Two leaders under one roof
An unprecedented event unfolded on Feb. 1 at the Arts Council Korea, a state-run nonprofit agency that supports general artistic activities. That Monday, its former chairman Kim Jung-heun returned to his post after winning a legal battle against the government that had sacked him in late 2008.
But this still hasn’t stopped Oh Kwang-su, his successor, from coming into the same office every day.
Nine of council’s 10 committee members - including Oh and Kim - who have authority over the body’s management gathered yesterday afternoon at the council office in Daehangno, central Seoul to untangle the situation.
Leaving the meeting less than an hour after it began, Kim claimed it invalid because it had been arranged without his consent.
But later in the day, the council said in a press release that the remaining nine committee members, after Kim and Oh left, voted to decide that Oh will have the full authority over the council management, while Kim will receive an “appropriate level of treatment as chairman.” Some of the committee members proposed that both leaders step down.
From the day Kim appeared again at the council office, he and Oh have maintained that the number of leaders at the helm is entirely up to the committee members. Shin Jae-min, deputy culture minister, told the press last Thursday, “We will respect the results of the council’s committee meeting.”
The 63-year-old Kim insisted that he come back because his layoff more than a year ago was “unfair” and the court has given him the right to return. “I know eruption of the controversy is humiliating for the nation’s cultural avenues, but [Culture] Minister Yu [In-chon] needs to be interrogated over it because all the problems stem from his nonsensical layoff,” he said.
The layoff has its roots in March 2008, when Minister Yu first took office and suggested that Kim step down, saying, “It is natural for government agency heads with a political ideology shared by former administration to volunteer [their resignation].” Kim, a graduate of Seoul National University and long-time professor of art department at various universities, is known for his advocacy of grassroots artistic movements. Some of the incumbent conservative administration members have dubbed the Pyongyang-born professor-turned-administrator “leftist,” although he has denied the allegation in recent media interviews.
In December 2008, Kim was fired for “lax management of funds” after the council underwent inspection. Kim instantly filed a lawsuit against the government and the Seoul Administrative Court ruled in favor of Kim in the initial decision the same month. “The [government’s] decision to lay off does not have a clear-cut and critical defect that can make itself invalid. But given that the government neither provided [Kim] a notice in advance nor a chance to respond, [Culture Minister] is deemed to have abused his authority,” the ruling said.
On Jan. 26, the court reached a decision to suspend the legitimacy of Kim’s layoff, which paved the way for the former chief to return. His official three-year term ends in September. In the meantime, the ministry appointed Oh Kwang-su in February 2009. The two have been working in the same building, but using separate rooms and secretaries, according to a council spokeswoman.
Arts Council Korea is the government’s biggest arts booster. It is in charge of a 100 billion won ($85 million) budget annually and has 90 staff members.
The council has 10 committee members, including the chairman, consisting of artists from different artistic modes including literature to music, theater and dance. While the council was formerly governed by a single opinion from the chairman, the decision-making process at Arts Council Korea is now based on the consensus of the 10 members. Although the system was devised for the sake of “democracy,” the reality was different at times, according to insiders. A committee member who asked not to be named said, “Even if nine members agreed on a certain project, it was nullified by the opposition of a single member.”
By Seo Ji-eun [firstname.lastname@example.org]