[2012 Symposium] A Study on Changes in the Local Community's Regarding toward the Seoul Art Space

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A Study on Changes in the Local Community's Regarding toward the Seoul Art Space - Based on Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON

*The following paper is intended for upcoming publication in an academic journal in revised and improved form. Please refrain from quoting from the current version.

Shin-eui Park
Professor of DePt. of arts and culture management at Kyunghee University, Graduate School of Management, president of Korean Society of Arts and Cultural Management

I. Introduction

The city of Seoul has run a program with the aim of increasing the creative capabilities of artists and its citizenry while realizing the ideal of urban revitalization by utilizing vacant property within the city of Seoul since 2009. Oh Se-hoon, mayor at the time, announced plans for 'the construction of a creative, cultural city' in relation to his Culturenomics policy which led to an art factory project of revitalizing spaces such as vacant public buildings, deserted factories in former industrial corridors and basement-level malls which have lost their commercial viability, etc. in various degenerated areas of the city. Four residencies opened in 2009 and a total of nine spaces have been created to date, one of which is the Seoul Art Space_Jamsil which was created in 2007 and later added through consolidation to this structure.

As a result, the mission and vision of the spaces of the Seoul Art Spaces are founded on providing studio spaces and professional support to artists domestically and abroad, and the pleasure of arts and culture appreciation as well as communication to citizens, in order to grow into Seoul's own, unique and experimental cultural landmarks. To achieve this end, the organization defines its activities to include the development of a cooperative model between the arts and local communities to secure a cultural framework for community revitalization, and assistance in fostering cultural prosumers by aiding the formation of creative local communities. It proclaims to create new values in 'creation-revitalization-communication' through the support of progressive and experimental art-making activities, creative activities which involve the lives of local residents and communication which breaks down barriers.1)

Within such a structure, the city of Seoul has run its program by commissioning the Seoul Foundation Arts and Culture for the management role. The foundation's Art Space headquarters oversees all activities and as of recent the system has changed for the foundation to be fully responsible for six of the spaces excluding those run by the local government, inspiring hopes for more specialized and aggressive management. This study was assigned based on the judgement that there is a need to look back on the existential effects or meaning of residencies regarding the above policy goals, at this point over three years into the project. Of course, the effects initially intended could not be wholly revealed in the short time of three years. However, in the spirit of approaching step by step, I viewed it possible to track the initial changes, and perceived it to be significant in that a methodological gauging of the effects of the changes is possible as well.

To this end, Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON, created relatively early and located in the district of Geumcheon-gu, was decided on as the object of this research. Seoul Art Space_Geumcheon was turned from a telephone chord factory in the 1970s into a print factory in the 1990s and then purchased by the city of Seoul which turned it again into a residency. Doksan-dong, where the residency is located, is a place with a relatively high make-up of commercial zones and factories, communal housing and lower-income residents. Also, major manufacturers of industrial materials and distributors are spread out along the Gyeongsu Industrial Road in Geumcheon-gu, forming the central area of the city of Seoul s industry, the positions of these companies and relevant facilities as well as the living environment of the residents are in poorer condition in comparison to other areas and a presence of cultural and welfare-related facilities is also lacking (Chung Hee-Seon, 2010). Therefore the local image of Geumcheon-gu is formed as an 'industrial corridor' and a 'foreign workers enclave,' etc. and the city of Seoul is anticipating improvements in the image and living environment of the area as an effect of the Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON.

Therefore, an aim of this study is to identify the changes in perception held by local residents regarding the arts and artists, with consideration for the policy goals by which will be undertaken the three tasks of 'professional support for artists,' 'community revitalization' and 'arts and culture appreciation among the citizenry' through one of the Seoul Art Spaces, and ultimately obtain the significance of a basic study to measure the social-influence relationship between residencies and local communities. To this end, the following three points will be designated as the beginning of this research and, ultimately, the existential role of arts spaces different from traditional, elite-arts-oriented and single-purpose genre spaces (art museums, theaters, concert halls and opera houses, etc.) will be outlined.

