Report: Asian TYA Network Research Visit to Cambodia
Kung Yu Liew07/03/17


By Mr. Liew Kung Yu & Ms. Koe Gaik Cheng (Malaysia)

Overview & Background

Continuing the second phase of the Asian TYA Network research visits, we arrived in Cambodia and set out to meet with local representatives in the cities of Siem Reap, Battambang, and Phnom Penh.

As with previous research visits, the objective of this excursion was to learn about the situation in the country and explore further opportunities to expand the network.

The development of TYA in Cambodia is different from the countries we visited (Singapore & Malaysia) due to its tragic history of civil war and the genocidal tragedy widely known throughout to the world as the ‘Killing Fields’ which resulted in the deaths of millions of Cambodians.

Even now, 40 years after the event, the impact of the Khmer Rouge’s totalitarian regime virtually destroyed the country’s connection to its history and culture, and left the country stagnant in terms of development until only about a decade ago.

The current generation of Cambodians regards itself as an ‘empty canvas’, but this is also an opportunity as young people are hungry for the arts and are seeking to rediscover their traditions and develop new art forms.

However, due to widespread poverty and lack of government interest, there is generally not much support for the arts is left to the care of NGOs and social enterprises. For similar reasons, such endeavors are mainly focused on developing mainstream arts to attract tourism and revenues rather than on its benefits to nurture young audiences.

Demographics of Cambodia

  • Cambodia officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia, is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. 
  • Cambodia has a population of over 15 million. The official religion is Theravada Buddhism, practiced by approximately 95 percent of the population.
  • Cambodia is a young country with about 60% of the population is below 30 years old and the major ethnic is Khmer
  • The country's minority groups include Vietnamese, Chinese, Chams, and 30 hill tribes. The capital and largest city is Phnom Penh, the political, economic, and cultural centre of Cambodia. 
  • Khmer is the official language while English and French are used as languages of education.


07 February 2017 Siem Reap

8am – Breakfast Meeting

Venue:  Café at Angkor Century Resort & Spa, Siem Reap

People Met: (our coordinators)

  • Huot Dara (Chief Executive of Phare Performing Social Enterprise)
  • Ikeuchi Momoko (Assistant Sales Manager of Phare Performing Social Enterprise)

10am – Bambu Stage


Venue: Bambu Stage, Wat Damnak Village, Siem Reap 

People Met:

- Nick Coffill (Creative Director of Bambu Stage)

- Sorn Soran (Puppeteer of Bambu Stage)

Hosted by Tangram Garden Restaurant, Bambu Stage has two key priorities. First: to change perceptions about the history, cultures and issues that affect Cambodia. Second: to nurture local talent – in a professional and artistic collaboration.

As a venue, Bambu runs three performances weekly, namely:

  1. Angkors Temples De-coded: An interactive and multimedia presentation that takes audiences on a spiritual journey through the mystery and structure of temples.
  2. 150 years of Photography in Cambodia
  3. Bambu Puppets: A professional performance put on by a troupe of young puppeteers led by Som Soran. The puppeteers are employed to learn the art of shadow puppetry, which f to further their schooling. Unlike traditional shadow puppets, the audience will see the shadows of both puppets and puppeteers.

Facilities: The venue comprises outdoor performance area for shadow puppets, semi-indoor space for Angkors Temples De-coded and 150 years of Photography in Cambodia, restaurant and coming up soon is a new theatre with capacity of 150 audiences.

1:30pm – The Giant Puppet Project


Venue: Wat Damnak Pagoda, Siem Reap 

People Met:

  • Stuart Cochlin (Founder of The Giant Puppet Project)

Now entering its 11th year, The Giant Puppet Project is a program for underprivileged children in Siem Reap. Giant puppets are created by children and include unique educational, cultural or ecological themes such as road safety, endangered species, hygiene, local cultural appreciation and environmental awareness.

The project brings in approximately 600 children from different NGOs (about 18) to participate in a 2-week long workshop together with the artists from Phare Visual & Applied Arts Schools to build the giant puppets.


