30 June 2020 | Danielle KHLEANG
Following the first Lab of the 2020 Living Arts Fellows program, I chatted with PO Sakun – an Inclusive Arts Course Team Leader at Epic Arts and one of this year’s Living Arts Fellows – to gain an inside look at the conversations unfolding between some of Cambodia’s emerging art leaders as they turn a reflective and critical eye to their own place in the national arts ecosystem.
At five minutes to 10 my phone buzzed: Sakun was letting me know he was ready for our call. I fixed my coffee as a sprightly voice came through my headphones, “Hello, Danielle.” “Hi Sakun, it’s so nice to connect.” Before the interview got into full swing, he said, “Please interrupt me if I get too excited.”
For nearly eight years Sakun has been an affiliate of Epic Arts, an arts organization that he tells me works with people with and without disabilities “to spread the message that everyone counts: that everyone is equal and should be accepted in society.”
“I knew I would learn more but it’s about more than learning. It’s about collaboration… the relationship with me and the other Fellows”
Speaking on his growth with the organization he added, “I was actually a student in the first generation… It feels like home, growing up here. When I first started, I was very shy but now Epic Arts give me a lot of amazing things that I cannot describe.” Epic Arts has just graduated their 4th generation of students from the Inclusive Arts Course, which Sakun now facilitates as the Team Leader.
I asked Sakun what some of his expectations were before joining the first Living Arts Fellows Lab. “I [knew I would learn more] but it’s about more than learning. It’s about collaboration: to work with others and the relationship with me and the other fellows. Not just knowledge but networking… I feel like I’m so lucky to attend this program.”
“I realized that’s why I’m here. To learn deeply and do more.”
Facilitated by Cambodian Living Arts’ Program Manager – SO Phina – and Mentor Amnol VELLANI– Founder and former Executive Director of India Foundation for the Arts – the theme of the first lab was “Value in the Arts.” Sakun explained that while he had thought about value in the arts previously, he had only considered it on a topical level. The activities, experiences and discussions in the lab gave him the opportunity to think about the value of the arts in more complex ways.
This lab… opened my eyes to see [that value in the arts is] more than what I thought… and I realized that’s why I’m here. To learn deeply and do more and more. I’m very interested in the value of arts… Two important things I learned from the lab are the intrinsic value – something inside – feelings like excitement, joy, etc., and instrumental value is something to promote other goals… For example, writing a song to promote healing. Or wear a helmet, or not drive drunk. Raising the awareness of an issue in our community.
“I need to make something independently rather than just doing what other people tell me.”
When asked if he enjoyed thinking about these layered implications of the arts sector he said, “Sometimes it’s a bit complicated. I need to understand the definitions clearly. I do enjoy it even though I misunderstand. It’s totally new for me. I’ve been in the arts sector for 6 or 8 years, but this makes me feel like ‘ooooh! – it’s good to know about that.’”
He went on to say:
The most valuable topic for me… [was] about instrumental and intrinsic value. How can we apply that in the arts… We can use art to educate other people or for leadership. There are many advantages to using art… I want to focus on the values rather than just what the performance is doing so the audience is more engaged. The value happens from the impression we make on the audience, how it makes them think. This makes me feel like I need to make something independently rather than just doing what other people tell me. I have to think what the value is, what is the message.
Looking forward to the rest of the year, Sakun and the other fellows will participate in three Labs exploring other themes, involving Mentors from Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia; as well as venturing to Myanmar – COVID-19 permitting – to meet their peers from the Greater Mekong. What’s Sakun looking forward to most?
Well…it’s [what] the program announced: to reach the skill of the leaders, critical thinking, reflection and learning about other arts in the area and countries. And building up communication. That’s what I’m looking forward to in the rest of the labs. It feels the gap that I miss, that I don’t have.
We finished our conversation with Sakun chuckling, “This lab taught me to think and reflect – it’s like going back to school and doing some homework.”
To learn more about the impact of the Living Arts Fellows program, read the independent review “Creating a Transformative Environment for Positive Change.”
The 2020 Living Arts Fellows program is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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