The Present Conditions and Tasks of
Community Art in Terms of Cultural Policy
Director of Culture & Leisure Policy Division of Ministry of Culture,
Sports and Tourism, Republic of Korea, Ph.D. of Arts management
On May 2nd, the city of Seoul announced its plans to invest 72.5 billion won into supporting neighborhood communities in order to realize their goal of recovering ‘human values’ with a ‘neighborhood community’ led by its residents. For specific projects, initiatives in four areas and thirty-five unit businesses were created, including Creating a Foundation for the Fostering of Neighborhood Communities, A Welfare Community We Look After Together, An Economic Community which Creates and Consumes Together, An Exciting and Interesting Cultural Community, etc. Among these, the area of culture which is grouped together with the An Exciting and Interesting Cultural Community project is of an especially high priority, with a total of 49.9 billion won set aside for its fourteen sub-projects including Creating a Neighborhood Art-making Studio, etc. This is double the scale of the Seoul Foundation Arts and Culture’s 2012 budget of 25.3 billion won. Such neighborhood community-related projects which Mayor Park Won-Sun created with enthusiasm since taking office can be seen as holding the most essential area in the city of Seoul’s current cultural policies in terms just of their budgetary scales. The city of Seoul aims to ‘realize an exciting and interesting neighborhood cultural community in which people live in harmony with nature.’ The city of Seoul has installed and is running a ‘city of Seoul neighborhood community general support center’ which plays the role of ‘support for the entire process of the project including the providing of project information, education, creating of plans, execution, etc.’1)
The city of Seoul’s enthusiastic execution of cultural policy as such is of the same context with the currently expanding debates regarding community arts. However, it has not been long since the central or local governments began handling community arts as a major policy task while placing the arts at the fore as in the city of Seoul’s policy announcement. Furthermore, apart from the lip service, it was only fifteen years ago that the government began making practical policy changes regarding regional cultures outside of Seoul.
Therefore, this article aims to examine a few significant points regarding in what forms the government has begun its involvement in community arts or what possesses the qualities of its buds in regionally-based artistic activities, and the expansion of community arts among the several policies or projects the government has been undertaking, based on a basic understanding of the ideologies and direction of community arts. I also aim to inquire into a few issues which could be raised regarding community arts in the context of cultural policy based on such. The reason I am discussing issues here is because problems of community arts are at the stage of just beginning to be expanded in its discussion in our society. Therefore, it is because, rather than to present the right answer, I found it more potentially worthwhile to examine what the issues of community arts in our society currently are and in which direction of discussion these issues should be developed, through a diagnosis from multiple angles regarding phenomena. Therefore, I hope for the issues raised in this article to be dealt with and reviewed somewhat more seriously in the formation of actual policies or the process of undertaking specific projects.
Cultural Democracy as the Ideological Foundation for Community Arts
Regarding the theoretical foundation of community arts, various discussions have been developed based on artistic genre or the scholars studying them. The following explains how the idea of cultural democracy developed in the context of cultural policy is related to community arts rather than a pure theoretical side.