Point 1. Has the existence of the Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON itself provided perceptual changes in local residents toward artists?

Point 2. What opportunities and mutual relations do the perceptual changes in local residents toward the arts and artists possess?

Point 3. What changes can the existence and activities of Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON lead in its local community?

Also, the role of residencies in their local communities is premised to begin with changes in the perceptions of local residents, caused by the existence and activities of the residencies. This was because, in that the Doksan-dong area where Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON is located is relatively blighted even for Geumchon-gu, the effects of local revitalization can be considered as directly connected to changes in its residents' perception toward the arts. This is in the same vein with how local residents themselves, and not the artist residency, have voluntarily set a goal to be the subjects of change by participating in local revitalization and the improvement of their neighborhood's image. A survey was taken among local residents to this end and an analysis of the results will be used as evidential data regarding this.

II. Research Method and Process

Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON values its relationship with its surrounding community and is premised on assuming a role as a space producing cultural diversity, and the participation of local residents with hopes of cultural democracy. Also, it is possible to reason that the residency will in itself make residents' approaching of art more convenient and also contribute to improving the environments of a blighted area. Consequently, this research includes a survey among local residents based on the role and relationship of the local influence of Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON, as a foundational unit for a kind of a study on 'the social influence of the arts' which tracks the changes in local residents' perceptions and attitudes caused by artist residencies.

The survey was conducted both on and off-line. The online survey was taken between August 20th and September 1st, of 2012, amongst local residents selected from among visitors to the Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON and participants in the residency's programs, and the off-line survey was taken over the three days of August 23rd, 29th and 30th, of 2012. On-site visits were limited to a two block radius and places visited included an automobile service center, apparel factory, laundromat, restaurant, supermarket, stationary store, bus company, real estate dealer, apartment security office and other stores, etc. During our special on-site visits we interviewed certain individuals (seventeen) and collected their opinions. A total of one hundred and one survey responses were collected through this (nineteen online and eighty-two off-line) but ninety-seven of them excluding four which were voided remained as the final group count.

The contents of the survey were designed in the form of asking about changes in the perceptions held by local residents within the role of residencies regarding local communities. Regarding the changes in perception, I have included changes in perceptions and attitudes, changes in the level of participation and abilities, changes in the system and policy, etc. in reference to six index groups developed by Americans for the Arts. Accordingly, we queried regarding changes in perception toward the arts and artists, and local changes caused by the existence of Seoul Art Space_Geumcheon, and sought to foresee changes in the role of residencies through investigating the turning points for the aforementioned perception changes. Also, I kept in mind content relevant to the policy goals the city of Seoul aims to achieve through the Seoul Art Spaces. First, I positioned a point of change (cultural democracy) which considers everyone, and not a special class, to be capable of artistic activity, and consciously positioned a point which considers the arts to be capable of improving a community’s image and elevating its residents’ pride (urban regeneration), and a strengthening (the regional role of an artist residency) point with the characteristic of a space according to local residents’ will to participate and their demands for activity regarding the residencies.

Also, I have reviewed the subjects of the survey in three categories in order for a comparative analysis of the extent to which perceptions have changed. They consist of a ‘visitors’ group (forty-five), ‘program participants’ group (eighteen) and a ‘non-visitors’ (who have never visited but are aware of) group (thirty-four). I expect such a distinction of groups will be helpful in inducing suggestions regarding the management of the programs for area residents or the facility of Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON in the future through comparing the opinions on whether or not, and if so to what extent, there have been perceptual changes, intentions of future participation or a creation of relationships.

<Table 3> Survey Structure

III.Analysis of Research Results

1. Analysis of Overall Responses
1) Knowledge and Forms of Visits

Upon examination of the respondents’ demographic characteristics, they became known to reside or engage in vocational activities near Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON and, in terms of jobs, self-employment(20.6%) and manufacturing(27.8%) were highly represented, reflecting the neighborhood’s characteristics.

