UNESCO announces three-year culture initiative in Lao PDR: Re|Shaping Policies for Creativity and Artistic Freedom
Bangkok, 20 December 2022 — UNESCO, the Lao PDR Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) co-organised the first of what is planned to be an ongoing series of Artist Talks in Luang Prabang, Lao PDR, on 8 December 2022.
The inaugural Artist Talks event was well-attended by artists, filmmakers and other cultural and creative professionals from across the country, who were joined by representatives from several government ministries, at both national and provincial levels, as well as diplomatic representatives and civil society organizations, all of whom joined hands to strengthen the Lao PDR creative sector and review the status of artists working in the country.
Lao PDR Vice Minister Vansy Kouamoua remarked of the Talks:
The creative sector in Lao PDR is relatively very small, but it has been expanding positively and continuously, especially in the craft, performing art and traditional music sectors. For the entertainment sector, there has also been a shifting away from government investment to private sector investment, which makes it more easily accessible for the population.
The Artist Talks marked the commencement of a new three-year project, Re|Shaping Policies for Creativity and Artistic Freedom, to be undertaken by UNESCO/Sida from end of 2022 to October 2025. Re-shaping Policies will support Lao PDR and eight partner countries in building more resilient and sustainable cultural and creative sectors by establishing a multi-stakeholder dialogue platform; a systematic method of data collection; and procedures for identifying key policies and good practices. The program will enable Lao PDR to submit the necessary Quadrennial Periodic Reports as required under the UNESCO 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005 Convention).
Mr Feng Jing, Chief of the Culture Unit of UNESCO Bangkok, expressed gratitude for the commitment of the Lao PDR Government to engaging many different stakeholders, especially cultural and creative professionals, in an inclusive and participatory manner to discuss challenges and policies directly related to them. Under the framework of the 2005 Convention, the UNESCO/Sida project aims to support the participatory elaboration of the 2005 Convention’s next Quadrennial Periodic Report (QPR), due in 2024.
The Artist Talks is the inaugural activity under the UNESCO/Sida ReIShaping Policies initiative. The objectives of the Artist Talks were to engage both government and civil society organizations (CSOs) in creative policy dialogue, and to collect information from civil society and government policy-makers to assist the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism of Lao PDR to develop their upcoming QPR.
Ms Kamonrat Chayamarit, Culture Programme Officer of the Culture Unit of UNESCO Bangkok, spoke on how successful cases from the region’s creative sector can contribute substantially to the national GDP in some countries; while Mr Matthew Johnson-Idan, Senior Economist of the the UN Resident Coordinator's Office in Lao PDR, stressed the potential of the Lao PDR cultural and creative industries to be further strengthened, noting,
Lao PDR has a young population and the country needs to create 80,000 jobs per year. When you take into consideration the National Socio-Economic Development Plan (and in particular its emphasis on Green, Sustainable, Quality, and Focused development), Cultural and Creative Industries (CCIs) is an interesting sector, because the cultural and creative sector is sustainable, green, and -in the context of current economic and financial difficulties- affordable. CCIs can create new decent jobs, especially for young people.
Remarks were followed by a panel discussion including Khao Niew Theatre Group, XYZ Design Collective group, Saya Craft Social Enterprise, and Xaisongkham, the renowned independent filmmaker, as well as a series of thematic roundtable discussions among breakout groups seeking to identify potential policy reforms. Commenting on the primary challenges facing the cultural and creative sectors in the country, Vice Minister Vansy Kouamoua stated,
The challenge across the sector is that there needs to be investment in skills and knowledge development. The framework of 2005 clearly defined the needs to build preparedness for creative professionals to face digital evolution and technical transformation.
The Artist Talks were designed to stimulate grassroots discussions that would enable the Lao Government to consider necessary reforms to the creative industries which might encourage artistic expression, and thereby help the government meet its obligations under the 2005 Convention, which is divided into four thematic topics: artistic freedom; balanced flow of cultural and creative goods and services; status of artists; and mobility of artists.
Mr Thongbay Photisane, President of the Lao Writers Association, emphasized the importance of cooperative work, saying, ‘To strengthen the Creative and Cultural Industries in Lao PDR, the government sector, CSOs, the private sector and cultural and creative professionals from all creative sectors have to work collaboratively.’
Mr Phonepaseth Keosomsak, an architect and a cultural professional, noted that he was ‘surprised that people are happy to share their thoughts openly. The government officials are already aware of some challenges, and they stand ready to provide answers to questions related to existing policies…[thus remaining] open to working collaboratively with the CSOs.’
The Artist Talks were held concurrently with the 2022 Blue Chair Film Festival, and participants enjoyed screening two short films which were directed and produced in Lao PDR; attendees also enjoyed a traditional Lao puppet show (choreographed to encourage appreciation of artistic freedom of expression), performed by the celebrated Khao Niew Theatre Group.
Kamonrat Mali Chayamarit has been with UNESCO Bangkok since 2008 and currently specializes as a Culture Programme Officer in the Culture Unit assisting the State Party of Lao PDR in implementing various UNESCO Conventions ratified by the country. She works across heritage disciplines in regional cultural and intangible cultural heritage; cultural and creative industries; world heritage; and the illicit trafficking of heritage. Kamonrat holds a Master’s degree in Cultural and Creative Industries from King’s College London; a post-graduate Diploma in comparative studies in cultures from the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS), University of London; and a Bachelor’s degree from the Faculty of Arts at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok.
For more information on the Re|Shaping Policies initiative: