Located in what was a massive floating hotel in the Kingdom of Wonder, The Boat could become a thriving center for arts and culture in Cambodia. Floating on the edge of Phnom Penh, where the Mekong meets the Tonlé Sap River, the nonprofit organization plans to focus on displaying Khmer art. Dana Langlois, future artistic director of The Boat, envisions it as “a multi-disciplinary space that is creative in every aspect — where creatives and artists can have a dedicated space to work, to engage new audiences, and deepen the conversation on art practice in the region.”
In order to successfully finish renovations on the abandoned building, organizers are raising money for an opening in mid-2016.
As a social enterprise, with restaurants, office spaces, galleries, art studios, and more, the nonprofit art center will be supported by the proceeds from these businesses. With the recent shuttering of Romeet gallery — one of only a handful of contemporary art galleries in the capital city along with Sa Sa Bassac and JavaArts — and a struggle to sell contemporary Khmer art in one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in Southeast Asia, The Boat will be no small feat.
Behind The Boat are two other influential expatriates who have been working in Cambodia for a long time: Alexis de Suremain, a businessman and founder of MAADS, a hospitality management company that promotes responsible tourism and local culture in Cambodia and, soon, Yangon, Myanmar; and Jeroen Van Daalen, country manager of Celliers d’Asie, the oldest running importer of spirits into Cambodia.
As the founder of JavaArts in Phnom Penh, Langlois has become a staple of the contemporary Cambodian art scene. JavaArts encompasses an art gallery, artist lab, and residency program, all of which is partially sustained through a café, which has served as a successful business model for The Boat.
Langlois partly drew inspiration for The Boat from the Brisbane Powerhouse in Australia, a multi-purpose arts center, dining, and conference venue; the artist studio complex and gallery 59 Rivoli the Aftersquat in Paris; as well as artist squats in Berlin. While Langlois notes over email that they haven’t committed to any specific plans or artists for the space yet, she is in conversation with several culture organizations, including Amrita Performing Arts, a Khmer performing arts NGO based in Phnom Penh. She is confident that “The Boat is going to fulfill a need that has been growing in the arts community — the need for space and resources for artists.”