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.

S’Art Urban Art Festival was a big step towards our 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. The festival saw for the first time 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 (a wordplay on the Khmer phrase ‘saat’, that stands for beautiful) illustrated the fact that art is an organic part of life in the city, not something that is kept separated. During the five days all programmes were free for everyone, and the venues included 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.

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, to the delight of the children from the countryside, was on stencil art incorporating rice hulls.

With two exhibition openings and a number of talks by Cambodian and foreign artists, everyone could find something interesting. Throughout the five days, eight Battambang lead artists (Tor Vutha, Bor Hak, Mil Chankrim, Hour Seyha, Buth Sonrin, Koeurm Kolab, Pov 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 event concluded with a grandiose puppet parade, during which a considerable crowd of participants escorted the giant, lit-up puppets, thatcommunity children made throughout the previous weeks, with 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 programme and the five days of festivities.

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 the 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 oddyears, while in even years we organize the Tini Tinou International Circus Festival. See you in 2021!