The Kampot-based organisation aims to showcase ability, not disability
VINH DAO/MELON ROUGE
Performers at the new Epic Arts centre in Kampot.
What started as an idea among three UK friends 15 years ago has become a concrete reality this week as Epic Arts, the Kampot-based organisation for disabled people, opened its new centre.
The large white building, which combines traditional Khmer ornamentation with contemporary design, comprises a workshop studio, visual arts studio, resource room, library and office space.
Katie Goad, artistic director and co-founder of Kampot-based NGO Epic Arts, said the initial design was done with matchsticks, cardboard and cotton wool.
"The matchsticks have become cement - and we're in it," Goad said at the official opening ceremony. "It's quite overwhelming."
Her husband Hallam Goad, who created the original design, teamed with Khmer architect Hang Phyreak of Cambodian Architecture and Construction Company to complete the building within two years of the land purchase.
When we started
designing the centre, accessibility was the key factor...
With its state-of-the-art access for people with disabilities, the arts centre sets an inspiring standard for accessibility.
Hang Phyreak said it should not be difficult for all new buildings in Cambodia to meet such standards.
"When you build a fully accessible building, there are a few more needs you have to consider than when making a regular building," he said. "But it's not more difficult to build by any means, as we already know what those needs are."
More than 500 guests, including British Ambassador Andrew Mace and Deputy Provincial Governor Tourn Bunthorn, attended the opening extravaganza.
One of the organisation's deaf students, Sovy, said he was very happy to see all the people at the opening.
"Our deaf community here in Kampot has never seen anything like it," he said.
Nadanh, who is in a wheelchair, has been a student at the organisation since 2005.
"We've been waiting for a long time for this new building," he said. "Before, our space was very small and it was difficult to go upstairs in a wheelchair. Now, I can go anywhere."
Epic Arts started its work in Cambodia in 2003 under the motto "See ability, not disability", and has grown steadily ever since.
Epic Arts General Manager Hannah Stevens said the new centre in Kampot, made possible through a donation from the UK-based Angus Lawson Foundation as well as individual contributions, was an important step towards achieving that vision.
"We have a big deaf community that we work with, but not actually that many people with physical disabilities because it was not easy for them to access our old space," she explained.
"When we started designing the centre, accessibility was the key factor. Now you can get anywhere in the building - apart from the water tank on the roof - in a wheelchair."
Epic Arts runs projects aimed at empowering people with disabilities, breaking barriers and normalising the idea of people with disabilities in society.
Goad said the organisation is based on the principle that every person counts.
"We do not want people to be hindered by their disability. Instead, we want to encourage society to see people's ability, not disability," she said.
Goad, who is trained in dance and performs with the students, said she was inspired by her disabled father and stirred by an integrated dance group in her native Britain.
"Through dance, you can communicate through different bodies, through different languages. You don't need words. You just find a common language through movement," she said.
Stevens said one of its key projects was performance advocacy.
"When people watch a performance featuring people with disabilities, they change their idea about disability," she said.
Nadanh agreed: "Sometimes, before I perform, people wonder, ‘Can he do that?'" he said. "But then, they see that I can."