Make way for sound of music -- and hammers

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Make way for sound of music -- and hammers

The government of Seoul has announced ambitious plans to turn their municipality into a "city of culture." Not only have officials established foundations to support various artists' projects in the city, but a number of performing halls handled by the capital are undergoing extensive renovations. And big names are coming.

In April, Lorin Mazel, the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, is expected to be here to lead the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts. The dates for Mr. Mazel's appearance have not yet been made final.

The city plans to spend at least 300 million won ($250,000) on each of Mr. Mazel's scheduled appearances. The plan is for the Seoul Philharmonic, which operates under the city's budget, to grow into a musical group that is on the level of philharmonic orchestras in London and Berlin. To do that, city officials say that renowned conductor Zubin Mehta will appear March 31 and April 1 at two Seoul venues.

Lee Myung-bak, the mayor of Seoul, calls his plan "a Seoul renaissance movement." His idea is to enhance the fields of culture and arts, which were long excluded from the government's interests, chiefly because past city administrations focused on development and industry.

"We will upgrade the city's cultural standards as if we were developing a new industry in Seoul," Mr. Lee says. The idea behind it, according to Mr. Lee, is "to maximize the brand marketing of Seoul as a city."

In August, the Seoul Cultural Foundation, which will be in charge of providing grants and other forms assistance for cultural projects and festivals, is expected to be formally launched. Comprised mainly of people involved in various art and culture fields, the foundation has already guaranteed 30 billion won of support to city projects and it aims to collect 100 billion won. The foundation will also be in charge of facilitating cultural relations with other countries to establish international festivals and events, similar to Busan's film festival.

Within the four main gates surrounding central Seoul, separate cultural tourist districts are being established. Rather than producing brand new districts, the city is working to restore tourist resources that are already in place.

The tourist districts are organized into five regions: the center of traditional culture near Gyeongbok Palace and Insa-dong, the shopping district near Myeongdong and Namdaemun, the theater district near Daehangno, the center of modern culture near Jeongdong and an ecological center near the Cheonggye stream.

The Seoul City Tour Bus will serve as a main source of transportation, delivering passengers around those five districts. A walking route for tourists, which will take two to three hours, is also being developed. For small groups of tourists, an individual guide, designated "a Seoul storyteller," will follow sightseers around, explaining various pieces of the city's history. In addition, hands-on programs are being developed in Namsan Hanok Village, Woonhyun Palace and Samcheongak.

Within three years, the city will increase the number of performing halls, mainly north of the Han River. The purpose is to allow residents to enjoy cultural facilities near their homes. An annex of the Seoul Arts Center, a performing hall with an outdoor concert hall and about 1,500 seats, is scheduled to go up north of the river. Additional concert halls will be built at the World Cup Park and Naksan Park.

by Choi Sang-yeon, Jeong Young-jin
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