This blog is for anyone interested in inclusive arts and more widely for anyone who believes in the importance of every person they connect with, of individual creativity and of everyone's right to express themselves in their unique way. It is for anyone who believes in a society where everyone is valued, accepted, appreciated and included…..a world where every person counts!

Who am I?

My name is Laura Evans and I am from the UK, but at the moment I live in Cambodia. Why I am here is a long story but I will share a short version of it with you as its a good one. In 2012 I packed my bags and headed to South East Asia with my Husband, Ant, for 4 a week trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. We started our adventure in Vietnam and after two weeks we planned to meet friends at the boarder between the two countries, but they got stuck due to a rather suspect group of moto-taxi drivers. This left my Husband and me with an unexpected stop in Kampot, Cambodia, a small town just past the border, where we waited for our friends to catch up with us. 

Ant and Myself on our first night in Vietnam, Ant and Myself in traditional Cambodian dress at our wedding anniversary celebrations in July in Cambodia

Kampot was a lovely peaceful town by the river with smiley locals and we soon found a great place for breakfast - The Epic Arts Cafe. A cup of coffee and a bagel in hand and we kicked back and relaxed in to this new, un-planned stop in our trip. From what we could see the Epic Arts Cafe was part of Epic Arts, an organisation that did inclusive arts-based work with people with and with-out disabilities in Cambodia. As artists ourselves (myself with a dance focus and Ant with a music focus) working for an arts centre in Staffordshire (UK), we were intrigued by this organisation.  A poster on the wall announced an open day at the main Epic Arts Centre on the end of the town the following morning, so with nothing else planned we decided to go. 

How things have changed since that day - as I write this (18 months on from that coffee and bagel) I am sitting in the office of Epic Arts Cambodia and apparently I am the Arts Advisor for the organisation and my Husband is the Programme Development Manager…..we are two parts of a three-part Senior Management Team and everyone seems to think we are in charge and we know what we are doing!

After seeing the Epic Arts Centre and the work being created on that open day, we returned to the UK and to jobs we were very unsatisfied with and sent a email with our CVs, offering to come and volunteer at Epic Arts for a month the following summer. The reply email we got was very unexpected to say the least. The current team at Epic Arts were looking to return to the UK and were trying to find two people to take initial volunteer positions at the organisation and apparently our skills fit the bill. An interview via Skype, a few long conversations between ourselves and close friends and a declaration of 'if we don't do this we will regret it forever' and we booked flights, packed up our house, waved goodbye to family, friends and pets and headed to Cambodia and we haven't been back since.

Why am I blogging?

Me working with Ryna, a student on the Inclusive Arts Course at Epic Arts

Before the infamous trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, I had begun to study a Masters course - Creative Futures: Applied Theatre, at Staffordshire University. Fortunately, due to the flexibility of the course, I was able to link my 'change of circumstances' to my course and I began to research inclusive arts as the basis for one of my modules. My aim was to prepare myself for work at Epic Arts, as one of my major roles would be to develop and the  new Inclusive Arts Course that was starting in Cambodia. A year at Epic Arts developing this course, helping to manage the organisation and working in an environment where the motto of  'Every Person Counts' is lived out in all aspects of the organisation and I have decided to focus my Final Masters Project on investigating Epic Arts in Cambodia and sharing its practices. I will be sharing what I find on this blog so everyone can be a part of what I discover. 

An Inclusive Arts workshop in progress at Epic Arts Centre, Kampot. Cambodia & The Inclusive Arts students at Epic Arts Cambodia

What am I blogging about?

I will be using this blog to share my journey throughout this Masters research project and it will form part of my assessment and the module requirements for the course. My project is entitled:

Every Person Counts: Exploring and comparing the approaches to inclusive arts though an investigation in to the perceptions, experiences and practices of activity participants, facilitators and programme managers of Epic Arts Cambodia and congruous organisations in the UK.

'Epic Encounters' - The inclusive performance team from Epic Arts, Cambodia
The project involves an in-depth investigation in to the inclusive arts work underway at Epic Arts in Cambodia and it will also link to a planned UK tour for our inclusive arts performance team 'Epic Encounters'. I will be recording and reflecting on the development, processes, and findings of the project on this blog. I will include interviews, images and video to share the storiesexperiences and attitudes at Epic Arts, Cambodia and partner UK organisations and I will also discuss my personal learning and development.

How can you get involved?

I want to say to anyone reading this that I want this blog to be useful and interesting to people working in the area of inclusive arts and other connected areas, I would welcome any input you have and any feedback you want to give. Please feel free to add your comments and thoughts as I would like this blog to be a two-way communication between me in Kampot, Cambodia and people all over the world. If you know someone who would be interested in this blog, please share and invite them to comment too. I hope that this blog provides a platform for people to share in my journey and discovery of inclusive arts practice in Cambodia and in the UK.

The Inclusive Arts students filming a music video in Kampot. Cambodia

I will finish this blog with a short film that I was involved in making with students on the Inclusive Arts Course at Epic Arts, Cambodia. I think this film explains a lot about the attitude of the people I work with; the people who try to live out the message that 'Every Person Counts' in all that they do and say and create.