Thursday, 7 February 2008

Spotlight: An Asian Festival of Inclusive Arts in Cambodia

From Epic Arts


The purpose of this festival is to celebrate the abilities of all people with a spotlight on those members of the community who, labelled as disabled, are often considered less capable than others. The Nippon Foundation conceived the idea of an inclusive arts event by producing International Disability Concert - A Musical Show in 2006. SPOTLIGHT is the next stage of development of this project.

Through our work at Epic Arts we have seen the very tangible benefits that artistic practice and creative activities can provide, including improved self-confidence, sensory skills and alternative means of expression. Through a variety of forms of expression we will explore ways of communicating these benefits in a welcoming and stimulating environment for people who are not always viewed as full participants in society. In this way we aim to present powerful role models for the disabled community.

We hope that during the 8-day Festival we can also focus attention upon the experience of living with a disability and the rights of those members of society who do. By presenting their creative abilities in a public forum, we hope to raise the profile of people with disabilities and to reduce the existing barriers of communication, interaction and trust between disabled and non-disabled people. We also hope that the festival will engage the public in understanding how the disabled community can play a positive role in Cambodian society and culture.

In terms of events, we have chosen to focus on the creative talents of performing artists, visual artists and musicians. Over the course of one week, artists from Cambodia and the region will gather together to perform, collaborate, exhibit and present their work to the wider Cambodian community. Confirmed local artists include Kim Sathia (dance), Kung Nai (music), Phare Ponleuu Selpak (circus), BHOR and Amrita Performing Arts (theatre). The international program includes Together Higher (Vietnamese/dance), the Koshu Rao Taiko drummers (Japan/music), HITOMI (Japan/puppetry) and Chng Soek Tin (Singapore/visual arts). Additional events include an opening parade with over 300 participants and 5 decorated floats traveling through the streets of Phnom Penh (pending approval).

In addition, a dedicated workshop program and collaborations with local and visiting artists from abroad will take place before and during the Festival. This will not only provide the local participants (disabled and able-bodied) with the opportunity to explore different types of creative expression for people with different abilities, it will also allow local artists exposure to new and different forms, techniques, materials and approaches to artistic expression.
By involving the international community in the program, it is our aim to build opportunities and networks for artists with disabilities within the region and to also build capacity through workshops, collaborations and shared experiences for festival participants, local artists and members of the disabled community.

Festival events will take place in partnership with local disability and art organisations and venues include Chaktomuk Theatre, Chenla Theatre, Sovanna Phum (tbc) Metahaus, Centre Culturel Francais, Bophana Audiovisual Centre and Gasolina, as well as selected outdoor public spaces.Why focus on disability?

One in 250 people in Cambodia have a disability. This is one of the highest ratios found anywhere in the world and is due to years of conflict, poor health services, road and work accidents and the ongoing incidence of landmines that still injure up to 30 people per month. Thus, whilst the existence of disability is becoming commonly accepted in Cambodia, as a person with a disability it is still difficult to integrate into society as limited infrastructure exists; buildings and transport are inaccessible and work is hard to find. Culturally, disability can be seen as the result of an individual's bad 'karma' and this together with a general lack of education/understanding regarding disabilities increases the existence of discrimination towards the disabled community.

By presenting a multi-arts festival of this scale we aim to not only raise awareness of the abilities of people with disabilities, but also we hope that by presenting interesting, dynamic and engaging work to an interested public we will open up discussions surrounding issues of acceptance of disability in the wider community. This is important for members of both the disabled and able bodied communities.

It is also our hope to build the foundations of a regional network and develop relationships with similar organizations supporting disability arts programs within the region. In presenting this work in a festival environment, we hope to create a festival model that in the future could become a signature disability arts event within the region.

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