By Chung Ah-young
Culture Minister Yu In-chon said he will formulate a long-term overseas promotional strategy to boost the global popularity of Korean culture.
"We will campaign for overseas cultural promotion as a long-term project. In the past, we've held just one-year or one-time events abroad. But now we are preparing for at least a three-year or longer project like other countries", Yu said in an interview with The Korea Times.
Long-term planning invariably means a bigger budget in promoting Korean culture. He said the plan is on the drawing board, adding that the action program will eventuate early next year.
Yu mentioned the on-going Korea Festival in Brussels, Belgium as a good example of promoting Korean culture overseas.
The Korea Festival, titled "Made In Korea" has been under way at Belgium's Centre for Fine Arts (Palais des Beaux-Arts) in Brussels, the largest art center in the country. It will continue until the end of February, ending a five-month run. A similar event will be held in Petit Palais, Paris in 2010.
The minister of culture, sports and tourism said the event is gaining huge popularity in Brussels because it shows the essence of Korean culture ― not only traditional culture, but also food, fashion and other things. He added preparations took two years.
"Many participants say the festival offers quite unique aspects, different from previous festivals which were only one-time cultural exchange programs. So we will come up with more long-term projects to effectively promote Korean culture and arts and take a differentiated approach by region and country", he said.
For example, for the Americas and Europe in which Korean culture is relatively unknown, the government will take a more aggressive promotion strategy. It will expand multi-cultural exchange programs with East Asian countries through ASEAN to introduce diverse Asian cultures.
He said the comprehensive Korean cultural promotion policies would be completed by 2012.
Eight months into his helmsmanship at the Culture Ministry, the 57-year-old actor-turned-minister said that to implement long-term cultural promotion overseas, he will further boost cultural relations with neighboring China and Japan.
Seoul will seek more regular cultural exchanges with Japan and sports games with China.
"The three countries will be closely interrelated in arts and sports. The big picture of such a policy will come out next year. I will discuss with the Chinese and Japanese cultural ministers during an upcoming meeting in Jeju".
"Letting our culture be known to other countries is the top priority for the government. It is time that not only the economy but also our culture be known to other countries", he said.
Concerning "hallyu", or the Korean wave, Yu said that hallyu was not made by the nation but spontaneously sprouted up. However, it was mostly limited to TV dramas and K-pop. "So we want to help hallyu further reach out to various fields, especially Korean food, fashion, publications and broadcasting and games" he said.
Yu said that given a growing number of Japanese tourists are visiting Nami Island, where the hit drama "Winter Sonata
" starring Bae Yong-joon
and Choi Ji-woo
was shot, it is important to use drama and film locations as tourist attractions.
"TV dramas and films well represent Korean culture, which ultimately attracts more inbound tourists", said Yu.
"Personally, I hope the local English language newspapers cover many Korean stories for foreigners both at home and abroad. The English language newspapers are a good communication tool between Koreans and non-Koreans, like our functions to promote Korean culture to other countries", he said.
As a former actor who has been active both on stage and on the small screen, the minister said he would push for more aggressive policies to promote the culture.
To support the domestic popular cultural industry, he will establish an exclusive concert hall for popular singers only.
Currently, there are just a few large concert halls such as the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts or the Seoul Arts Center which host major concerts, mostly classical recitals or operas.
"I know there are some conflicts between popular singers and the theaters. Many popular singers are suffering from a lack of venues for their concerts as the major big theaters don't allow them to hold a concert there", Yu said.
But he said such big concert halls of the Sejong Center and Seoul Arts Center are not appropriate for popular singers' performances as they are designed for different purposes.
The government is considering two candidate venues to be remodeled as a pop singers' exclusive hall with 3,000 seats ― the Olympic Hall in Olympic Park and Jangchung Gymnasium.
"We haven't decided yet which one. But when decided, the concert hall will be remodeled and opened soon", he said.
The large-sized concert hall is expected to open by June 2010 at a cost of 2 billion won. Also, a contents hall of the Cultural Contents Center in Sangam-dong in Seoul will be turned into a medium-sized concert hall with 400 seats, and will open December 2009.
Regarding state-run art organizations, the ministry will adopt a "creativity factory" system, an incubating process of devoting three years to the careful planning of works that boast artistic merit. Commercial success or market trends will not interfere with the mid-to-long runs of such performances.
This year, this system will be applied to musicals and plays. Writers and composers will be encouraged to submit works, among which the top prizewinner will receive 20 million won and two runner-ups 10 million each. Six contestants will receive funding to showcase their works (3 million won for plays and 5 million won for musicals). The promotion of regular auditions is also expected to revamp the competitiveness of the national organizations.
The government will continue to support thespians to make good performances for one or two years. The national theaters should create their own works.
"It is still a far-fetched goal to create a full-fledged environment favorable to artists in Korea. But we are trying to help them work with more support until they fully develop with a certain capacity", Yu said.
Currently, Yu, a former thespian himself, said not only plays and musicals but also other fine arts need state support. "Artists, whatever the genre is, always have a hard time. So the government should increase the support in building up the infrastructure and creativity works", he said.
"Before and after becoming the minister I felt nothing different personally. In the past, I was a person who was working in the field while now I am a person who directs how the field will go and follow it through", he said.
Easy Access to Sports
Under the slogan "Enjoy Sports in 15 Minutes After Leaving Home", Yu said that the sports policy is intended to help those form all walks of life from teenagers, the elderly and the handicapped enjoy sports in nearby gymnasiums.
"In Korea, there are fewer gymnasium facilities anybody can use compared with other advanced countries such as Japan and Germany. So we will increase the number of public gymnastic facilities", he said.
The ministry will put 255 billion won in building and supporting 485 public gymnasiums nationwide this year.
The ministry will also cooperate with the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development to improve the physical education environment at schools to make students exercise better and more.
As part of the efforts, the ministry has dispatched 825 assistant gym trainers since September to support elementary schools' gym classes and after-class exercises and will gradually expand the program to every elementary school.
"We will support 100 school gyms by 2012 and provide aid to schools to lay the grass on the playgrounds of schools", he said.