[VIEWPOINT]Cultural Creativity Requires Commitment

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[VIEWPOINT]Cultural Creativity Requires Commitment

"Korea doesn't know that culture is part of the national wealth." This is a rather painful statement for us Koreans to absorb. It happens to be the title of a newspaper editorial that appeared in July 2000. On top of that, Guy Sormant, a French cultural critic, said in a lecture delivered in Seoul that Koreans have yet to realize the value of culture. Well, that is truly disturbing.

It was already disturbing enough that Koreans learned to appreciate the aesthetic value of Korean art through the eyes of the Japanese aesthetician during the colonial period. Now we allowed a Frenchman to ridicule us for our lack of cultural understanding. It's so sad that we constantly rely on the opinions of foreigners for understanding the value of culture.

Yet I wonder how many of us can possibly confront those aestheticians and cultural critics who tried to objectively evaluate and understand culture of a neighboring country. As the recent terrorist attacks in the United States showed, the new war in the 21st century is a war against an invisible enemy. As I watched the development of those terrorist incidents, the words "mutual understanding" came to mind.

Maybe the terrorist attacks last month resulted from the lack of mutual understanding between the capitalistic culture that values possessing things and the spiritualistic culture that values experience.

I believe new types of wars will be best prevented in the 21st century by reading each other's cultures, thereby acknowledging the existence of disparate cultures and exerting flexibility in accommodating others through harmony and mutual understanding.

That is why some say the 21st century is the century of cultural wars. Man-made disasters are inevitable if politicians, corporations, teachers and average citizens do not arm themselves with cultural creativity and engage in cultural dialogues with generous minds. Failing to equip themselves with cultural creativity will also result in a loss of competitiveness.

Korea's cultural community has contributed a lot thus far by promoting Korean culture abroad and by facilitating reconciliation and building confidence between North and South Korea. As a result, the community played a role in fostering the historic summit meeting between the two Koreas - a valuable political progress, and it has also been exerting efforts to restore the common nature of the northern and the southern culture. Now it has as its task developing the World Cup soccer games next year into a major cultural event.

The series of cultural priorities can be materialized by the research efforts of local universities across the country. Universities should relate their research results with local culture and attain a national competitiveness in the end. The Samsung Cultural Foundation's support to build an art museum, with the floor-space of 4,620 square meters, on the campus of Seoul National University, is notable. The museum is designed in such a way to minimize the destruction of the existing natural environment and to relate university culture with that of local communities. The museum will be accessible to local residents without going through the main gate of the university.

A park surrounds the museum and there is an educational program in place to enhance the cultural understanding of local residents as well as university students. It is almost a revolutionary attempt to make the museum accessible to local residents and it conveys the university's willingness to share its cultural asset with the local community.

However, the area's gu office, which will benefit from the museum the most, postponed the plan for three years, blaming the administrative regulations. The delay disappointed residents and the cultural community. How can we possibly say that Korea has become a nation that values culture? Where in the world does cultural violence exist? Under such conditions, who called ourselves a cultural nation? That is why the cultural critic Guy Sormant criticized Korea for not knowing what culture really means.

Tens of thousands of residents signed a petition for the construction of the art museum. In addition to the Korea Fine Arts Associa-tion, heads of the National Museum of Korea, the Seoul Metropolitan Art Gallery and university museums, influential figures of cultural community as well as many civic organizations appealed to open the museum. However, the gu office, which rules over culture and proudly exercises its administrative power, is focusing on strangling culture.

The current circumstances fill me with such a deep grief that I want to give up the work I have been doing altogether. I hope that the cultural space of creativity, where students and other citizens can reach a mutual understanding, will be constructed as soon as possible.


The writer is the curator of the Seoul National University Museum.

by Lee Jong-sang

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