  • The highlight of the Giant Puppet Project is an annual street parade that takes place in Siem Reap from the old Market to Royal Independence gardens. The parade lasts for an hour, following with performances
  • It creates an important sense of community building, establishes teamwork and offers pride and commendation.

4pm – New Cambodian Artists (NCA)


Venue: Rehearsal space at Cambodian National Youth Centre, Siem Reap 

People Met:

  • Bob Ruijzendaal (Artistics Leader/Artistic Director of New Cambodian Artists)
  • Khon Sreyneang (Company Manager of New Cambodian Artists)
  • Joanne Hobern (Guest Teacher from New Zealand)

NCA is a unique, innovative, dance company, led by a collective of young Cambodian women with the core belief of seeking female empowerment through dance. Through their works, NCA encourages local and international audiences to think more broadly about Cambodian culture and its many layers and possibilities.

Coming from simple backgrounds, the members of NCA work to improve themselves in a range of areas including: contemporary and classical dance and choreography, local and international cultural history, stage direction, teaching and leadership, advocacy and English language skills.

The company hopes to continue to grow, taking on more dancers and touring work to both provincial areas of Cambodia where people would otherwise have no access to performance art, as well as representing Cambodia on an international scale.


  • As contemporary dancers and females in a largely conservative society, the NCA dancers face a unique challenge from local audiences whose views of ‘proper’ dance movements clashes with the raised leg movements common in contemporary dance as well as society’s image of Cambodian women.
  • In 2015, NCA received official recognition as a Cambodian company after receiving the certificate from the Ministry of Arts and Culture.
  • The NCA currently comprises 5 performers but expects to grow. Though small, the group claims to have seen much success, with performances in Siem Reap, around the country and overseas in Seoul and Laos.
  • The NCA receives funding through smaller and larger gifts from generous individuals and through performance fees.

8pm – Performance:

Same Same But Different, presented by Phare, The Cambodian Circus


08 February 2017  Battambang

9am – Travel from Siem Reap to Battambang

2pm – Phare Ponleu Selpak


Venue:  Phare Ponleu Selpak, Anh Chanh Village, Battambang

People Met:

  • Eric Regnault (Executive Director of Phare Ponleu Selpak)
  • Megan Brake (Communication Manager)
  • Aurelie Clerc (Fundraising Manager)
  • Srey Bandaul (co-founder of Phare Ponleu Selpak and Director of  Visual and Applied Arts School)
  • Khuon Chanreaksmey (Deputy Director of Phare Ponleu Selpak’s Performing Arts School)
  • Tor Vutha (co-founder of Phare Ponleu Selpak and Deputy Director of  Visual and Applied Arts School)
  • Umcent (Visual Artist, Project Coordinator of School)
  • Coralie Baudet (Phare Studio Manager)
  • Sophen, Sambo & Doenn (Artist

Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPSA)

Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPSA) or “The Brightness of the Arts” is a non-profit Cambodian association that strives to improve the lives of children, young adults, and their families with art schools, educational programs, and social support since 1994.

Founded in 1994 by nine young Cambodian men returning home from a refugee camp after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. Today more than 1,200 pupils attend the public school daily and 500 attend the vocational arts training programs.

In its curriculum, the school offers formal K-12 education and professional arts training in the areas of visual arts (illustration, painting, graphic design, and animation), theater, music, dance, and circus. All programs are offered for free with funding generated by PPSE (see below) and international support.

Phare Performing Social Enterprise (PPSE)

Recognising the need for self-sufficiency, the PPSA Founded in 2013, PPSE is a social enterprise whose primary purpose is to provide meaningful employment for Cambodian artists. Its objectives are as follows:

  1. Create meaningful employment opportunities for Cambodian artists
  2. Create financially sustainable social businesses that provide a reliable income streams for Phare Ponleu Selpak
  3. Revitalise the arts sector in Cambodia and promote Cambodian art locally and internationally

Under the umbrella of PPSE are three sub-enterprises: (1) Phare, The Cambodian Circus, (2) Phare Productions International, and (3) Phare Creative Studio.

Phare, The Cambodian Circus

  • Opened in February 2013 in Siem Reap
  • Nightly professional shows under a 330-person big top, 365 days a year
  • Almost 75% of profit goes directly to PPSA

Phare Productions International

  • Customized private events MICE, international performances, and tours across Europe, Asia and the USA.

