Culture and human resourcesPresident Park Geun-hye’s emphasis on “creative economy” stirred a lot of talk and discussion on what it exactly means. The author of the term had to explain the definition. “It is an industrial culmination of a convergence of science, information, communication and technology. It’s a convergence of industry and culture to create new value, jobs and growth engines,” she said.
Sounds grand, but nonetheless remains perplexing to understand. If you ask me, it is meaningless to try to pin down the term. The inventive economy will materialize depending on how we invent it.
An economic vision is not the only area where the new government has high-flown rhetoric. The Park administration said its national goals were to revive the economy, make people happy and see the culture flourish. Economic revival is a bit grandiose, but nevertheless self-explainable as it comes down to improving lives. But what exactly is happiness of the people? Happiness is subjective.
Cultural prosperity is also ambiguous. Does it mean everyone is capable of playing the piano? Or does it suggest everyone is capable of copycatting horseback-riding dances to Psy songs? Would our culture be thriving if even grandmothers can name the title of a piano sonata upon hearing the music?
The concept of culture has been imported from Japan. The word existed as a Chinese character, but literally meant to connect with people without using force. The Japanese translated the term from the German word “Kultur” in the early 1910s. Culture and civilization until then meant more or less the same, but culture gradually referred to a metaphysical quality as opposed to civilization with a material connotation.
According to the first Korean dictionary on new words published in 1922, culture was defined as “a broad term that generally is an incorporeal byproduct of arts, science, ethics and religion that help to build complete qualities in a person and contribute to the genuine development of society.” The same dictionary defined civilization with a similar meaning as a high level of culture.
In a revised dictionary of new words in 1934, culture is defined as the “outcome of all endeavors to build an ideal mankind through connections of nature and human relations. But unlike civilization, the culture refers to higher immaterial segments that involve laws, morality, nation, science, arts and religion.” The social conceptual meaning of culture and civilization has evolved differently over the span of 12 years.
Anyway, the term “culture” is innately equivocal. It is far more broad and ambiguous than “inventive economy.” Culture is annexable to everything from military life to use of a public toilet. It becomes more complicated when it compounds with arts. There are different standards in culture and it involves various fields from visual art to stage performance. Nobody can accurately define it, but no one can disagree on its importance. It is why cultural prosperity is one of the three national goals of the new government.
The Arts Council Korea, a state fund for arts and cultural activities, turned 40 this year. It was founded by President Park Chung Hee - the current president’s father - in 1973, then called the Korea Culture and Arts Foundation. The government announced a declaration to promote arts in 1973 and began a five-year plan to vitalize arts and cultural activities. It funded and sponsored various programs.
The fund that started with 862 million won ($767,005) in 1974 this year is budgeted at 109.4 billion won. The budget scale alone has not grown.
The state fund’s status and role has significantly grown. It runs various culture voucher and welfare programs. Its work will increase if the government carries out the campaign pledges on the cultural basic law, promotion and protection of cultural diversity and development of the cultural happiness index.
But I like to advise the government on two things in its ambitious campaign to create a cultural renaissance. First, they must realign the services delivery system. As we have seen with administrative loopholes with welfare spending, leaks could appear in increased spending and programs on cultural promotion. The government could be overwhelmed with budget and aid requests in the name of cultural promotion. Some may create entities to earn funds. The campaign to promote culture should not serve to breed new titles and budget squandering.
Second, the government should best utilize the Arts Council. It could expand the budget on cultural promotion that shrank to 260 billion won last year from 527.2 billion won in 2004. The 2 percent budget appropriation on cultural promotion should start from increasing the fund. The meaning of cultural renaissance may be ambiguous, but the work depends on how well capital and human resources are put to use.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun