Interview with Nicolaus Mesterharm, Founder and Director of Meta House

1. How long have you been in Cambodia? How has the arts scene evolved since you arrived?
I came to Cambodia 22 years ago – first as a tourist, then as a filmmaker, which is my original trade. From 2000 onwards, I produced and directed numerous documentaries for European Cultural TV (ARTE) and German State TV, focusing mainly on cultural and social topics in Cambodia. Around. 2005 I witnessed the emergence of the young contemporary art scene in Phnom Penh, which led to the foundation of “my” Cambodian-German Cultural Center “Meta House”.

2. How do you see yours and Meta House’s role in helping grow the local arts scene?
Meta House was established in January 2007 in the capital Phnom Penh as a creative platform for the nascent Cambodian arts and media scene. What once started as a small community center in a private house has grown into an award-winning cultural center. In a world that is increasingly interconnected, we provide programs and services for individuals and organizations to promote effective intercultural communication, cross-cultural intelligence, diversity, and inclusion.

3. How has COVID affected the arts sector and how has the scene adapted to these changes?
The coronavirus outbreak has devastatingly impacted artists and cultural workers who need help and support to weather the crisis. With German funding, I have directed the documentary “CAMBODIA: COVID 19’S MARK ON ART”, which had its premiere at this year’s Cambodian International Film Festival. Due to COVID-19, Meta House was closed for almost two years. You can now find us in our new location at Street 228, where we continue to host exhibitions, film screenings, music events, and performances free of charge. Please log onto our website or Facebook page for the event schedule.

4. What do you see for the future of the arts scene in Cambodia?
We are almost back at the start. During COVID, many galleries and art spaces have closed their doors forever; many artists have found other employment to pay their bills, as the foreign market for Cambodian art had collapsed. Now is the time to find local collectors, who are often still hesitant to invest in contemporary art. Moreover, the tiny Cambodian art scene is still divided into camps and there is not really an overarching community or many channels of communication between these camps. In order to develop within the local scene, it is vital for artists to interact with each other.

5. You are also the director of the I-NGO Cambodian-German Cultural Association (KDKG). Could you explain your work there and how you work to foster cultural exchanges through art?
The I-NGO KDKG focuses mainly on education. With funding provided by the German government, we are teaching the German language to Cambodians (and other foreigners) who want to live/study in Germany. Moreover, we conduct various multi-media programs in Cambodian schools and universities, in close cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport. We organize theatre in classrooms, schoolyard exhibitions  film screenings or speaker events to talk about women empowerment, alcohol abuse, or the legacy of the Pol-Pot-regime. So far, 150,000 students have participated. 


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