The quiet streets of Battambang came to life with concerts, workshops, exhibitions, mural paintings and the Giant Puppet Parade between May 28 and June 1 for the first edition of the S’Art Urban Art Festival.

The S’Art Urban Art Festival was a big step towards Phare’s strategy and core value of making arts more accessible for the local community. It was also an example of the power of collaboration with local and international partners to create a colorful festival covering many different artistic elements. With close collaboration and support of Sangker Gallery, five days of artistic workshops and activities were held at a variety of venues across the city. This festival has left its mark of culture on Battambang, starting a tradition that we hope will last for many years to come. For the first time, the festival saw the Giant Puppet Project from Siem Reap make its way to Battambang. As the artist puppeteers are from Battambang, we were delighted to have them run the workshops with children from here. For another first, Battambang children, youth and adults alike witnessed the first urban dance style hip-hop battle under the Phare big-top – organized in collaboration with the Rom Bak Battle and Tiny Toones Cambodia.

S’Art Festival and the Community

S’Art (a wordplay on the Khmer phrase ‘saat’, which means beautiful) illustrated the fact that art is an organic part of life in the city, not something that is kept separate. During the five days of the festival, all programs were free for everyone, and the events were held at public spaces around town: art galleries, cafés, and the Phare campus itself. Walking around Battambang during these five days, one could stumble upon interactive programmes such as a hip-hop dance workshop for amateurs, caricature drawing by our visual art students, or a bamboo chopstick sculpture workshop.

Collaboration With Thailand

The festival collaborated with the “Experiencing ASEAN Pop Culture” event of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, which saw 2Choey, a famous Thai mural artist, paint a big mural representing rice and art, paying homage to Battambang as the rice bowl of Cambodia. In the spirit of engaging the community, 2Choey also led two workshops. One of which was on stencil art incorporating rice hulls, to the delight of children from the countryside.

Murals Created During the First S’Art Festival

With two exhibition openings and a number of talks by Cambodian and foreign artists, everyone could find something interesting. Throughout the five days, eight leading Battambang artists (Tor Vutha, Bor Hak, Mil Chankrim, Hour Seyha, Buth Sonrin, Koeurm Kolab, Poy Chhunly and Srey Bandaul), supported by student artists worked on murals all across the city, often attracting a curious audience of locals. Guest artist, Chifumi, known for his oversized Apsara hand murals, also left this mark on the city walls for all to enjoy. One special event was the co-production of Russian artists Konstantin Komardin and Mikhail Rebrov: combining live painting and live music, they made decorating a downtown wall into a memorable performance.

The S’Art Puppet Parade

The event concluded with a grandiose puppet parade, during which a considerable crowd of participants escorted the giant, lit-up puppets, that community children made throughout the previous weeks, through the streets of Battambang. The parade was accompanied by live music, circus, and dance. The final stop of the parade was the stage set up at the Dragon Peace Garden, where the crowd enjoyed a fashion show focusing on recycled materials, a circus and a contemporary dance performance, a hip-hop show, and a speech from the governor of Battambang. The concert of Battambang’s own rock band, the Batbangers concluded the program and the five days of festivities.


Governmental Support and S’Art Into the Future

The support of the Governor’s office and the Department of Tourism was key in making this event a success – we hope such a festival demonstrates that all stakeholders have much to gain from it. The festival would not have been possible without awesome support of the many local businesses that provided sponsorships to cover the many costs. The overwhelmingly positive feedback assured us that S’Art festival should be repeated in the future. We hope it becomes not only a community driven but a community led biennial event that takes place in odd years, while in even years we organize the Tini Tinou International Circus Festival. See you in 2021!

Want to be part of exciting art festivals and events like S’Art in the future? Join Phare Ponleu Selpak as a volunteer and get first-hand experience changing lives through the arts.