Many traditional arts and artisans' skills in Laos have either disappeared completely or are on the verge of disappearing as older artists pass away. The few skills that have survived, especially those related to silk production and weaving, and wood carving, are driven by commercial interests. These losses are acute in Luang Prabang which traditionally had been a center for creative arts.
Recognizing that this loss represents a serious challenge to the future of Lao culture, the Buddhist Sangha has initiated plans to construct a Vocational School of Arts at the Buddhist Academy. Just a few of the disciplines that are intended for inclusion in the curriculum are: bronze casting; high glaze ceramic production; stencil cutting and application; production and preservation of palm-leaf manuscripts; production of traditional musical instruments; the creation of natural based dyes and paints; mural painting and gold leaf application.
The vision of the Arts School is sustained by the knowledge that many of the young novice students at the Buddhist Secondary school will, upon graduation, leave the monastic order and seek employment in civilian life. Thus the Arts School offers two significant promises; that of reviving the artistic skills themselves, and that of providing gainful employment (and the related poverty reduction) to many of the graduates.
In December of 2015 a one-month workshop was held at the Academy to gauge the potential interest of the students in the Arts, and the availability of teachers and qualified instructors. The workshop was a resounding success and gives the Sangha, and the Buddhist Heritage Project, impetus to continue with the Arts School. The workshop also underscored the desire of many of the students to advance their creative thinking capacities, in Arts disciplines and beyond.
Construction began on The Vocational School of Arts in late 2018, with the Monks and Novices building access roads, drainage and retaining walls with help from the local community. Subsequently, with the support of the Badur Foundation and numerous other donors, the first three Classroom / Teaching / Workshop buildings have been completed, opened and are in active use.
The photos below give a glimpse of the vision and progress encompassing the Buddhist Vocational School of the Arts. Please also follow the link to our Social Enterprise page under Culture from the main menu for more information on the Arts in Luang Prabang.
Novices getting their first look at the elaborate scale model of the Arts School.
Showing a deep sense of pride and involvement, the novices work on their time off, building walls and drainage before construction starts.
Pha One Keo Sitthivong, Abbot of the Buddhist Academy, discussing architectural plans with the Architect, Mr. Khoa Chaleunphol. The structure of the first Arts School building may be seen under construction in the background.
The first building complete, and the second under construction in the foreground.
The second building, now almost complete and in use!
Students of the Arts School, with members of the Buddhist Heritage Project and the Buddhist Archives in front of the second building.
An extraordinarily successful workshop was held to assess the validity of the Arts School concept before the project began.
Classroom instruction covering traditional design under the guidance of a highly qualified teacher.
Another view of the same class, gives more clear imagery of the designs.
Three talented novices creating attractive carved wooden plaques using traditional tools and techniques.
Another novice carving a stylised fish in a wall plaque.
A close-up of one of the wooden floral plaques being carved.
Paying close attention to detail, the novice carver carefully cleans his carving.
The FISH, in all its glory!
The ethereal imagery of Luang Prabang Buddhism, and the artistic creation it evokes, draw visitors from all over the world. Join them, and see for yourself!