Monday, 11 January 2010

Weaving culture, weaving lives

A report on the 2009 Mekong Arts and Media Festival, held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Published: 11/01/2010

(CAAI News Media)

At the end of the 2009 Mekong Arts and Media Festival, "Weaving Culture, Weaving Lives", held last November in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the organisers, the Philippine Education Theatre Association (Peta), had successfully used its special blend of talent, skill, and experience to encourage artists to work in the communities they are part of. The event provided hands-on help to build a network of artists from across the Mekong sub-region that is multicultural, transnational, creative, energetic, interactive, and starting to show signs of self-sustainability.

This year's event was the fifth of its kind run by Peta in the Mekong sub-region, the first having been held in Manila, The Philippines, in 2005. It was evident that the young, talented, and eager artists had grown since the programme began five years earlier, in large part due to the encouragement and resources provided by Peta.

The well-organised five-day event showcased an array of performances, workshops and presentations, and learning experiences about a variety of active and ongoing projects, emerging from the great energy of the young artists at the festival which, like all earlier festivals, had its own parallel conference, workshops, performances, and other activities to get young people together to learn to share and create art projects.

As a fitting opening, the festival began with a parade involving the young artists performing classical music and dance, and guiding a gigantic naga and two big elephant puppets, along with a real, famous Phnom Penh elephant through the Cambodian capital.

The festival was interspersed with various art exhibitions, circus shows, classical dance pieces, and international events from the six countries bordering the great Mekong River.

Opening day parade by youth participants. PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE MEKONG ARTS AND MEDIA FESTIVAL

All the youth programmes were run by young people who brought leadership skills learned through their work with Peta over the past five years, while artists from different countries shared new techniques and knowledge.

The festival brought the city of Phnom Penh to life with a vivid spirit, energising the streets and people with a happy feeling of the hopeful power of youth that guide their lives with infectious good will.

Most of the local kids in attendance were from Phare Poulou Silpek in Battambong, Cambodia.

The programme was indeed successful in creating new networks of artists across the region. These young people were so proud and eager to learn and to share what they know, showing great physical and spiritual strength to overcome their often-difficult living conditions. The happy hearts and minds of these young people showed brightly through the five days. They seemed to realise the strength that the arts and training had provided them and took full advantage of the opportunity to speak out and share their new knowledge with their friends.

Less visible, but at least as important in the long run, are the management skills learned by those who have worked with Peta. These skills have grown appreciably during the last five years. After receiving some funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, during the last five years, the Peta-run partnership has also gained new funding from other organisations including Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders. Perhaps these may be the new threads that will make the arts more lively, helping create hope among new generations.

Parallel to the young artists' activities was a conference where a diverse range of artists and scholars from Japan, Cambodia, China, Burma and Thailand presented their work and shared innovative ways to create and collaborate with their communities.

Sixty international artists attended the festival, performing and sharing their art, knowledge and progress in their thinking and talent. Many of them have learned about the importance of good management to create an environment for them to enable dance, theatre, and puppet performances in a sustainable way.

The Crescent Moon Theatre and Wandering Moon from Thailand joined the workshop.

After working for five years with Peta, the confidence and ability of these artists-turned-managers has matured considerably. Most of the young artists - especially those from Phare Poulou Silpek - have become teenagers or young adults and are now strong circus artists. During the recent festival, these artists shared and inspired each other, regardless of nationality or background. Although English was the main language used to communicate, at the eating tables, those from Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand shared their thoughts in a mix of languages.

The laboratory, which was arguably the most difficult aspect of the programme to facilitate due to the amount of information to share, translate, seemed to work out well in the end.

The laboratory started when artists began recognising certain things that could benefit the performing arts among the varied communities in the Mekong sub-region. As time has passed, Mekong artists and the communities have adapted what they have learned and shared in the festival's laboratories for the benefit of the societies they live in.

The ongoing success of the annual event is due largely to Peta's concept of working with others and by providing regular opportunities to share ideas.

It also gives young artists the opportunity to grow and learn from senior artists about channelling inspiration and creativity with discipline and management into arts projects that are fun and suitable for their local audiences. Most aspects of the project deal with young people and aim to promote their self-esteem and empowerment, and offer health education that is so needed in communities along the Mekong. They also share ways of fundraising, managing and promoting artists and their needs. It was wonderful to see the various peoples of the Mekong sub-region mingling together through the support and care of the Peta organisation, who has also seen its value and has opened up the project to artists from Singapore, Indonesia, and Japan. We know that creating a self-sustainable partnership takes time, and Peta has laid the foundations of doing just this.

After all, we all are part of a common work in progress that aims to improve the lives of those in the Mekong area through encouraging creativity, organisation and inspiration.

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