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Friday, November 27, 2009

Feature: Mekong Arts Festival: catalyst for social changes

As some 200 artists and media practitioners converge here for the week-long Mekong Festival beginning on Monday, their attention has gone far beyond "arts for arts' sake". What they are advocating is how to promote arts as catalyst for social transformation.

Through workshops, performances, forum, conference, film shows and visual arts, artists from the Mekong sub-region which is composed of Cambodia, China, Laos , Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, showcased their understanding of life in the era of globalization and economic integration.

Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS), one of the organizers of the Festival from the host country, has demonstrated the vigor and power of youth art throughout the festival with the omni-present performers, some 100 in total, disseminating the message of arts as a life-transforming force.

PPS, meaning "the brightness of art" in Khmer, was originated in 1989 from a refugee camp on the Thai border, when child refugees were encouraged to use artistic expression to overcome the trauma of war. After the refugees returned to their homeland, the idea of creative workshops persisted as a group of former children from the camp founded PPS IN 1994.

Today, PPS, a Cambodian non-governmental organization (NGO) which aims to support community development through providing social, educative and cultural services to children and their families, has not only hosted poor, disabled, abused and trafficked children in the Child Care Center, but opens wide its door to children and youth who want to pursue their artistic instincts and interests by enlisting them to its Visual Arts School, Performing Arts School and Music School.

Its iconic circus groups are the most renowned among its schools, touring and performing in Cambodia and Europe, nurturing an independent generation who are capable of supporting themselves while exemplifying their strength.

"Arts is a powerful tool for children to develop their confidence," said Khun Det, founder of PPS. He believes that visual arts and culture is more effective than speeches. He regarded PPS circus as "social circus" which combines elements of theater and music in addition to tradition.

During the Festival, audiences are amazed PPS performers whose vigor, humor and skills are great inspirations to children and youth in the community.

Chinese artists also shared their experiences at the Festival.

Zhang Jinzhong, an ethnic Jingpo dancer from Nengguan Performing Arts and Training Center in Ruili, southwest China's Yunnan Province, has been doing health education through dance for four years, helping ethnic youths learn folk dance, rap, or modern dance while staying away from drugs and HIV/AIDS.

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