When business assists the arts: a won-won situation

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When business assists the arts: a won-won situation

On a delightful day early this month in Yeouido, Seoul, cherry blossoms adorned the island's avenues, lightening everyone's mood. Up on the 20th floor of the Federation of Korean Industries building, leaders of the local art and business worlds met to discuss their symbiotic relationship.

At a round table sat the TV actor Choi Bool-am, the traditional singer Shin Yeong-hee, the conductor Gum Nanse, the painter Lee Doo-sik and the theater producer Song Seung-hwan. Joining them were the chairman of SK Group, Son Kil-seung, the chairman of Kyobo Life, Shin Chang-jae, and the chairman of Doosan, Min Gyeong-hoon.

The gathering was an unofficial meeting of the Korean Business Council for the Arts, which was founded in 1994 and now consists of some 100 companies, to appoint the famous artists as promotional ambassadors for the group. The council also calls itself "Mecenat," which means "sponsorship" in French. Its president, Mr. Son, opened the meeting by noting the cherry blossoms outside.

"On my way here I saw a field of cherry blossoms in full bloom that made the entire city look bright and glorious," he said. "It's wonderful that our economy is growing now as well; we will be in the world spotlight this year with the World Cup and the Asian Games. What can we show the world at our finest hour? Winning at soccer is important but it's vital that we show our great culture and arts. If we choose a specific arts area for each company to support, this will boost the competitiveness of our products and the nation as well."

Mr. Son and the council have always advocated a strategy of "one culture for one company" when it comes to corporate support of the arts. Mecenat had been looking sluggish in the years since the Asian currency crisis. Since its inception, the council's goal was to provide support to the arts to the tune of 100 billion won ($75 million) per year. It was unable to reach the benchmark early on, and contributions had fallen sharply by 2000. But last year it was able to reach its target. And with the economy steadily growing, Mr. Son said he hopes to expand Mecenat's activities.

One of the main points of that strategy is the idea of promotional ambassadors. There will be six ambassadors ?n addition to the five artists at the meeting, the cellist Hanna Chang was honored. Chang, 19, couldn't attend the meeting because she is studying at Harvard. In Mecenat's early days, it gave Chang a famous cello, the "Guadagnini," which was valued at upwards of $900,000 at the time.

Chang never forgot the gift and has always said it is her "fervent wish to help the Mecenat activities to the best of my ability."

For starters, the promotion ambassadors will meet with the chief executives of Mecenat and preach that support for arts and culture is not a waste of money, but a substantial investment toward enhancing corporate images through links to culturally valuable products and activities. Furthermore, their job will be to enhance public awareness of the cultural significance of Mecenat's activities.

Another noteworthy member of the group is the president of Renault-Samsung Motors, Jerome Stoll. He was eager for his company to join Mecenat and he volunteered to serve as an executive of the business-art group. Stoll's enthusiasm contrasts with the attitudes of many other CEOs in the council, who are reluctant to get actively involved. "My wish is that our company can become a meaningful part of Korean society," Mr. Stoll once said. "I am honored to be part of this group and I pledge to to do my utmost best."

After the meeting, the businessmen and artists clapped for each other and posed for photographs. Laughter and a spirit of goodwill filled the hall. The participants probably left thinking that a new kind of Mecenat would emerge from the meeting.



by Oh Byeong-sang

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