Will culture be the next election tool?

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Will culture be the next election tool?

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Last month, Seiichi Kondo, the Japanese Commissioner of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, visited Korea to attend the opening of an exhibition of Japanese Buddhist art from the Lake Biwa District at the National Museum of Korea. I was invited to a dinner with Kondo after the event hosted by the Japanese Embassy in Seongbuk-dong, Seoul.

Kondo is known for his expertise in cultural and public diplomacy. He has written books including “Image of Japan in the American Media,” plays the piano, paints and is especially fond of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 17.

At some point, the conversation shifted to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. Japan is still struggling in the aftermath of the natural disaster. While many cannot afford to think about anything other than life and death, Kondo focused on culture. His passion impressed me. The earthquake destroyed more than 700 cultural sites and several hundred thousand relics and articles exhibited in museums were damaged.

The Agency for Cultural Affairs is doing more than simply fixing the damage. It is helping victims get through the ordeal with the power of art and culture. Charity concerts were held around the country to raise funds. Musicians and actors visited the regions struck by the earthquake and tried to heal the psychological damage. I asked whether providing food and drink weren’t more urgent but Kondo said, “At first, people were more desperate for necessities, but after a while, requests poured in to the agency to bring music to the victims.” Culture, he said, is an essential part of life.

Yet he also said he felt that culture is relatively neglected in Japan, as the allocation for culture and the arts is only 0.11 percent of the government budget, compared to 1 percent in France.

This year, the budget allocated to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is 1.14 percent, slightly up from 1.12 percent last year. It is considerably lower than the 2.2 percent average of other countries with a $20,000 per-capita income.

Culture can feed us, and the impact of the cultural industry is tremendous.

But policy makers are slow to catch on to the trend. The administration’s promise to increase the arts and culture budget to 2 percent has turned out to be an empty one. That makes me worry about who will make vain promises about culture now just to win the next election.

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


By Noh Jae-hyun

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