The Kampot Museum opened on January 28 at 8am with a ribbon cutting and Buddhist blessing for the new venture. It was a hastily planned inauguration – the entrance fee was yet to be decided, and several guests misinterpreted the email invitation and turned up at 8pm instead, expecting a drinks reception.
“We had been talking about it for one year, saying ‘this is how we could do it’ or ‘no, this is how we could do it’,” explained Olivier Duqué, technical adviser to the museum project and member of the steering committee. Duqué said that, in the end, Kampot governor Khoy Kun Hour tired of the back and forth and announced that the museum would be opening with a two-week turnaround – finished or not.
The only institute of its kind in the province, the Kampot Museum was made possible by a grant from the International Association of Francophone Majors (AIMF) earmarked for urban heritage safeguarding in the city, and $50,000 from the Kampot Provincial Administration. The lion’s share of the money was spent on the restoration of three of the city’s French colonial buildings, including the custard yellow Governor’s Mansion in which the museum is housed.
The museum space itself was opened on a budget of $10,000.
As it stands, the renovated space boasts three permanent exhibits. A series of six illustrated panels chart the province’s history in Khmer, French and English. A display of photographs, and a few paintings, depict life in the town under the French Protectorate. There are also are 14 artefacts provided by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. The statues and sculptures, some of which are pre-Angkorian, originate from sites around Kampot Province. They are dedicated to Vishnu, and feature the ancient lingam and yoni symbols representing the unity of male and female.
The rushed opening has meant that there is no labelling on the exhibits. “It’s on the way,” said Duqué. Museum director Nhauv Saem said that, in the meantime, he was happy to act as a guide for Khmer or French speaking visitors.
Saem – a literature professor-turned-local historian – also expressed his wish to see the space expanded: “I hope that in the next year or near future, there will be more historical things like history books in this museum, and I hope that more tourists will come to support us,” he said.
The challenge is to secure the necessary funding. Saem said he hopes that AIMF will continue to offer their support. “Since we are a member of AIMF, there is a supporting money fund by AIMF for looking after the museum and fixing the sculptures,” he said. But Duqué, who played a driving role in securing and distributing the funding, said that the existing grant had been spent almost in its entirety and that the steering committee was now considering crowd funding donations, or establishing a “Friends of Kampot” organisation to help. He confirmed that until new funding had been secured, no changes would be made to the exhibition space. “What we have here is a first draft,” he said.
For now, visitors should pick their visiting hours wisely. The museum opens Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 3pm-6pm and on Sunday from 8am to 11am.
The museum is located at the Governor’s Mansion, Riverside, Kampot.
Additional reporting by Vandy Muong