under Livan’s supervision. “Yary is believed to be one of two survivors of the brutal Pol Pot era who was educated and trained in the classical art of Cambodian ceramics,” explained Rack. When the Vietnam War spread to Cambodia in the early 1970s, there was a thriving ceramics department at Phnom Penh’s Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA), she said. When the Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia, all colleges and schools were closed, and teachers and students were targeted for extinction. “You could not reveal that you were educated or you’d be killed,” said Rack. After years of struggle in the Cambodian killing fields and then in a Thai refugee camp, Livan eventually immigrated to Lowell in 2001. His family was able to follow three years later. The seeds for the Cambodian Kiln Project were planted in 2003, when Rack and Livan worked together on an award-winning public-art project in Boston. As a faculty member at Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA), Rack recruited Livan to work with her and a group of predominantly Asian youth as part of SMFA’s Youth-Art-In-Action Program. Together, the group created a large, ceramic sculpture, based on an iconic Cambodian monument. The project was recognized in 2005 with a Coming Up Taller Award from the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, presented in a White House ceremony. When Rack was hired as a full professor at Middlesex in 2004, she began teaching art at MCC’s campus in Lowell, which has the second largest Cambodian population in the U.S. That’s when the idea of building a kiln came to her. “I just had the idea in the back of my mind,” she said. “Yary didn’t have his own studio or kiln, and didn’t have an artistic outlet.” Profiles 4 Yary Livan (left), one of the few surviving masters of Cambodian ceramics, shows off work fired in the new word-burning kiln during the fall dedication ceremony. Rack began helping Livan write grant proposals to support his work. He received a series of Massachusetts Cultural Council grants to teach in the Lowell schools, and in 2012 was awarded a fellowship and named a Master of Traditional Arts. The Kiln Project really began to take off when Rack was selected to participate in a cultural-exchange trip to Cambodia in the summer of 2010. She was among 13 MCC and Lowell Public Schools teachers who took part in a U.S. Department of Education Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad to promote communication between American and Cambodian educators. “I made building a kiln the focus of my Fulbright-Hays project,” explained Rack. “I wanted to save this art form before it completely goes out of practice.” While in Cambodia, she met with kiln master Proeung Kang, the only other living expert in Cambodian ceramics. (He had studied with Livan at RUFA.) Rack persuaded Kang to travel to Lowell as a visiting summer scholar and help build the kiln. With Kang onboard, Rack came home to raise money for the project, and ground was broken in June 2012. Over the next few months, Kang and Livan built the innovative kiln, which uses one-third less wood than a traditional Cambodian kiln. 4 Rack, Proeung Kang (left) and Livan (right) with President Carole Cowan and Executive VP Jay Linnehan. Now that it’s up and running, Rack considers the kiln only the first step. “I thoroughly enjoy this work with Yary,” she said. “But I also enjoy working with other Lowell art teachers and helping them figure out how to better connect with their students and the local community. “Art has the power to make those kinds of connections happen, said Rack. “We’re just beginning to make this vision of the community and the college come to life.” • Kathy Register i For more information about MCC’s Cambodian Kiln Project, contact Art Professor Margaret Rack at rackm@middlesex.mass.edu, or visit the “Yary’s Kiln” blog site, which chronicles the entire project with photos and blog posts: http://community.middlesex.mass.edu/blogs/ cambodiankiln/default.aspx#.UUc6FlsjoeV For more information about the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Master of Traditional Arts program, visit: http://www.massculturalcouncil.org/gallery/ artistDetail.asp?App=20121967 [ 21 ]