Training Center Stimulates The Artist in These Youths

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Training Center Stimulates The Artist in These Youths

It's late evening at the congested area around Yeongdeungpo Station, in western Seoul, and restaurants selling ox-tail soup are starting to prepare for their late night customers, who are mostly merchants finished with their work at the nearby market.

Passing through Yeongdeungpo's main street, which is lined with a fish market, nightclubs and palatial wedding halls, one is faced with a building made of red brick. At a quick glance, this edifice looks like a factory of some sort. In fact, it is the Haja Youth Cultural Center, an after-school training spot for kids who want to acquire hands-on skills in various cultural fields. Some students, who are no longer at day schools, choose to come here as a replacement and hang out with their peers, but most are just kids who want to try something different from their neighborhood institutions which offer conventional training in the arts.

In the building, visitors are bombarded with eccentric decorations and drawings of the latest Japanese cartoon characters, which are scattered all over the walls. Designed by the young artists studying at the center, the inside of the building is like an artistic production itself. The ground floor consists of seminar rooms, studios, a resting room and an exhibiting space where students display their artworks. The house is overflowing with creative ideas, which is something rare even in the city's hippest contemporary galleries offering works from the leaders of the art industry. The school also has a small cafe run by students at Haja which sells sandwiches and gimbap for those who did not manage to eat on their way from school to the institute.

The Haja Center is a dynamic workshop-based institution, which minimizes theoretical training from textbooks and concentrates on practical experience. The teachers in the classes allow their students to experiment with their media from the very beginning. Through this process, they attempt to nurture students' creativity rather than teach them to master technical skills. The center presents programs covering visual art, film & video, web art, music and civil culture.

The visual art program at Haja is one of the few in the nation that does not base its training on preparing students to enter art colleges. As a result, they can skip the technical training requirements, which many Korean universities look for when handling the admission process. Instead, Haja offers practical courses like T-shirt dying and name-card designing classes. The products from these classes are sold to outsiders, staff members and other students in the school. The students in the visual art program are also responsible for designing space in the center and promotional materials. Last August, the group held a mixed-media exhibition at the Insa Art Center in central Seoul, titled "The Attack on the Museum."

The members of the Film and Video Department are quite active in the youth filmmaking industry. They recently gained fame for themselves through participation in a section called "Digital 1219" in the Jeonju International Film Festival. This division in the Film Festival was exclusively for people in the 12 to 19 age group and was co-organized by the institute and the festival programmers. Haja film and video students also arrange and participate in other festivals like the Koding Film Festival, a festival organized by high school students and have regular screenings of their work both in the building and at other venues.

In the music and performance department at Haja, there are 21 outfits consisting hiphop groups, heavy metal bands offering both soft and hard rock. These bands recently released their first album. With practicing musicians like Kim Jeong-hwan and Heo Jin as their band masters, the music teams at Haja have access to recording facilities in the building and a variety of different instruments. They also get to perform live in the basement of the building, where there is a live music venue.

The civil culture program, consisting of the only classes in the center that are held in a seminar style, has discussion-based classes where students talk about issues that concern their lives. Last October, in preparation for the Asia-Europe Meeting, the Yeongdeungpo Municipal government painted over some murals which Haja students had spent months painting. The students from this class responded by organizing a week-long protest in front of the Yongdungpo Ward Office, critiquing the government's tactlessness for not asking the artists' permission to destroy their work.

Financed by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and operated by the Center for Youth and Cultural Studies at Yonsei University, the center places emphasis on practice rather than theory. This is perhaps one of the reasons why Cho Hye-cheong, the institute's president and a guru in Korean cultural studies, named the center haja, which translates as "let's do it" in English. Let's do it instead of just thinking about it or planning it, is probably what Ms. Cho meant.

Choi Soo-jeong, one of the staff members at the Haja Youth Cultural Center, describes the center as a "factory" where kids produce things and learn to take positive control of their lives.

"Although we call ourselves a vocational school, the actual number of students who manage to find jobs with the training we provide at Haja are very few," Ms. Choi noted, while adding that the Center's management is more interested in providing kids with alternatives ways of experiencing the different fields of the arts outside of schools rather than offering practical training for future jobs.

by Park Soo-mee

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