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Innovative Cambodian Arts Group Keeping Traditions Alive

Artists from the Cambodian Living Arts perform during a weekly traditional Cambodian show at the National Museum in Phnom Penhm, Cambodia, Monday, July 18, 2016. (Leng Len/VOA Khmer)

The Cambodian Living Arts (CLA) began as a school but has since morphed into much more.

In the 1960s, Cambodia was a hub for artists and musicians who came together to keep alive the ancient Khmer culture of the region. But with the advent of Khmer Rouge rule in 1975, all of that changed.

The artists were targeted by the regime, and few survived the coming years of isolation and hardship.

After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, with the Cambodian arts scene on the verge of being lost, Arn Chorn-Pond saw opportunity amid the destruction.

He established Cambodian Living Arts (CLA), a cultural organization that began life as a school but has since morphed into much more.

A surviving artist himself, Chorn-Pond knew well the struggles creatives faced even as recently as the late 1990s. So in 1998 he founded CLA, which now financially supports numerous artists, enabling their work to continue.

“As most master artists who survived the Khmer Rouge are old, if we don’t take care of them, our traditions will be gone one day,” he said.

Chhuon Sarin, head of programs at CLA, estimates that as many as nine in ten Cambodian artists died under the Khmer Rouge, but believes that art has a vital role to play in Cambodia’s future.

“The arts play a crucial role in the healing process, especially in a post-war country like Cambodia. It brings peace of mind and a sense of unity among artists.”