Building project stirs artists’ ire

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Building project stirs artists’ ire

For the past five weeks, members of the Oasis Project have been standing in front of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, to protest what the cultural group describes as a “dirty political deal” that violates artists’ rights.
The core of the protest stems from a 1992 election campaign pledge by former President Kim Young-sam, who promised that he would build a facility in Mokdong for use by artists and cultural figures. But after Mr. Kim won the election, the project was turned over to the Federation of Artistic and Cultural Organizations of Korea, a government-affiliated, non-profit organization that finances various cultural events.
The ambitious construction of a 20-story building began with money largely provided by the government. In return, the federation handed over its headquarters in Dongsung-dong to the government. The plan was that the rest of the cost would be met later through rents charged to tenants after construction was completed.
But as the project progressed, the country faced the 1997-98 foreign exchange crisis. The project ran out of money, and construction of the building, which is nearly complete, has been interrupted for five years due to insufficient funds.
Members of the Oasis Project, a collective of artists and cultural figures, argue that the Culture Ministry should take measures so that the building in Mokdong can be used by artists as originally intended. The group is asking the federation to waive all rights related to the use of the building.
Each Wednesday at noon, individual Oasis Project members have been staging their protest.
Last week, it was the turn of Jeong Jeong-yeop, a representative of Ipgim, a feminist performance group. She stood at the gate of the ministry, dressed in a long garment traditionally worn by Korean women during the Joseon Dynasty, on which was embroidered the statement, “Give the Mokdong Artist Center back for use as artists’ studios.”
The week before, Kim Jun-gi, a curator of the Savina Museum in Insa-dong, staged a performance in which he wrote notes criticizing the project on pieces of paper and attached them to his clothing.
So far, the reaction from the government has been muted.
During a meeting at the National Assembly last month, Kim Gap-su, a director of the cultural administration of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, said it would partially refund money that went to the federation to construct the building in Mokdong. But nothing has been said about the use of the building in the future. The protests began after this meeting.
Kim Yun-hwan, an organizer of the Oasis Project, said the project has helped to form a strong network among artists.
“It’s a giant project,” said Ms. Jeong, the Ipgim member. “I hope that this event can demonstrate a potential alternative that our society is capable of making a dynamic shift in our creative way of thinking.”

by Park Soo-mee
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