U.S. and Western cultural policy which has begun growing at full pace since World War II held the ‘democratization of culture’ to be its ideological end. ‘The democratization of culture’ basically aimed for ‘the expansion of elitist high culture among the general populace (Pacific, 1999).’ I.e., emphasis was placed on a redistribution scheme for anyone of the general public to be able purchase, conveniently and at affordable prices, pieces of the legacy of high culture such as classical music, ballet, fine arts, etc. In the case of the U.S., the country is regarded as having aimed for the democratization of culture since the early years of the nation’s founding (Hyde, 1999), and the cultural policy ideologies of twentieth century Western European countries also are not far removed from these boundaries (Girard, 1983). I.e., the idea of a ‘democratization of culture’ was a typical phenomenon in countries which have strengthened their cultural policies since World War II, such as England, etc. (Kim Jeong-hee, 2010). However, this idea of the democratization of culture brought along the results of actually exacerbating cultural inequalities by spending funds created by taxes, collected from all of a country’s citizens, on a refined minority who enjoyed discernable purchasing power (Girard, 1983), and as a reaction to this, discussions on cultural democracy have begun developing. ‘Cultural democracy’ emphasized various subcultures being able to obtain creative abilities as a result of being allowed to express their innate values and develop themselves (Girard, 1983), and recognized equal value in folk art and mass culture, which the populace commonly enjoy, in addition to high culture. Discussions regarding ‘cultural democracy’ were continuously expanded following this to focus on culture and cultural development by amateurs, and not professionals, and furthermore developed into acknowledgement that participation in the overall process is as important as the enjoyment of cultural productions (Graves, 2005). I.e., one can assume that discussions on ‘cultural democracy’ were a process based on a recognition of the limits of policy centered on high culture as referred to by Bourdieu, and aiming to overcome such (Di Maggio, 2008).2)
As such, ‘cultural democracy’ has continued to expand and develop in the scope of its discourse and is now viewing the participation in creative processes by ordinary citizens, and not artists, as an important issue, and this is perfectly in line with the aims of community arts. Of course community arts did not have its ideological base in ‘cultural democracy’ since the 1960s-70s when it was developing full force, it would not be a reach to consider the ‘democratization of culture’ to be an ideological foundation for community arts at the current juncture.
The Process of Introducing Community Arts-related Policies
What needs to be premised on here is that this article discusses ‘policy’ regarding community arts and not changes at the actual sites. Community arts by their nature have existed and also been developing before any government involvement. Government policy in any case merely serves the role of stimulating, helping or sometimes leading ex post these movements of the scene.
1. Period of Foundation Formation (1997-2003): The founding of the Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation and major local cultural foundations
The founding of the Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation in 1997 can be described as a turning point in our history of cultural policy. Occasions for paradigm changes in our cultural policy have existed a few times both before and after. The establishment of the Korea Arts and Culture Education Service in 1973 announced the beginning of policy in support of the arts if in form, and the construction of the Seoul Arts Center music hall in 1988 signified the dawn of an era of specialized performance venues. Also, the inauguration of the Ministry of Culture in 1990 became a starting point for the direction of cultural policy to shift from regulation to promotion. The introduction of elections by popular vote of local government leaders in 1995 and the subsequent founding of the Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation in 1997 presented an occasion for regionally specialized policies to begin, as opposed to how previous cultural policy had been administered by the central government mainly toward the Seoul area. Of course the expansion of full-scale local cultural policy was achieved by 2003 as the cultural foundations of other regions such as Seoul and Incheon grew together, but, nonetheless, the founding of the Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation can be seen as an event which symbolically demonstrated that local regions, and not just the central ones, can and should appear onto the scene as subjects in terms of cultural policy. The boom of regional cultural foundation establishment which has accelerated since 2003 has continued into recent times so that cultural foundations are established and being run in twelve regions among the seventeen metropolises and provinces.
Such local cultural foundations have basically been established through the lead of concerning local governments and are engaged in various support projects based on their contributions and subsidies. Along with this, they are relying on the central government or the Arts Council of Korea for a significant portion of their funding. Among these foundations have been cases in which the foundation failed to perform its role for quite some time into its existence, exhausted by infighting among local powers, or interests, around the issue of resource distribution. However, apart from any evaluations regarding the contents of the projects, that support for the arts happened based on local regions and their own goals, having escaped from support centered on the central government as symbolized by the Korea Arts and Culture Education Service or, in greater reality, centered around Seoul, can be described as a monumental event which changed the paradigm of Korea’s cultural policy. It took another five years for the Seoul Foundation Arts and Culture and Incheon Cultural Foundation to be founded and to begin serving their functions after the Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation, but the innumerable missteps and difficulties faced by Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation served as instructive examples not to follow to the many local foundations which obtained their start later, and now it is maintaining its leading position in terms of program content as well. Especially, in 2009, local funding by the Arts Council of Korea was greatly increased and begun to be distributed in the form of block grants, so that the projects of local foundations began to be greatly activated based on this. Also, the funding executed in such local units formed a foundation for community arts to develop based around certain regions.
