Soun Kunthea is a new student at Phare Ponleu Selpak, but she already has big ambitions.
“When I finish my studies, I want to be a graphic designer,” she says. “I plan to develop completely new ways of designing in Cambodia!”
Kunthea enrolled in the preparation class in 2015. Within four months, it was clear that she had a high level of skill and she was encouraged to apply for the three-year vocational course at the Visual and Applied Arts School.
There are classes for students of any age and skill level at Phare Ponleu Selpak. In the Leisure Class the youngest children can develop their creativity, explore self-expression and have fun. The Academic Class is for older students at an intermediate level. In the Preparation Class, students develop their skills and work on the portfolio which is required to show their ability when they apply for the vocational training. Finally, students can apply for the vocational course. During their three years of study, they choose to specialize in one of three areas: visual art, graphic design and animation.
Kunthea has always liked to draw pictures at home, but she never thought of this as a skill she could develop. When her brother started taking art classes at Phare Ponleu Selpak, she decided to enroll too. Now, she says, she loves her classes, even though the work is not
always easy. “We are assigned many difficult things, but we feel that we can do it because of the encouragement of the teachers.”
In Cambodia, many people do not see a career in the arts as a viable option. For Kunthea’s friends, her decision to study art is a little bit strange. “My friends think it is not a good idea. They think the people who study art are strange and lonely. Because the artists just focus so much on their painting, not on the people around them.”
In fact, Kunthea is at the crest of wave of exciting growth in visual arts careers. The World Bank predicts that industries such as animation and visual marketing will be a lucrative pathway for Cambodia, suggesting that the government and educational institutions should tap into this “multi-billion-dollar global industry and realize Cambodia’s potential to participate in the high-tech services trade.”
Kunthea is not worried about her friends’ opinions; she thinks her choice is a good one. “I compare the skills I will have at the end of my studies to the skills her friends will have after university. I feel that I can create wonderful things from her job, while some of my friends who have finished university just got married, or are unemployed.”
Career options aside, Kunthea just loves the feeling of creating something special. “I can develop a piece and there is a mystery behind it, there is meaning in it. When someone see it, it makes them feel something.”
Kunthea’s artistic spirit is certainly strong: “Art is great,” she says, “and everything around us is art.”