Some tourists like lying in the sun on the beach, some like nature activities bird watching and others enjoy historical tourism like visiting ancient buildings.
The tourism project by the artist Poy Chhunly – nicknamed “Pacquiao Khmer” for his resemblance to the boxer – originally from Battambang province, is different. It is an art tour that allows visitors who love the arts to experience the local artwork and get to know the real situation of artists in Battambang province.
Chhunly, 42, started his animation career in 2002 after graduating from Phare Ponleu Selpak. His film “Revive” was the winner of the best animated film at the Cambofest 2007 Film Festival and it has been screened at both national and international film festivals, including the US, France and Laos.
“Art tourism can help improve the lives of artists so they can continue their careers and create a gallery, and there are guests who love to buy works so that they don’t have to give up their careers and turn to drive a moto or become a construction worker, which is a sign of the arts declining,” Chhunly said.
Chhunly, who started his own studio in 2018 to fulfill his dream of becoming an independent artist, said that the Art Tour Project can also be considered a part of the Street Art Festival, called Chumnor Art.
The Battambang Art Tour is set to take place every Sunday for local and international guests who wish to visit each artist’s studio, with the organizers currently collaborating with five studios.
He said that guests will also be taken to see murals in public places with an explanation of the meaning of the paintings, similar to how tour guides explain the artwork in temples.
The five artists participating are Touch Khchao, Vann Chhorvorn, Rose Rose, Chea Serey Roth and Bor Ha.
The Art Tour project is aimed at bringing about the revival of the arts in Battambang and to increase the ability for artists to live stable lives and earn better incomes.
Kim Sophorn, director of the Battambang provincial Department of Culture and Fine Arts, said that during the locked down period between 2020 and 2021, all forms of art were negatively impacted, especially in the private sector.
He said that despite the inability to support a large number of galleries and artists, the art industry is now slowly reviving, though not as active as it was before Covid-19.
“Artists are starting to perform, artists are starting to resell their products,” Sophorn told The Post.
Tour organizer Chhunly said that the duration of the tours depends on the guests, whether they need two to three hours or half a day or if they want to learn to paint or even dine with the artists, it’s up to them.
“I will make a list for a morning tour package of where we need to go such as viewing paintings from the beginning of
the road to the end of the entrance through our artist’s studio.
“As for charging fees from guests, we pay for the artist to spend time explaining their work and showing the artwork by charging them according to their working hours, travel expenses or guides. Guests can also opt for breakfast and lunch packages at the artist’s home, exploring the artist’s life and getting to know them,” Chhunly explained.
Chhunly said that some people who are not artists are still curious and interested in learning about art, and guests from other provinces also want to come and see.
In general, he said, European guests love art and when they know about various art programs, they want to study the art and want to learn what techniques were used to make it as well as wanting to see the works of Cambodian artists.
He said since the government announced the reopening of the country to foreign tourists and travelers, he has not seen a significant number of foreign visitors in Battambang.
In Battambang town, there wasn’t much more to see than a one day trip and if Battambang
had more programmes, it would be more attractive to tourists and the Art Tour is something that can attract guests to stay longer in Battambang.
Although Chhunly welcomes both local and international tourists, the organisers of this art tour have high hopes that they will see growing numbers of foreign tourists, though there are no foreign guests at the moment he must be prepared to receive foreign guests from now on.
“If we have a small number of guests now, we have to start with what we have now and not wait for the guests to arrive to create a new one. This is another new tourism option in Battambang for visitors who want to know the art history in this province, including the history of the architecture of buildings,” he said.
He said that if in the first year the art tourism team received only one or two groups or 10 groups, it would be a good start.
For this first launch, Chhunly asked guests to spend only half a day viewing the paintings on the streets and in the studio and that students can come to learn more about the arts. He welcomes all art lovers who want the experience as well as anyone who wants to help this project get going faster.