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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - State of the arts

Phare Ponleu circus performers
Phare Ponleu circus performers. Phare Ponleu Selpak

State of the arts

From September 2013 to September 2014, Cambodia Living Arts surveyed 380 musicians, dancers and theatre and circus performers from seven provinces to try and establish a clearer picture of a sector about which documentation is fragmentary. The results they collected paint a picture of a dynamic but vulnerable population struggling with continual economic instability, often heavily reliant on the tourist trade and marked by significant internal disparities of wealth and professional attainment. Interviews by Harriet Fitch Little. Illustrations by David Pinho.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Very few artists have only one job. And the problem is that no one pays for rehearsals, so we have people just doing what they know how to do already – they’re not trying to do something different, they just do the minimum. They can’t spend time trying to invent new sounds or incorporate new things
Jean-Noël Walkowiak / performing arts manager at Phare Ponleu Selpak

64 Per cent of artists who receive financial help from relatives.

33 Percentage of artists who have another job unrelated to arts to compliment their income. For 50 per cent of those who do, it is manual labour.

This is the problem all around the world. We earn so little and at the same time we spend so much time to work on our rehearsals and creating pieces
Chey Chankethya / Amrita Performing Arts

2$ Women work an average of 20 minutes more than men for a performance but earn $2 less per hour worked.

Artists earn an average of $7 per hour worked during performances
Cambodia living arts /report

Women in classical forms of dance mostly perform until they’re 40, but men, they can perform for longer.
Chey Chankethya / Amrita Performing Arts

“We were talking once with our dancers [about their plans for the future], and one of them said, ‘I hope I marry a man who lets me keep dancing’”
John Shapiro / Sophiline Arts Ensemble

“If you perform as a way to entertain other people, or a way to please the tourists, then the quality of the art is more like a commercial”
Chey Chankethya / Amrita Performing Arts

More than 30 per cent are children of manual labourers

“There’s a perception that tourism is the goose that laid the golden egg, and I don’t think it’s true necessarily. I don’t think that Cambodia has enough tourism to generate an income that’s going to raise the salaries of artists significantly.

I don’t consider performances in restaurants or performances for tourists to be art. I consider that cultural decoration”
John Shapiro / Sophiline Arts Ensemble

26 The average age of artists

“Within one performance there could be thousands of gestures and stories that have been passed down for generations that could lose meaning if abridged or amended to include what was thought to be ‘entertaining’”
Melissa im / cambodia living arts

86 Percentage of artists who say that they need to speak English as part of their professional activity.

Although CLA sought out the most diverse sample possible, survey coordinator Edouard Fouqueray emphasises the need to be cautious when drawing conclusions based on the data.  He points out that artists who were already established in professional NGO networks – primarily urban – were easier to make contact with, meaning that the results collected might be biased in favour of more privileged practitioners. “I was followed by a Cambodian intern who filled out questionnaires for the artists if they were illiterate, but it was hard work – we met groups of 20 people and he was alone trying to fill out their answers,” Fouqueray explains. He also emphasised that artists were often approached after performances, at which point they were tired and unwilling to complete the survey. “This is the first survey on the topic. We need to go deeper, but the results are interesting,” he says. 



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