Highly regarded arts foundation Cambodian Living Arts (CLA) is poised to launch its “Seven Colours” festival from December 8 to 10 at Coconut Park at Koh Pich.

This three-day event signifies a notable shift in CLA’s focus, moving away from its nearly three-decade-long commitment to restoring lost art forms. The organisation is now dedicated to empowering youth through creative expression and establishing a robust local arts infrastructure.

“Our work has evolved through various stages, and our current priority is to focus on innovation, new creation, capacity building and nurturing leadership in new talent. We aim to foster a new generation of creative leaders by providing them with funding,” says Yon Sok Khon, programme director for CLA.

Founded in 1998 by Arn Chorn-Pond, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge era, CLA’s current mission is to serve as a catalyst in the field of performing arts, inspiring the new generation. This year holds special significance as it marks the 25th anniversary of CLA’s founding, with a core focus on funding projects and providing a platform for emerging talents.

The “Seven Colours” festival distinguishes itself with its youth-centric approach. Orchestrated primarily by four dynamic individuals from diverse backgrounds, the festival seeks to facilitate a dialogue between young people and society through art exhibits, discussions and interactive sessions.

This innovative endeavour is the first for CLA, providing young volunteers, previously unexposed to the arts, with a platform to channel their creativity and societal visions into a festival that resonates with their peers.

The festival aims to connect with society through art shows, discussions, and the sharing of knowledge and experiences. This endeavour is crafted to promote diversity and cultivate a creative social environment.

For the first time, CLA is offering young people, especially those who have volunteered in social work but lack experience in the arts, the opportunity to gain firsthand event planning experience. They have used their creativity to design a festival reflecting their passions, preferences and visions for society.

Creative engagement

“Our festival designers have created an event that is particularly engaging, featuring a rich array of artistic content that reflects the current state of youth and their aspirations for the future,” says Song Seng, coordinator for CLA.

“This makes the festival not only suitable for young people but also appealing to the general public. Attendees will be entertained and also gain insights into how art and society can progress together without any disconnect,” Seng adds.

He also expects that the festival will offer young attendees a deeper understanding of their potential role in contributing to the arts. 

Khoeun Komsot, an intern from Ratanakkiri province, shares his experience of designing an art festival for the first time. He highlights how the role has introduced him to various forms of art, both ancient and contemporary, that were previously unknown to him.

“This internship involves merging diverse ideas on topics such as environmental issues, human rights, mental health and ethnic minority youth. My goal is to craft scenes that inspire other young people to utilise art as a means to connect with society,” Komsot explains.

“I believe young people should seize this chance to explore mixed arts, absorb knowledge from workshops, and enjoy the various entertainments the festival offers,” he says.

Detailing the festival’s agenda, Komsot highlights the range of activities planned. On Friday, December 8, the festival will kick off with film screenings, photo exhibitions, diverse food and art products, an opening ceremony and drum dances.

The following day will feature additional photo exhibitions, food stalls, art displays, mental health care workshops, film screenings, a youth reading programme, traditional dances, the theatrical talk “Thao Ke Chitchol,” contemporary dance “Freedom” and drum performances by Methea, along with artist talks.

The festival’s last day offers a line up of events, featuring photo exhibitions, food stalls, art displays, and a forum discussing young citizens’ role in social development through art. The day includes performances focused on sustainable development goals, art workshops (clay sculpture, poetry, songwriting), multi-talented acts, winner announcements, identity and drag shows, concluding with a compilation of festival highlights.

The event will conclude with mini-concerts and pre-dance performances, marking the end of this vibrant and eclectic celebration.

Distinctive art exploration

Ouk Ly Kuy You, another intern in the “Seven Colours” Festival, shares her newfound passion for the arts, especially documentaries and traditional art forms. She also appreciates the unique experience of programme management.

“This festival provides a distinctive opportunity for people to engage in new experiences and explore the vibrant artwork of Cambodian artists. It offers a chance to encounter diverse art forms, interact with talented artists and musicians and actively participate in creative event,” she explains.

“I am confident that through art, people can make a positive impact in their communities and also discover a means to reconcile and understand their own thoughts and feelings,” Kuy You spotlights.

She emphasises the festival’s importance as a platform for youth expression and artistic promotion.

“The ‘Seven Colours’ Festival is a special place for young people to showcase and promote their art, offering them the freedom to express themselves openly,” Kuy You adds.

Song Seng anticipates a large turnout for this year’s festival, expecting hundreds of attendees. 

In 2022, CLA launched the “Annual Amatak Award” programme to celebrate creativity and achievements in Cambodia’s burgeoning arts community. 

Sok Khon explaines that the programme aims to honour cultural diversity and recognise award recipients, showcasing the rich talent within the local arts scene. 

The arts festival and the “Annual Amatak Award” programme receive support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and overseas patrons Eric & Debra, emphasising international backing for Cambodian arts and culture.