“40 Stories” Spotlight: Khmer Arts Academy

To celebrate our 40th Anniversary, we asked forty of our amazing grantees, past and present, to tell the story of their work and their relationship with the California Arts Council. Throughout this anniversary year, we’ll be sharing excerpts from our special publication 40 Stories, 40 Years here on the blog. You can view the complete collection at this link.


 

Khmer Arts Academy, Long Beach

By Reaksmey (Mea) Lath, Instructor/Performer at Khmer Arts Academy

Year of First CAC Grant: 2002

A Stamp of Approval

I was among the original students of Cambodian classical dance at the Khmer Arts Academy when it was established in 2002. The California Arts Council (CAC) was among the first funders of the organization, which provides free dance workshops in the Cambodian refugee community of Long Beach, the largest community of its kind outside of Southeast Asia. Through the CAC’s then Multi-Cultural Entry Grant program, the Academy was able to provide programming and leverage those funds as matches for additional support. Funding for the traditional arts is not always easy to come by, especially in a small and impoverished immigrant community without the resources to support its own culture. A stamp of approval through a CAC grant said this was an endeavor of value. Over time, many foundations came to recognize the same thing. The organization is now the most accomplished Cambodian arts organization in the country.

Passing On an Ancient Tradition

As a result of California Arts Council support for Khmer Arts Academy, I have had the opportunity, over the past 13 years, to advance from student to teacher, passing on a tradition that is more than a thousand years old and helping to offer younger members of my challenged community opportunities to develop a sense of excellence. Through CAC support for residency programs, I’ve come to know top-notch performing artists from different traditions and fields, who have helped me gain a better understanding of the possibilities for how the body can move through time and space as well as how different artistic traditions evolve. Without Khmer Arts Academy, I simply would not have had access to this exquisite cultural tradition of my parents and their ancestors.

Enriching the Community

Long Beach is home to perhaps 50,000 Cambodians. The Cambodia Town Cultural District is a place where you’ll find markets, tailors, pharmacies, restaurants and auto body shops catering to Cambodians. Khmer Arts Academy is its center for dance. The organization has changed the way the dance is practiced, performed and understood in the community and beyond.

Photographed by The Future Collective for the LA County Arts Commission
Khmer Arts Academy Photographed by The Future Collective for the LA County Arts Commission

 

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REAKSMEY (MEA) LATH has studied classical dance with Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, Charya Burt, Sothavy Khut and Sophanmay Nong as well as with Khmer Arts Ensemble in Cambodia. With Khmer Arts Academy, she has performed throughout California. Mea is a recent graduate of San Diego State University.

View the complete 40 Stories, 40 Years collection at this link.

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