Cambodia art: The Spider Web of Phare
If you have thought about visiting Cambodia, chances are you have heard about the celebrated Phare Circus. Stay in Cambodia for a while and chances are you will continually meet people who are connected to Phare. The students, the founders, the teachers, the directors, and the many volunteers will seem to be around every corner.
Phare’s projects and trajectories aren’t easy to grasp, so scroll down to learn about the larger picture and structure of Phare. The mothership is the original training center in Battambang and Phare Performing Social EnterprisePhare (PPSE) is a social business.
PPSE is designed and operated as a for-profit company but is guided by social-benefit principles. Revenue generated by sales supports Phare Ponleu Selpak NGO school, which provides free education and social support to 1200 students and their families annually.
The voice of Phare is strong and beautiful, whatever they are doing. Phare’s endeavors deserve the label of a Cambodian National Treasure.
Phare Ponleu Selpak Association (PPSA) or “The Brightness of the Arts”
Since 1994 Phare Ponleu Selpak has managed to provide education, access to the arts, vocational training, and professional pathways to children and young adults. Each year over 1200 students are enrolled, and the majority are children pecking out survival in the streets. In Battambang, children, and families struggle with severe social complications. Many drop out of school, experience domestic violence, drug abuse, and migrate illegally to work in horrendous conditions in Thailand where they face perversion.
Every visit I make to Battambang includes time at the school; quietly roaming the campus, visiting with friends and teachers; going to their student circus performances, and watching the children as they play and work.
Tours and classes to visitors are offered and once you are acquainted you feel a part of their family. This isn’t hyperbole. This is who they are.
The stories of the original founders represent the backstory of Cambodia’s recent history. The founders all came from Site 2 Camp, the largest of the refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodian border and were repatriated in 1993 when the camp was closed. Their years in the camp were dire, to put it politely, and their return to Battambang offered little more. They found themselves strangers in their own land. Encouragement was provided by Veronique Decrop, a French woman who started drawing lessons in the camp and an idea of a school was planted. Without resources or training, the group began gathering other refugee kids and learned how to help them cope with their trauma and fend for themselves. Art became a means to deal with their saga.
The first image in the gallery below shows the founders as children at the refugee camp with their teacher.
Phare, The Cambodian Circus – Exhuberant Storytelling with Acrobatics, Music, Art, and Dance
It is effortless to reap lavish praise on the performers and producers at Phare Circus in Siem Reap. After the temples, this is the single most popular activity in the area. They perform nightly and explore deep cultural and personal themes in their storylines. The energy is raw. The emotions are gripping. The sheer guts of it have heads shaking. It is impossible to overstate the delight it offers its audiences.
Phare artists are students and graduates from Phare Ponleu Selpak’s training center in Battambang and Phare The Cambodian Circus offers these students and graduates somewhere to hone their skills and earn a decent wage. The circus allows them to earn the money that will take them out of poverty so they may see possibilities for their futures. The revenue from the circus feeds a large portion of the operating expenses of the Phare Ponleu Selpak training school in Battambang.
Everyone that comes receives a joyful night of acrobatics, theater, live music, and profound storytelling – all with a Khmer flare unlike anywhere else in the world – and that alone is enough.
Those of us in the know are fully aware of how hard the performers work and how well the management operates. They are our friends and we see each other frequently. It’s a bit difficult to explain how gracious and close-knit Cambodian communities can be. Those of us in Siem Reap glow with pride and admiration for everyone that is involved in the circus. They offer the students at Phare Ponleu Selpak’s training school in Battambang a real chance to shine and redefine their futures.
Come to Siem Reap. Ask a local or expat you see about Phare Circus and we will brag until the day is long.
Phare Creative Studio
Operated by Phare Performing Social Enterprise, Phare Creative Studio is an innovative social business model which pursues 3 complimentary social missions:
- Provide gainful employment, personal and career development to young creative Cambodians
- Provide long-standing support to the Visual & Applied Art School (VAAS) from Phare Ponleu Selpak Association
- Contribute to the rebirth of Cambodian modern art
Phare Creative Studio is working with a group of talented artists trained at the Visual and Applied Art School (VAAS) to design innovative and original content in 2D animation, Graphic Design, Illustration, Video and Sound Recording under the same roof.
With the ambition to reveal the Cambodians’ creativity, their studio resides in the heart of their mother organization, Phare Ponleu Selpak, in Battambang city.
Phare Productions International
Phare Productions International, the production company of Phare the Cambodian Circus, operates as an agent for world-class productions and artists. For over a decade, Phare performers, musicians, actors, and visual artists travel throughout Europe, Asia, the United States and beyond.
Its mission is two-fold: they spread Cambodian performing arts and develop cultural awareness and strengthen the performers’ artistic, intellectual and financial independence.
Their partner Collectif Clowns d’Ailleurs et d’Ici helps ensure that the shows go on tour, and the experience has been so beneficial, it is now a requirement for the students to go on an international tour in order to graduate.
Phare Handicraft Boutique – Ethical Shopping
Phare’s boutique store has a rich range of ethically made products, and feature art from the graduates of the Visual and Applied Arts School at Phare Ponleu Selpak, liquor from Sombai, ceramics, jewelry, fabrics, and wooden carvings from Artisans d’Angkor. Phare branded t-shirts, water bottles, and music are also available.
Artisans Angkor shares the same will to pass on traditional Khmer culture while alleviating poverty in the country. Those similar values naturally led to a commercial partnership: Artisans Angkor has now the pleasure to have its products displayed at Phare, The Cambodian Circus’ lovely boutique in Siem Reap.