Inspecting the situation of familiarity, most had knowledge of Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON(84.5%), and over half knew that the organization’s management resides with Seoul Foundation Arts and Culture(55.7%). The route of learning about Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON mostly consisted of the means of living in the vicinity(42.7%) or through an acquaintance(39.6%). Especially, at the point of querying whether the respondent had learned of the residency through online media, five (5.2%) answered positively, not comprising a significant portion, but if SNS-related communication methods are taken into account then the number of respondents is considered as capable of becoming significant.

In inspecting the form of visits, those who had visited(64.9%) were the majority, the number of visits were revealed in the order of once or twice(34.4%), seven times or more(31.3%) and three to four times(26.6%). Eighteen program participants were included in the count for visitors of seven times or more. The majority of the occasions for the visits consisted of visits through events or programs such as the viewing of events including exhibits(38.6%) or participation in community programs (17.1%). For accompaniment, an even spread was evidenced among unaccompanied visits (28.4%), local resident(s, 19.4%), friend(s, 19.4%) and family(16.4%). However, among those who had not visited Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON before but knew of its existence(35.1%), the majority (80.4%) expressed their willingness to visit at some point in the future.

<Table 4> The Demographic Characteristics of Sample Group

2) Forms of Experience with the Arts

Overall, regarding prior experiences with the arts, the great majority(80.4%) responded affirmatively. On thoughts on the arts, responses were made in the order of ‘I do not understand it well but consider it to be interesting’(37.0%), ‘I feel it will have a positive educational impact’(29.0%) and ‘It is something splendid which transcends reality’(16.0%), in which relatively positive comments prevailed.

For experiences of having met an artist, those who answered no(54.6%) were more numerous than those who answered yes(45.4%). For thoughts regarding artists, ‘someone who has creative thoughts’ (50.0%) held the greatest portion and was followed by ‘someone with a special talent’(19.2%), ‘someone with unique tastes’(12.5%) and ‘someone who has received specialized arts training’(9.6%).

3) Changes in Perception

On whether the respondents had any changes in their thoughts regarding the arts and artists, through Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON, negative responses(52.6%) had something of an edge over positive ones(47.4%). When asked about the extent of their perceptual changes, ‘slight change’ (35.6%) was the most prominent while ‘average level’ and ‘significant change’(24.4%) were given at the same level.

In the respondents’ perceptual changes toward the arts, ‘I have come to understand the arts to some extent’(53.7%) was highest while ‘I felt the arts do not belong only to a certain type of people’ (18.5%) and ‘I have come to feel that education is not entirely necessary in order to appreciate art’ (13.0%) followed in order. The change of somewhat understanding the arts can be interpreted as having the significance of a beginning stage in one’s encounter with the arts, and the feelings of the arts not belonging to a certain type of people or of education not necessarily being a requirement for art appreciation we will classify as the results of much more aggressive change.

Regarding changes of perception toward artists, ‘I could see that they are entities who engage in some meaningful activity’(34.7%) led the answers while ‘feelings of objection have somewhat lessened’ (22.4%) and ‘I could see that they are necessary to society’(20.4%) followed in order. Although low in prominence, the special group who responded ‘I felt I could create art, too’(10.2%) is perceived as being significant in that they relate to creative subjects in the first person.

For reasons for thoughts toward the arts not having changed, ‘I still do not know much about the arts and artists’(32.8%) had the most responders, and the other results were in the order of ‘I think the arts are exclusively the possession of a highly educated class’(19.0%) and ‘I am not very interested in the arts’(13.8%). I will reexamine the cases in which thoughts regarding the arts has not changed much through group categorization, but they seem to in fact have a direct correlation to experiences of visiting Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON.