Phare Creative Studio

• Launches in 2016

• Creating original content: 2D animation, graphic design and illustration

• Professional video and sound recording services


  • Public school (Primary School & Secondary School)
  • Kindergarten 
  • School of Visual and Applied Arts
  • Phare Creative Studio
  • Performing Arts School which contains 4 departments: Circus, Theatre, Music & Dance
  • Café
  • Boutique selling products by Phare, other NGOs and social enterprises
  • Library

7pm – Performance:

Tchamleak (Weird) presented by Phare Ponleu Selpak


09 February 2017 Phnom Penh

9am – Travel from Battambang to Phnom Penh

5pm – Meeting with NGOs (Cambodian Livings Arts)


Venue: 128-G9 Blvd Samdach, Phnom Penh

People Met:

  • Yon Sokhorn (Senior Programme Coordinator, Arts Development Programme of Cambodian Living Arts)
  • Uy Ladavan (Chereograpger of Yike)
  • Chour Darong (Executive Assistant/Public Relation Officer, Krousar Thmey)
  • Nen Phearith (Spoken Theatre)
  • Oon Sokny (Co-Director of Epic Arts)

We were introduced to several theatre practitioners from Cambodian Living Arts. The discussion focused on certain projects that they are currently involved and the challenges they face to revive ‘Yike’, a traditional Cambodian form of singing and dancing which has largely vanished, and update it for modern audiences.

7pm – Performance:

Traditional Dance Show, presented by Cambodian Living Art


10 February 2017 Phnom Penh

8am –  Sophiline Art Ensemble


Venue: Café, Teahouse Asian Urban Hotel, Phnom Penh

People Met:

  • John Shapiro (Executive Director, Khmer Arts)
  • Sophiline Cheam Shapiro (Co-Founder and Artis¬tic Director of Khmer Arts)

Sophiline Arts Ensemble (formerly Khmer Arts Ensemble) is an internationally renowned classical dance and music company that is based at the Khmer Arts Theater in Takhmao, Kandal Province. The Ensemble trains students in both Khmer classical dance as well experimental work.

The company mainly targets young Cambodians (ie university students and emerging middle class who have slightly better income than the older generation) with its efforts, with the intention to awaken them to engage in arts and cultural events


  • The parent company, Khmer Arts, was established in 2002, Long Beach California as a plaform for the Cambodian children to learn the traditional Cambodia dance. Sophiline and John then came back to Cambodia while the programme at Long Beach is run by the senior students.
  • It specializes in developing professional choreography and in performing these works on major stages throughout the world.
  • The school has a practice to charge USD10 is collected for the class with the intention to get Cambodians used to the idea of paying for cultural activities (performances & classes). Despite this, it will still take in students who cannot afford the fees.

10am – Meta House


Venue: #37, Sothearos Blvd, 12301 Phnom Penh

People Met:

  • Nico Mesterharm (Director, Meta House Phnom Penh)

Cambodia’s first media/art/communication center, META HOUSE was established in January 2007 in the capital Phnom Penh, south of Wat Botum Pagoda. Local and international media perceives the META HOUSE as one of Cambodia’s top addresses for arts and culture.

Since its founding, the center has been actively working to promote the development of Cambodia’s new arts movement through local and international exhibitions, festivals, workshops, community-based projects, artist exchange programs and by fostering links with South East Asian and international universities, galleries, curators, non-governmental and governmental organizations.


Set on more than 500 square meter the newly built center accommodates a large art gallery, a rooftop cinema and the restaurant “Art Café”. META HOUSE: CAMBODIAN GERMAN CULTURAL CENTER also hosts dance, theatre and music events, as well as providing space for meaningful public events where NGOs are invited to conduct workshops and seminars.


  • One of the META HOUSE’s most significant efforts is a school program, started in 2005, that brings theatre to schools that helps students become aware of Cambodia’s past and its connection to present social problems. To date, the performance has managed to reach 30,000 students. Recognizing the limitations of Cambodia’s infrastructure, the performance is specifically developed to require minimal equipment, requiring only 2 performers and can be done within a classroom.
  • The venue is run as a Goethe Center and is the official representation of Goethe Institute in Cambodia. Unlike Geothe Institute, however, the Goethe Center it is more flexible to curate programs so the content run within the center does not necessarily have to tie back to Germany.

