GS Caltex offers children’s art therapy for a better future
Inviting local artists or foreign musical virtuosos to hold an exhibition and perform has become a popular corporate social responsibility (CSR) activity undertaken by Korean companies.
But GS Caltex, the nation’s second-largest oil refiner and a subsidiary of the nation’s eighth-largest company, GS Group, has been taking a more unique, or to be exact, more fundamental path.
In addition to carrying out the usual cultural sponsorships in Yeosu, South Jeolla, where the company’s refinery is located, it has also diverted some of its attention to looking after children’s mental health.
Because today’s teenagers will one day lead the country, the company decided that improving youths’ mental health will lead to a healthier country in the future.
“GS Caltex has been thinking about how to change society to be a better place in the long term,” said Park Eun-kyeong, manager of the CSR team at GS Caltex. “In order to do that, we realized that we need to cure the children first, because they will eventually become the future of our society.
Since 2013, GS Caltex has been sponsoring its own art therapy program called Mom Talk Talk, supervised by Arts Council Korea and aimed at underprivileged children in Korea. With the help of professional art therapists, Mom Talk Talk has been healing the depressed minds of some 2,000 children each year through various forms of art therapy, including drawing, dancing, singing and more.
GS Caltex did not expect instant results when it first came up with the Mom Talk Talk program. But the company was determined to improve the children’s mental state and at the same time expand on the psychotherapeutic programs operating in Korea.
“As you know, the program is not the type of a thing that gives a direct result,” Park said. “However, we thought it was necessary to do and took it on as a responsibility of our company.”
Currently, the company’s art therapy program operates in three major areas - local community centers, middle schools and in Yeulmaru, a culture complex built by GS Caltex in 2012 in Yeosu, South Jeolla.
Why art therapy?
According to statistics released by the Ministry of Education in 2012, more than 16 percent of 6 million students from seventh to 12th grade who were tested for their emotional behaviors were identified as needing extra adult supervision. The survey also found that 4.5 percent of the students, or about 200,000, were in a more serious state that could lead them to commit suicide.
These emotional struggles can come from many sources, such as school bullying, low self-esteem and domestic issues.
The company chose art therapy as a possible cure because allowing the children to express their thoughts and emotions through art because it is more effective than one-on-one therapy sessions.
They also thought that if the kids participated in the program with peers in their age group and facing similar problems would help them develop a sense of belonging that would give them the confidence to be more active in the program.
This is particularly important, when the kids are participating in art therapy camp, which takes place in a remote location in Yeosu. Away from their friends and family, the therapy process can be more effective, according to the company.
At the camp for children from fourth to sixth grade, they spend three days participating in eight sessions with an appointed art therapist.
“Since the program takes place in an isolated place, it is a new experience for them. And by developing new relationships that weren’t possible before, the kids can find a new part of themselves and begin learning how to take responsibility for their actions,” Park explained.
“Although the participants in our camps may have unfortunate events in their past, they forget about it quickly when they are playing around with the others through art. And since they are young, these joyous experiences have lasting effects that will help them lead happier lives later on after the camp,” she said.
On the other hand, the company also started a middle school program to improve the sociability of seventh graders. It is well known that middle school students are often in a rebellious stage of their lives, which is why Mom Talk Talk decided to start a program just for them.
The semester of 12 sessions of therapy includes all seventh graders at a school regardless of their mental state or background. So that more sessions can be offered, the program is part of the school’s regular daily schedule instead of being thrown in as an afterschool function.
After the program has started at the selected schools, each class is divided into a group of 10 students with two art therapists per group. Last year, the schools chosen were Shinkwang Girls’ High School in Yongsan District, central Seoul, and Jungpyong Middle School in Nowon District, northeastern Seoul. Once in small groups, they proceed with different programs that combine art with music, acting or dance with a clear objective in mind - each group holds a performance at the end of the semester.
The goal of the performance was to give more introverted students the chance to contribute to activities like decorating a stage or creating costumes, instead of having to go on stage.
“It helps those shy students recognize and enhance their own values,” said Seungsook Park, an art therapist who supervised the Mom Talk Talk program last year.
Since not all of the students who participate in the program are struggling with their emotions, the therapy is centered on preventing such problems from coming up in the kids’ future. And for that reason, therapists don’t control the class, but instead let the students dictate the mood of the session.
“So even when the semester ends, they still have the ability to build a community spirit from our program to have a healthy mindset.”
Last year, the class healing programs received positive responses from the participants at the two schools, so the organizer decided to expand it to nine schools this year, including some in Gyeonggi.
Making sure it lasts
Another aspect that GS Caltex is focusing on is improving the quality of other art therapy programs in Korea and making sure that the positive effects last for a long time.
However, because art therapy was introduced to Korea less than 10 years ago, the number of working art therapists is extremely low compared with demand. So for a quick fix, therapists with private licenses, which are easier to acquire, have started jumping in to fill the gaps.
To solve this problem, the organizers have set high standards when picking the therapists who will work with Mom Talk Talk.
“Quality and effectiveness are the key factors to our program,” said Park from the CSR team.
Prerequisites to apply for the program include a master’s degree in a relevant major, 500 hours of clinical demonstrations and experience with group therapy. People who meet those requirements can then receive education from other professional art therapists before starting to work.
Contenders for the 2013 program were obliged to attend classes every week for two years free of charge. Those classes changed to a monthly program last year.
The funding for the program comes mostly from donations made by GS Caltex employees and executives.
Mom Talk Talk has also joined up with Good Neighbors, an international charity group, which has child care centers nationwide, in order to help local children who need to receive therapeutic care easily and regularly.
Currently, the Mom Talk Talk service is available at 12 branches of Good Neighbors child care centers and one day care facility in Jeju that is managed by the Seogwipo City Child Protection Agency.
Yeosu, the driving energy
The motivation behind the company’s contributions to society comes from Yeosu, South Jeolla, where its refineries are located. In 2012, GS Caltex built Yeulmaru, a cultural complex dedicated to the region in order to improve the livelihoods of local residents.
The building itself is worth checking out because it was designed by world-famous Paris-based architect Dominique Perrault. Its location nestled naturally amid its mountainous surroundings gives off a grand impression. Its wavy roof made of glass adds just a touch of modernism that doesn’t disturb the natural landscape.
One of the highly anticipated activities at the venue are the large-scale performances, which are rarely staged in regional music venues.
For example, the Korean version of the musical “Mamma Mia!,” which was also staged at D-Cube Arts Center in Seoul, was performed in Yeulmaru in 2013. The Korean National Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” and the Korean musical “42nd Street” were also performed there to the delight of local residents. Until last month, the musical “Chicago,” starring actor Choi Jung-won and pop star Ivy, was performed there.
In October, Yeulmaru plans to host hit Korean musicals “The Last Empress” and “Rebecca” at its mountainous venue.
Now, Yeosu residents don’t have to visit Seoul to see acclaimed performances.
In the other corner of Yeulmaru, there is always an exhibition curated by the culture complex or in collaboration with other organizations.
Currently, Yeulmaru has joined forces with Kaist to present a special exhibition that combines art with robotics to make the technology more familiar to the public. The exhibit is titled “The Robot is Evolving.” Admission is 5,000 won ($4.50).
“We plan to organize more classical performances, vivid musicals and special exhibitions that will satisfy Yeosu residents,” said an official at the center.
For more information about ongoing or planned exhibitions and performances in Yeulmaru, visit www.yeulmaru.org.
BY JIN EUN-SOO [firstname.lastname@example.org]