[Viewpoint] An ugly picture in the Arts Council

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[Viewpoint] An ugly picture in the Arts Council

Staff members at Arts Council Korea, located in Daehangno, Seoul, are extremely busy these days, working to prepare the Ministry of Strategy and Finance’s management evaluation of the state-run institute.

Council employees have stayed up many nights and the report, scheduled to be published on Friday, will soon be completed. Next month, inspectors will visit the council for the important annual evaluation of the state-run institution.

A ceremony to celebrate the completion of the council’s new office building in Guro-dong, Seoul, is scheduled for April 6. After the ceremony, the moving process will take about 10 days, during which time the council will still be selecting artists to receive support. And after shuffling 10 senior-level officers just a few days ago, it’s no wonder the council staffers are swamped.

But that’s not all.

For the last two months, the council has had the rare situation of having two leaders under one roof. Chairman Oh Kwang-su is in an office in the council’s main building, while former chairman Kim Jung-heun has an office on the third floor of the nearby Arko Art Center.

The Culture Ministry had sacked Kim in late 2008, but after he won a legal battle for reinstatement, Kim returned to the council and claimed that he was the legitimate chairman. He has been coming to the office since Feb. 1.

On Feb. 19, when the council gave its report to lawmakers on the National Assembly’s culture committee, Oh and Kim sat beside each other behind a single nameplate marking the seat of the council chairman.

Oh is 72 years old and Kim is 64. They are both artists and elder statesmen of Korea’s arts community. It was extremely embarrassing to see two silver-haired men trying to avoid the one seated right next to him.

There are 10 members on the council, including Oh. With Kim’s return, the council has 11 members. Nine members, excluding Oh and Kim, agreed that Kim will be a chairman, while Oh will be in charge of the council’s work. Of course, Kim does not agree with the decision.

The embarrassing fight has also reached outside the council. The Korean Fine Arts Association issued a statement attacking Kim.

“Before making an appeal on the grounds that you were unfairly sacked, you should first make public why your predecessor stepped down and how you were appointed,” the association demanded of Kim.

One council member lamented that he is mortified by the painful situation. “This is a political fight,” he said.

The Culture Ministry is responsible for the current situation. Although the ruling was preliminary, the court said the ministry went too far in firing Kim.

The ministry, however, said it wants to wait for appeals courts’ verdicts. And as the courts consider the situation, the minutes tick down on Kim’s remaining tenure: His term expires in September.

Will the two leaders have to stay under one roof until then? How long should this black comedy continue?

Under the Roh Moo-hyun administration, Kim was ranked second among three candidates, but he was nonetheless appointed as the chairman of the council. Can Kim be absolutely confident that he did not benefit from his “political color” at the time?

Ruffians often drag their fights into court. The same applies to politicians. Artists may not live a completely pure life, but their standards should be different, at least, from regular people.

No profession is free from the lure of power and money, but money and power must never be the main goal of an artist. When power and money do come, they should be there as a natural outcome, not a goal.

Positions and titles in the art community should work the same way. And yet, we have this embarrassing situation. Is this the best artists in Korea can do? Is mudslinging the only performance art they can display?

I believe all 11 members on the council, including Oh and Kim, must step down and a new council should be formed. The nine members’ tenures expire in August anyway. They probably will think it’s unfair for them to leave the posts early, but that’s the only way to escape the disgrace of having the nation’s art and culture administration judged by a court of law.

The Culture Ministry started this situation, and it must take responsibility.

*The writer is an editorial writer and a senior reporter of cultural news for the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Noh Jae-hyun
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