With another year gone by, it’s time to reflect on everything that’s happened at Phare Ponleu Selpak in 2023.

This past year, Cambodia has still been recovering from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, and while international tourism numbers have been slowly climbing, they’re still below pre-pandemic levels. This has meant that our self-funded income streams through Phare, The Cambodian Circus (our daughter social enterprise in Siem Reap) and Phare Battambang Circus (our on-campus student circus) aren’t yet back at full strength.

Still yet, so much has happened and been accomplished by the Phare community. We are grateful for all of the volunteers, donors, partners, teachers, staff, and students who made this past year a huge success, and we’re proud of everything that we’ve accomplished together.

It would be impossible to list everything that’s occurred in 2023 at Phare Ponleu Selpak, but here are the highlights – in words and pictures.

Awards & Recognitions in 2023

In May 2023, Phare Ponleu Selpak received two awards in the “On a Shoestring” category at the 15th Annual Shorty Awards: the Audience Honor and the Bronze Honor, for our Guinness World Record fundraising campaign. These honors made Phare the first Cambodian organization to win the only major digital and social media award chosen by expert judges and the public. (Read more about how Phare Ponleu Selpak won the Guinness World Record for longest circus show performance.)

2023 Shorty Award Bronze Honoree: Phare Ponleu Selpak
2023 Shorty Award Audience Honor: Phare Ponleu Selpak

In November 2023, we won First Place in the “Contest or Challenges” category at the 8th Annual Shorty Impact Awards – beating out competition like M&M’S and RuPaul’s Drag Race – for overcoming the existential challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic via our Guinness World Record fundraiser. A sister event of the Shorty Awards, the Shorty Impact Awards focus on individuals and organizations with a positive social impact.

Shorty Impact Award for Phare Ponleu Selpak, beating out M&M'S and RuPaul's Drag Race
Shorty Impact Award ceremony 2023 in Los Angeles. Winner: Phare Ponleu Selpak.

To everyone who participated in, watched, volunteered, donated, or supported our Guinness Word Record-setting circus performance in 2021: THANK YOU! Your efforts have continued to help Phare survive this period of post-COVID economic recovery through awards, recognitions, and continued media attention. 

Also in November, Phare Ponleu Selpak was recognized with a Business Excellence Certificate at The Bizz Hybrid Awards organized by the World Confederation of Businesses for being an organizational leader that has consistently demonstrated business excellence. Our Executive Director, Osman Khawaja, was also recognized for being a successful leader of excellence. 

The Bizz Hybrid Awards certificate for Phare Ponleu Selpak

None of these awards could have been achieved without the hard work and support of Phare’s teachers, staff, students, volunteers, and supporters. Thank you! 

Shining Bright through Art Festivals in 2023

During 2023, Phare Ponleu Selpak also organized or participated in a number of art festivals in Battambang.  

The 2023 edition of the S’Art Urban Art Festival was a remarkable success. From 12 to 17 June, the biennial art Festival drew in over 7700 attendees across a wide range of activities and who hailed from around Cambodia and across Asia.  

After the cancellation of the 2021 edition of the festival due to the pandemic, the S’Art Urban Art Festival made a smashing post-pandemic comeback, returning to introduce and celebrate urban art forms such as graffiti, street sculpture, mural painting, digital art, hip-hop music, and breakdancing. The six-day festival featured artists, panelists, and performers from a wide range of countries, including Taiwan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, France, Canada, and more. 

The festival also included a panel discussion by UNESCO experts on understanding shared cultural heritage in the Mekong Region as well as an artist talk on the state of Khmer contemporary art. 

Explore the S'Art Urban Art Festival in Battambang, Cambodia
Catch up on everything that happened at the S’Art Urban Arts Festival 2023 in Battambang, Cambodia
Volunteers pull a giant T-Rex puppet through the streets of Battambang as part of the art parade

Photo credits: Juliette DELORON

In October, Phare Ponleu Selpak partnered with AFD – Agence française de développement –  to host the first-ever public exhibition and mini art festival entitled បាត់ដំបងក្នុងក្តីស្រមៃ / Battambang imaginée : l’art pour construire demain 

With the support of Metis Arts and Development Fund, the exhibition aimed to showcase the development challenges and opportunities of Battambang Province through the captivating lens of artists work. The five major art installations featured in the exhibition were designed by visual art students at Phare Ponleu Selpak and were displayed in Samdach Sar Kheng Gardens Park along the Sangker River in Battambang during the week-long arts festival (21-28 October). 

Battambang imaginée exhibition and mini-festival sponsored by AFD and Metis Art and Development Fund
AFD 30 years anniversary dance performance at mini festival in Battambang, Cambodia

This AFD mini-festival was the first time that Battambang hosted an open-air contemporary art exhibition. Moreover, the Battambang imaginée art festival also commemorated 30 years of AFD’s activities and positive impact in Cambodia. 

And wrapping up the year in December 2023, Phare Ponleu Selpak sponsored and co-organized the Chumnor Art Festival, filling Battambang’s Street 2.5 with paintings, sculpture, crafts, dance, traditional music, an art auction, and more. 

Chumnor Art Festival in Battambang, Cambodia
Chumnor Art Festival in Battambang every December
Chumnor Art Festival circus and break dance by Phare Ponleu Selpak

Photo credits: BOUN Bunsetharath (Jasmine)

Bringing the Brightness of the Arts to the Battambang Community 

Outside of festivals, Phare Ponleu Selpak was very active in Battambang city and the surrounding area throughout 2023, bringing the brightness of the arts to different events and outreach opportunities. 

