[Viewpoint]Don’t let capitalism destroy culture

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[Viewpoint]Don’t let capitalism destroy culture

You can reach Issy-les-Moulineaux, an artists commune in the southwestern suburbs of Paris, in about five minutes on a Paris metro train that runs between the Eiffel Tower and Versailles. An elevated railroad, built for the Universal Exposition of 1889 in Paris, passes through the town. It has become a new tourist attraction recently thanks to the cultural amenities created when the railway arches were renovated.
Underneath the 9-meter (30-feet) high railway arches, they have built 18 cultural facilities, such as galleries and small theaters.
The finest of them all are the studios for artists. The idea of using the space under the railway arches was, from the beginning, intended for artists.
Issy-les-Moulineaux has been providing an old munitions factory building for painters free of charge.
The commune, where such prominent artists as Auguste Rodin and Henri Matisse once worked, takes pride in being a community for artists.
After the old factory building became antiquated and needed redevelopment, the city authority agonized over an alternative plan for the artists it accommodated, because it can’t drive them out without an alternative place for them.
Thus, the idea of using the space under the railroad arches came into light.
For the safety of the elevated railway and for insulation from the noise and tremor of subway trains that pass by every five minutes, they built a steel structure underneath the arch, leaving a space to the wall.
They were able to build a smaller arch under the railway arch while leaving the original arch intact.
Then they divided the space inside the steel structure into three floors and made use of the empty space between the wall and the steel structure by installing staircases leading to the upper floors.
By using wood and glass material on the front and back sides of the structure, they gave it a friendly feeling and reduced the concept that the elevated railway divided the city into two.
The interior of the studios can be changed in diverse ways, so the artists can choose to make them into single story or duplex apartments, according to their need. After 14 months of work, a total of 27 studios equipped with kitchens and toilets, and with floor space of 45 to 70 square meters (500 to 750 square feet), were built under the nine railway arches.
Andre Santini, the mayor of Issy-les-Moulineaux, said, “Artists present the richness of life that factories cannot provide to our citizens, and the arch studios are the city’s reward for their contributions.”
Now, let’s take a look at the district near Hongik University in Seoul. It is the representative cultural district of Seoul.
The cultural facilities are disappearing one after another from the district. Only restaurants and bars have been increasing in numbers recently.
One typical case is Theater Zero. The small theater is considered one of the most important cultural spaces in that area, having earned a reputation for staging experimental performances.
However, the owner of the building in which the theater was housed ordered the theater to move out so the building could be redeveloped. People in the culture and arts fields launched a campaign to revive Theater Zero and filed a lawsuit against the landlord.
As a result, the Mapo district office intervened in the case. The two sides mediated an agreement that the theater would be housed again on the second floor of the basement after the completion of a new building.
While the construction was underway, however, the ownership of the building was transferred to KT&G.
The new building is going to be completed in a few months. However, the new owner of the building notified Theater Zero a month ago that it could no longer be accommodated.
KT&G plans to operate the building as a multipurpose cultural facility. KT&G might have a good reason to make such a decision.
But it is still hard to understand what kind of a cultural facility it plans to create after driving out an existing cultural landmark.
Preserving the value of the local culture will ultimately enhance the added value of one’s property.
If we put too much emphasis on the logic of capitalism, an indigenous culture cannot survive.
The non-mainstream culture that is nurtured in the district near Hongik University is especially vulnerable to capitalist logic.
If not for the non-mainstream culture, the cultural district near Hongik University might not exist.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hoon-beom
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