4) Attitudes and Interest Regarding Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON

When asked if they feel Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON has caused positive change in the local community, a great majority of the respondents replied yes(87.4%). The reasons for this were in the order of ‘I anticipate that the local environment can change culturally’(23.8%), ‘I am happy there is an arts facility within the area’(22.4%), ‘local residents can experience the arts’(22.4%) and ‘the image of Geumcheon-gu can change’(16.3%). For reasons for thinking there has not been any change, ‘I know of the Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON but feel the place is different from us’(32.0%) and ‘it can affect some change but that will take a very long time’(32.0%) were the leading results, followed by ‘I still feel it inaccessible’(12.0%) and ‘an arts facility being in a factory zone creates a sense of geographical disconnect’(12.0%).

To questions asking whether the respondents intend to visit Seoul Art Space_Geumcheon or participate in their programs, the great majority(79.2%) responded yes. When asked what Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON needs in order to form a relationship with the local community, respondents provided their opinions as ‘to provide arts-related education programs’(23.0%) and ‘a more active invitation of local residents’(17.1%), ‘to open practice or exhibition facilities to local residents’ (16.6%), ‘to strengthen community programs’(10.7%), ‘utilization as an arts club meeting place of Geumcheon’(10.2%), ‘development of a program which reaches out into the community’(9.1%) and ‘organizing opportunities to meet artists on a regular basis’, etc.(8.6%).

2. An Analysis of Perceptual Changes by Each Group

I re-categorized the perceptual changes by each group through the overall response. The first, the visiting group(forty-five, 46.4%) belongs to instances of visiting Seoul Art Space_Geumcheon as an opportunity for event viewing, etc; the second, the program attendees group(eighteen, 18.6%) belongs to instances of using facilities for actual local community program participation or band activities; and the third, the non-visitors group(thirty-four, 35.1%) is of instances in which the respondents have heard of Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON but have never visited before. This approach is for examining the relationship between the extent of perceptual changes and whether the respondent had visited the residency and participated in any of its programs. Also, I identified a need to estimate the direction regarding the local role of residencies through reviewing the demographic portfolio of local residents who had known of Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON but never visited in three years, and their perceptions toward residencies.

First, in the survey item asking whether the respondents have had prior experience with the arts, the three groups answered in similar fashion. Only, in the item asking whether they have met with an artist, the majority of visitors(60.0%) and program participants(72.2%) have responded ‘they have’ while non-visitors have predominantly responded ‘they have not’(88.2%). However, in how respondents regard artists, opinions have mostly been pooled to ‘someone who thinks creatively.’

<Table 5> Changes in Perception Regarding the Arts and Artists by Group

Regarding changes in perception toward the arts or artists through Seoul Art Space_Geumcheon, the groups of visitors(60.5%) and program participants(55.6%) responded affirmatively while the answer of ‘there is none’(73.5%) was decidedly higher for the non-visitors group, and the most common reason for such was ‘I still do not understand the arts or artists well’(48.1%). However, they were similar in responding ‘yes’ regarding the positive effects of Seoul Art Space_Geumcheon’s presence in the area and displayed a high percentage in willingness to participate in the future.

When comparing the aggressiveness of changes in perception among the three groups as well, the group which had participated in programs was actually most aggressive. Especially, in thinking that ‘the arts are not the exclusive possession of a certain class,’ or viewed from the aspect of a change in the subject of art-making in thinking ‘they can make art as well,’ this group displayed a markedly higher rate unlike the other two groups, allowing for a derivation of the logic that changes in perception arise aggressively in proportion to levels of participation.

Also an interesting point can be considered to be a demographic comparison between the three groups, and as is seen in the table, program participants also displayed high levels of educational attainment and income. Additionally, with jobs as well, they had greater proportions of full-time housekeepers or professionals, demonstrating a significant difference from non-visiting groups.

<Table 6> Demographic Portfolio for Each Group

IIII. Conclusion

Regarding the changes in local residents’ perceptions toward the arts as examined above, lastly there is a need to outline the goals and levels of change. Viewed overall, the position that the presence of an arts facility in Geumcheon-gu is positive for the image or the environmental improvements of the local community2) has been confirmed, and in that the willingness and interest to understand the arts was actually expressed the local coherence of residencies can be said to be fulfilled. Also, we were able to learn that the occasions for changes in perception were mostly related to the frequency of visits and program participation through comparisons by group, and were able to draw out the logic that an expansion of opportunities for local residents to visit or encouragement for them to participate in programs in the future is necessary.

