Who’s steering the ship?

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Who’s steering the ship?

Two executives have been showing up to run the Arts Council Korea, or Arko, a state-funded organization focused on arts activities and events.

Former chairman Kim Jung-hun, who won a reinstatement court order, recently started reporting back to work alongside his replacement. A Seoul Administrative Court in December ruled in favor of Kim, declaring that the government was unjust in firing him in December 2008, just a year into his three-year term at Arko.

The council operates under the banner “Shared Arts, Making the World Beautiful.” But it has now become a mockery for the “co-sharing” of the chairman’s seat. The move is embarrassing to the arts community and society as a whole.

The fault largely lies with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. After President Lee Myung-bak took office, the new culture minister sacked the top executives of ministry-affiliated organizations that were conspicuously stalwart to the former administration. In its December ruling, the court ordered the government to reinstate Kim to the chairman position. It said the charges against Kim - the loss of funds for Arko, which were uncovered in a special government audit - were not serious enough for him to be fired. In short, it concluded that the cultural minister overstepped his authority. The ministry said it will appeal, leaving control of the agency divided in the meantime.

Kim’s appointment in September 2007 during the last months of President Roh Moo-hyun’s term triggered controversy at the time. His artistic background and expertise alone did not justify his appointment. The artist had belonged to a dissident arts society that publicly campaigned against the conservative Grand National Party and protested against the government’s decision to send troops to Iraq and its pursuit of a free trade agreement with the U.S.

Kim also went on a hunger strike to rally for the abolition of the national security law and served as a member on the steering committee for the creation of an administrative city. During his tenure as Arko chairman, he sharply increased funding for liberal and dissident art groups. Still, the government simply cannot disregard procedures and simply jettison senior officials from the past administration just because of a difference in political leanings.

The ministry received a court warning in the first trial. The future of Korea’s arts society is grim if heads of organizations are switched every time a new administration takes power. The Arts Council is already in a tight spot, losing billions of won every year. A ship with two captains on board - with one steering left and the other right - is headed for disaster.
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