In January, Phare hosted the #ONESTEPNOPLASTIC campaign event to end the use of single-use plastics in Cambodia and encourage more sustainable options. The long-term campaign hopes to promote Cambodia as a sustainable and appealing tourism destination. As always, Phare integrated the arts into the educational and pollution-pickup event with a circus performance and a music concert by Tos Yerng. The 2023 event was a huge success with almost 1000 Battambang citizens participating. 

OneStepNoPlastic volunteer event in Battambang, Cambodia
Circus show performance by Phare Ponleu Selpak at OneStepNoPlastic event in Cambodia 2023

In early 2023, Phare Ponleu Selpak re-launched the mobile library program for the children in the surrounding community.  With the financial support from Nomura Group, Phare has received a brand-new rickshaw which makes it easier to transport the mobile library to these remote villages. 

Learn how Phare Ponleu Selpak re-launched the mobile library program for children in the community.
The mobile library tuk-tuk in Battambang, Cambodia sponsored by Nomura Group
Mobile library project in Ochar Commune in Battambang Province, Cambodia

Photo credits: Juliette DELORON

In October, Phare Ponleu Selpak participated in the Battambang Water Festival. The Phare boutique rented traditional Khmer costumes, Phare visual art students contributed their artworks to a public exhibition, and Phare performing arts students played music in the parade and even completed circus tricks on boats in the middle of the Sangker River!  

Students from Phare Ponleu Selpak at Battambang Water Festival

Video credit: Olivia AUDO

Phare Ponleu Selpak in Phnom Penh 

Per tradition every March, the Rosewood Phnom Penh hosted the Phare Charity Dinner in Phnom Penh, helping us raise nearly $40,000 toward art and education programs for young people in Battambang. It was a magical evening full of art auctions, circus performances, a four-course meal, and many memories made. Thank you to everyone who attended and supported Phare Ponleu Selpak!

Performing arts at the charity fundraising gala for Phare Ponleu Selpak at Rosewood Phnom Penh
Rosewood Phnom Penh fundraising gala for Phare Ponleu Selpak 2023
Charity art auction in 2023 for Phare Ponleu Selpak at Rosewood Phnom Penh
A circus performance at Rosewood Phnom Penh fundraising for Phare Ponleu Selpak

Photo credits: Rosewood Phnom Penh

And in December 2023, students from Phare Performing Arts School performed the classic and beloved circus show Rouge at the Institut français du Cambodge (IFC) in Phnom Penh.  

Artist Exchanges & Other Large-Scale Projects 

This past June, Phare hosted a collaborative project between Symbodia (based in Taiwan) and dance students at Phare Ponleu Selpak (representing Cambodia) to explore the inspirational movements between contemporary and traditional dances native to both countries. The project brought together dancers and other cultural practitioners from both nations to rediscover their cultures through rice and their connection with the land. The final performance of the dance exchange program – dubbed 仙女們的秘密檔案 Secret About Apsara – was a stunning showcase during the finale concert of the S’Art Urban Art Festival. 

Symbodia from Taiwan and Phare Ponleu Selpak from Cambodia dance exchange
Taiwan-Cambodia project, "Secret About Apsara" dancers in costume

Photo credits: Juliette DELORON

In September 2023, visual artist Lyra Garcellano from the Philippines visited Phare Ponleu Selpak as an Artist in Residence, teaching our students about drawing, illustration, and life as an artist. Lyra also learned about juggling, circus, and the Khmer language – a fair exchange!  

Across September and October, Phare circus students and alumni participated in an international artist exchange with FORCE, a circus troupe from South Korea. During the first part of the exchange, the Phare delegation visited FORCE in Seoul, and then a month later, FORCE traveled to Battambang to work with Phare circus artists. The 11 circus performers – six from Cambodia and five from Korea – are collaborating on a special co-production called “Handshake” that will debut in June 2024 at the 12th edition of Tini Tinou International Circus Festival. 

Circus rehearsal with Korean and Cambodian performers
Phare Ponleu Selpak circus artists in Seoul, South Korea

Photo credits: Olivia AUDO & KHUON Det

In December, Phare received support from the Île-de-France region to improve campus infrastructure, including new pathways, improved drainage, and an updated sewer system for the whole school. The construction and renovation from this project are expected to take a few more months into 2024.  

Campus infrastructure improvements for Phare Ponleu Selpak funded by Région Île-de-France
Région Île-de-France funded project in Battambang, Cambodia

Photo credits: Bryce MERKL SASAKI


And that’s an (incomplete) wrap! There were so many other events and activities and special moments we couldn’t cover, but they were all important nonetheless. 

We are grateful to everyone who contributed to Phare Ponleu Selpak in 2023, whether that was with your time, talent, funding, in-kind donations, or just love and affection. Thank you! Your contributions are crucial to the success of Phare’s mission of changing lives through the arts. As we enter our 30th anniversary year in 2024 we can’t wait to share with you what’s next. 


Don’t miss out on all of the great events, exhibitions, and festivals happening at Phare Ponleu Selpak! Sign up for our monthly newsletter and stay informed about our campus happenings as we change lives through the arts. 


Chiern Piseth Samphallyka, Communications Assistant at Phare Ponleu Selpak
CHIERN Piseth Samphallyka
Chiern Piseth Samphallyka works as the Communications Assistant at Phare Ponleu Selpak. She believes life is like the beauty of art. Currently she is a university student and wants to develop her SEO skills. She loves to read novels and listen to music in her free time.