Critical steps taken to nurture new creativity in Lao PDR

Production company LNWC’s director of photography is framing a shot in their latest movie, a romantic-comedy "Hak Aum Lum". Creativity is blossoming in Lao PDR. Government officials are drawing on IFCD support to understand how the 2005 Convention can help nurture their growing creative industries. Photo Credit: Amatha Ler


Since the late 1980s, Laotians have been increasingly exposed to other cultural influences. Internet cafes are now found in the large cities and are popular with young people.

While traditional arts are widely appreciated and continue to play an important part in shaping national values and identity, new forms of creative expression are also blossoming and gaining popularity.

Contemporary Laotian painting shows artists have been refining their techniques; music videos mix the traditional and modern, while young filmmakers are reviving local cinema in a Thai and Korean-inspired movement known as the ‘Lao New Wave’. While promising, the growing cultural industries in Lao PDR still lack recognition. Many contributors to this domain earn little from their endeavors and the economic potential of this budding sector is only now starting to be understood.

In 2007, the Government ratified the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. This landmark agreement enables governments to foster domestic cultural industries so that people can create, disseminate, and enjoy cultural goods and services freely. Officials, decision-makers, creative entrepreneurs and practitioners all have a role to play in bringing the Convention alive. To better understand their roles, the Lao National Commission for UNESCO organized a seminar on the Convention for government officials. With support from UNESCO’s International Fund for Cultural Diversity (IFCD) and the UNESCO Bangkok office, more than 30 participants from five Ministries took part in the 2012 seminar.

Vanessa Achilles, Programme Officer at UNESCO’s Bangkok office, also participated. “The Seminar in March brought together, for the first time, officials from different Ministries,” she said. “Few were aware of the Convention and over three days they learnt about its basic principles.”

A follow-up effort included a first-ever baseline study on Laotian cultural industries. This was supported by the Korea Funds-In-Trust (KFIT). The study is due to be released in the coming weeks. Key findings of this milestone report are anticipated to show that more people than expected are involved in national cultural industries and that there is an urgent need for human resources development in a country where there are few formal university and no technical training courses.

As Achilles affirmed, “Launching this effort at the seminar meant that government officials understood what the study was trying to achieve and the project was well received.”

Following the Seminar and the launch of the study, the next critical steps will be to ensure there is a focal point for the Convention in Lao PDR who can coordinate efforts. Continuing to provide support to government officials on the Convention will also be important, while connecting the government with the private sector will help identify needs and ways forward, Achilles said.

Creating new forms of cultural expression in Lao PDR is a fledgling idea. “Traditional arts can thrive alongside new forms of expression. Japan and Korea have both demonstrated this and Lao PDR stands to benefit greatly from supporting this potentially dynamic area,” she added.

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