Stop using the arts for political aims
The new battle is about the salary of maestro Chung Myung-whun, the artistic director and conductor of the Seoul Philharmonic. The controversy began when a member of the Seoul Metropolitan Council said at an audit on Nov. 11 that Chung’s 2 billion won ($1.8 million) salary is excessive. The next day, a progressive newspaper ran a story titled, “Seoul pays Chung Myung-whun 2 billion won: Special treatment beyond imagination.” This month, another newspaper featured a column comparing Chung to a civil engineering project erected by former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon in order to ensure his legacy.
The column was cited on Twitter, and controversy spread. The battle intensified when culture critic Chin Jung-kwon, who had 168,284 followers on Twitter as of this month, got involved. Chin said: “Artistic matters have to be addressed through the arts. Why are you talking about Lee Myung-bak, Oh Se-hoon and civil engineering projects? Those who know nothing about music have made a mistake by clumsily applying political rhetoric to the arts. It is truly regrettable that the progressive media has been used as a channel in this ridiculous incident.”
Critics of Chung’s salary are protesting about the wrong thing. In 2004, the Seoul Philharmonic performed 61 times. Last year, it presented 136 performances, and this year, the number of concerts is estimated to be 130. The paying audience for each concert was 460 people on average in 2004. But this year it has increased to over 1,800. The orchestra’s income has increased from 200 million won in 2004 to 5.3 billion won this year. Chung has largely been responsible for all the changes, so it would make sense to renew his contract. (And according to an orchestra official, the city government wants to do just that, albeit with a reduction in his expense account.)
I wish people would stop using the arts for political aims. The criticism against the conductor seems to be in line with the practice of reshuffling the heads of cultural organizations with a change of administration, in this case, the Seoul mayor. It’s even more frightening to see people relating civil engineering to the arts.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Noh Jae-hyun