12pm – Tiny Toones


Venue: #154, Street 369, Sangkat Chba Ampov Khan Chamkamorn, Phnom Penh

People Met:

  • Chhoeung Shhort Reuth (General Manager, Tiny Toones) 

Tiny Toones is a children centre in slum area that provide academic classes (English, Khmer & Computing)& creative classes (Music, Dance & Arts) before/after school. Born with the intention to give youths from underprivileged areas a safe environment to channel their energy into creativity, the arts and education.

The center attracts over 100 children from the slums come every day who come to dance, to make music, to dance, learn and to enjoy the freedom to be children.


  • A children centre with a basketball court, classrooms and dance studi


  • In addition to classes, provide transport to bring children to Tiny Toones and helps children go to public schools by providing financial support of uniform and books.
  • The origin of the center has an interesting story. in Cambodia himself. Born in the Thai refugee camps, KK spent his entire life growing up America but was eventually deported to a country he had never known. A stranger in a land and culture he had no connection to, KK still had it in his heart to open up his modest home to a handful of kids he had seen working or living on the streets of Phnom Penh. Somehow, word got out that he had been a break dancer and the kids begged him to teach them.
  • The children did a short performance for the visitors (our research group and a group of students from American school in Singapore).  They are confident to face total strangers like us and perform the dance without fear.  The confidence that build in the children to believe in themselves is priceless. 
  • To help raise funds, the center will do fundraising from public approximately once every 3 months.

6pm – Sovanna Phum Arts Association


Venue: #166, Street 99 (Corner Street 484), Phnom Penh

People Met:

  • Mann Kosal (Artistic Director & Master Puppeteer, Sovanna Phum Art Association)

This association, created in 1993 promotes the treasures of Cambodian culture. The venue can accommodate 100 persons, with several entertainments and a running program, including classic and contemporary dances, traditional and popular music, drums, large and small shadow puppets, mask dance, circus.


  • Theatre space for 100 persons.
  • Sovanna Phum has its own truck, mobile stage and light system


  • One of the main features of the venue is Sbaek Thom, a large shadow puppet that traditionally tells stories of Ramayana. However this traditional art form is losing the audience as the show is normally long and audience can’t relate themselves to the story and performance.
  • To accommodate audience’s tastes, Maan Kosal modified the performance to 1-hour long performance with elements of other types of dances that tells an excerpt from the Ramayana instead.


Conclusion & Acknowledgements

Cambodia is one of the more difficult countries in ASEAN, however we were greatly impressed by the communities have so much passion in arts and culture. Although the representatives and NGO’s we’ve met mainly deal with children, we’ve observed that theatre specifically catering for young audience is not something that is realized yet.

There are signs, however, that this could change soon and as a country with one of the fastest growing economies in Asia, its children and youth will need more support and energy to face the rapid change of society. This will likely be an uphill battle though, as most of the NGO’s we’ve encountered barely make enough to sustain themselves.

This concludes our report.  We would like to take this opportunity to extend our gratitude to the following individuals:

  • Mr Hisashi Shimoyama & Ms Nao Miyauchi from ricca-ricca festa for making this research visit happen.
  • Mr Huot Dara & Ms Ikeuchi Momoko from of Phare Performing Social Enterprise who have coordinated the research trip and share their knowledge and insight scene of Cambodia with us
  • Mr Yuki Hamada (Director) & Mr Hiroshi Ake (Deputy Director) from Japan Foundation Asia Centre, Phnom Penh Liaison Office
  • Ms Noemmilya Born & Ms Sem Sokkim from Japan Foundation Asia Center, Phnom Penh Liaison Office
  • Mr Caleb Lee who share his opinion and analysis from a different angle
  • Artsists, practitioners and organisations that spend their time and share their struggle with us
Writer’s Profile
Participant at ricca ricca*festa
Kung Yu Liew
Visual Artist
Where we visited…