Seoul mayor’s weird love for circus
On Sept. 8, Park visited Cirque du Soleil headquarters in Montreal, Canada, and declared that he would benchmark the theater production and create a Korean version of Cirque du Soleil. He announced a plan to invest 11.5 billion won ($10.2 million) by 2018 to build a training facility, performance center and academy.
The project is rather surprising. It was a typical rightist administrative tactic to use government funding to make new facilities and structures under the banner of cultural promotion. The citizens who remember Park’s unassuming attitude and deviation from authoritarianism find it strange.
Cirque du Soleil is now an icon of blue ocean strategy, but it started humbly with some 20 street performers in Quebec in 1982. The Quebec government was seeking a cultural product to represent Canada and offered $1 million to them in 1984. So it was not the government’s initiative, but the keen eye to notice unknown artists that made Cirque du Soleil one of the most successful theater productions. In 1998, Cirque du Soleil produced the water show O in Las Vegas, and today, its annual revenue is over 1.5 trillion won.
But the legend is growing old. Since 2010, Cirque du Soleil is struggling. The resident performances in Tokyo and Macao have ended, and last year’s Seoul tour of Quidam was a failure. Critics say circus performances are limited due to lack of narrative. Countless circus productions followed, but none were successful. It is a vain dream to hope for enormous added value by moving into the circus market, which has already become a red ocean.
In fact, the Park Geun-hye government is second to none when it comes to taking credit for cultural projects. It has set cultural prosperity as a basis of state administration and committees have been created for cultural belts and complexes. But the only work that President Park has done seems to be visiting a movie theater on Culture Day.
One of the rare successful cases of cultural initiative may be France in the 1980s. The Mitterrand government could leave notable accomplishments in arts and culture because President Mitterrand was culturally refined and was in power for over ten years. It takes time for culture to mature. By nature, it cannot go along well with politics, where immediate outcomes win votes.
Perhaps Mayor Park will have to change direction or instead give up his presidential ambition and serve the third term as mayor to establish a circus in Seoul. Then again, there are many projects other than this that can win the people’s hearts.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 14, Page 26
*The author is the deputy cultural news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.