Cambodian Living Arts (CLA) believes that arts and cultural expression are essential to a thriving future for Cambodia. This month, we tell the story of Song Seng, manager of our Heritage Hub in Siem Reap.

Song Seng has been working in culture and the arts for almost 15 years.

He went to study at business school, but in the late 1990s volunteered to help CLA founder Arn Chorn-Pond find Cambodia’s surviving Master Artists.

He has worked in the arts ever since, initially setting up classes with the masters so they could pass on their knowledge to students.

Recently, he became manager of CLA’s Heritage Hub, which works to protect and develop Cambodia’s cultural and artistic heritage.

Seng now works to make sure that allof CLA’s programmes keep a connection with Cambodia’s heritage. Seng explains, “Culture and arts will be stronger if preservation and development go hand in hand”.

He says his role is not to keep arts the same and only to protect traditional forms, but to help the story of Cambodian arts and culture to continue; maintaining knowledge of the history of arts and culture in Cambodia and helping artists to learn from it and to build upon it.

Seng also works to create opportunities for artists from around the country, in and around Siem Reap. He has organised conferences, discussions, and performances, and is planning to bring artists from around the Mekong region to Cambodia to share their experiences.

Siem Reap was chosen because of its history as a centre for the arts, with many artists, historians, and cultural experts living in the province.

He wants Siem Reap to be known as a centre for living arts, and by extension to raise the profile of Cambodian arts and culture internationally.

“Right now, tourists mainly come here [Siem Reap] for Angkor Wat, and they don’t really experience our living culture and arts,” he says. Seng hopes that this will provide more opportunities for artists to earn a living through their art, and allow them to improve their skills and create new work – something he strives towards.

As Seng summarises, “The prosperity of arts and culture is exactly the real development of a nation. Development is not enough and is not sustainable if it only focusses on money.”

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