However, if one analyses the extent of changes in perception at a detailed level, a few issues for debate arise. First, as the group of program participants is confirmed to possess higher levels of educational attainment and income, and consists of a greater portion of professionals, it is confirmed that the entry barrier in arts appreciation is still high. In other words, along with the fact that it is difficult to move beyond the logic of cultural capital, one comes to acknowledge that the arts remain in the realm of high culture and therefore to the non-visitors group the arts are still inevitably a faraway story. I.e., the group falls short of the level of recognizing that the arts are not something distanced from its members’ lives but rather something which can be melted into their lives. It is that these people find it difficult to keep the arts on their minds if for the reason of having to devote themselves to their livelihoods.3)

Such a sense of distance leads one to once again internalize the significance of a community’s non-visitors group. The non-visitors group involved in this research referred to those who knew of Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON but had not yet visited it. However, we were able to discover that there are more non-visitors than at first expected in the vicinity, who had not even heard of the residency. There were even some neighborhood bus drivers who did not even know its location. If one ponders just how the artist residency could form relationships with these people, a logic is made possible that programs for community resident participation alone are not simply the all-round answer.

Another issue is that a characteristic of a residency holds a point of conflict with regards to the local community. Basically a residency sets ‘unconstraint for the arts’ as a goal in that it professionally supports artists. However, in that the space breathes in unison with the local community, it also must assume the parallel role of a community art center to a degree, and an existential contradiction could be issued here. In reality, local residents anticipate that Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON will provide education programs for residents and more actively invite local residents, but to what extent the concepts of the arts that each party holds can approach one another becomes subject to another debate.

In that regard, critical debate is possible regarding what kind of arts local residents have in mind. The degree of satisfaction and changes in individual perceptions are actually at very high levels for the group of program participants.4) However, one presumes that their concepts of the arts are likely still limited to the arts as high culture or to the level of refinement or cultural education. Then how residencies could perform their functions could become an issue. Of course, from the artist’s position, the achievement of having proceeded with a kind of community art is valuable, but it is left to be examined whether this is of a level by which residents could ultimately make themselves the subjects.

The evaluation is that Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON has been attaining notable achievements in local community programs along with artists’ studio work in the past three years’ time. It is also a clear fact that a foundation for cultural democracy is achieved as a consequence of such policy attempts and, through subjectifying local residents as members of a creative city, an opportunity arises to prove the social influence of the arts. Nonetheless, there is a need for research to be conducted on the local role of a more progressed residency, centered on the criticism instituted above.


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1) The mission statement and vision of Seoul Art Space can be found on the Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture web site, http://www.sfac.or.kr/.

2) “It is good that we have Seoul Art Space_Geumcheon in Geumcheon-gu where we do not have sufficient cultural spaces” (G-Valley Band), “We had much of a negative image as an industrial zone and the opening of Seoul Art Space_Geumcheon was welcome” (Geumcheon Mrs.), “It was interesting to develop our menu for artists from foreign countries and interact with them” (owner of Gimbab Heaven) were among the opinions.

3) “Not only can I not leave my post, I could not make time because of my livelihood, but I think the space is educational for my children” (small business owner), “I like the well-groomed benches and building exterior of Seoul Art Space_Geumcheon, but the arts are still something of a world different from us” (worker at a nearby factory) were among the opinions.

4) The sense of inner fulfillment and effect of self-discovery which the housekeepers who participated in the art workshop course Seoul Art Space_Geumcheon offers to Geumcheon area residents (housekeepers) were highly significant. Subsequently, the organization of Geumcheon Mrs. was formed and is currently active as an organization-in-residence at Seoul Art Space_Geumcheon.