Project brings color back to rundown neighborhood

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Project brings color back to rundown neighborhood

Haemang-dong, located in Gunsan city, North Jeolla province, was until recently a rundown town located near a port. Long gone was the town’s history as an open, welcoming area known for transporting rice during the Japanese colonial period and prospering from the lumber industry after liberation. Gloominess and depression now seem to fill the narrow alleys and houses packed closely together.
Nowadays, however, Haemang-dong has revived its original sparkle thanks to more than 20 young artists. A project organized by the nongovernmental group, Committee of Public Art Promotion, with financial support from Ministry of Culture and Tourism is bringing color back to the community. The project, which is being conducted simultaneously in 10 other places, is expected to be completed this month.
“Our town’s image has totally changed. I know nothing about art, but I just tried to support the young artists as they were trying to do something,” said 70-year-old Park Kong-rim.
The artists used the walls of more than 200 houses as their canvases and their artwork can be seen in spray-painted flowers that start from the town’s entrance. Forty bamboo vanes along the embankment make a cheerful sound as the wind blows from the sea, and flower-print awnings above wooden beds can be found around the corners of the town, created by artists and old women in the area using donated cloth.
One of the artists made models of houses in Haemang-dong and displayed them in a room. Poems by Gunsan-born poets also decorate some walls in the town.
Some of the empty houses in Haemang-dong have become galleries and display pictures, films and installations about the residents and the history of the town. Drawings of old ladies in the town on horse-shaped panels hang from the ceiling of the master room of the Park Byeongseon Town Gallery. In other rooms are displayed photos of the women going about their everyday lives. Children from the town made items such as chairs and sun-blocking tools for their elders.
Through two months of work, both the residents and the artists discussed the work together, after which the artists made changes based on those conversations.
The concept started with an idea of public art for the masses and questions about what exactly defined public art. Organizers hope the Haemang-dong project and others like it will just be the beginning of taking art to the community.

by Park Ji-young

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