending artistic and cultural performances is the only sustainable way forward. Of course, corporate partnerships are also invaluable to supporting the arts sector,” stressed Khawaja.
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