Such establishments of local foundations can be seen as having three major significances in terms of cultural policy. First, local governments became able to directly design appropriate support projects for their respective region as subjects. Second, a foundation for locally based artists, and no longer artists from Seoul, to grow was formed. Third, achievements of the artistic activities obtained within local regions were now able to be accumulated within local regions. One may say that on the other side of the Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation being able to perform a leading role regarding community arts are melted in experiences of innumerable local projects across fifteen years.
2. Introductory Period (2004~2008): The Introduction of Arts and Culture Education Policy and the expansion of the local foundation’s role
Arts and culture policy which began to gain full momentum in 2004 holds important significance with regards to community arts. More than anything else, it is because arts and culture education policy holds the significance of transferring supplier-centered arts and culture policy to a consumer-oriented one. Arts and culture education policy also became an occasion for the achievement of meaningful experiments and the accumulation of experience in terms of community arts. Arts and culture education is largely distinguished into school arts/culture education and social arts/culture education. Among these, expert lecturers visiting schools to teach is the central content of school arts and culture education. Also, social arts and culture education assumes the form of specially created educational programs for those in extraordinary circumstances such as the differently abled, the elderly, military service people, prisoners and juvenile delinquents, etc. being provided. Among the programs implemented since 2004 when such arts and culture education policies were first introduced, one which is worth examining with regards to community arts is the pilot program for school arts and culture education in connection with local communities. This program, run in its pilot stage for three years, was of supporting various arts and culture resources such as local artists, arts organizations and local cultural institutions, etc., based in sixty pilot regions throughout the country, to effectively combine with arts education in schools. This project had the characteristic of having designed locally specialized programs as opposed to how generally arts and culture education in schools is run on a nationally uniform curriculum.3) Although it subsequently failed to reach the stage of institutionalization as a continual project, it reaped the achievement of creating some sixty regionally based business models throughout the country. Also, a considerable portion of those business models later developed into leading examples of community arts. Examples such as the Potato Flower Studio of Pyeongchang, the Buk-ku House of Culture in Gwangju, etc. can be described as model projects of which the achievements are being continued to this day.
3. Development Period (2009-2011): The undertaking of a life culture community project
Typical projects of this era are the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Tourism’s Life Culture Community Project, Culture Double-Cropping, Village Art, the city of Seoul’s Cultivating an Arts Village and Studio Space Support Project, etc. The Life Culture Community Project begun in 2009 was a fully-equipped cultural policy geared toward realizing the essence of community arts such as ‘the recovery of community culture and inducing of local changes with arts and culture activity as the medium,’ and ‘the enhancement of opportunities to enjoy culture for local residents in their everyday lives and the abatement of cultural divide,’ etc. This project ‘aimed for the formation and development of life culture communities with culture as the medium, and to develop various models for such and have them naturally spread and distributed to other regions. To this end, the Life Culture Community Project supported the formation of communities for residents of culturally alienated areas, such as rent-based apartment complexes, areas with high densities of single, low-income family residential units, and rural areas, etc., mediated by arts and culture activities. This project, supported in increments of three years, can be seen as a project announcing the start of full-fledged support at the government level toward community arts.
Culture Double-Cropping is a project begun by the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Tourism toward the end of cultural regeneration for farming areas. At its initial stages, this project selected the progress method of a specialist organization working based in Seoul planning the program for certain pilot regions. However, due to such and apart from individual project successes, that motivational forces within farming areas were under-utilized while the process was centered around outside experts was pointed out as a weakness. The greatest issue in employing outside expertise is that it would be helpful in achieving immediately visible results but that as reliance on them grows the projects can slip into becoming parasitical ones relying on government funding. I.e., there remains little possibility for self-sustained growth or survival in the event that government support is discontinued and outside experts leave. The Ministry of Sports, Culture and Tourism therefore began to change its method of project management in 2010 and switched from its previous modes of emphasizing quantitative and visible results to a new direction of valuing human resource training and the securement of self-sustaining motivational forces.
The Neighborhood Art Project was a project that took its cue from the arts support program part of the New Deal of the U.S. after the 2008 foreign currency crisis. The government at the time newly introduced support projects per each area of the arts under the name of Arts New Deal, and among those the project introduced into the area of art was the neighborhood art project. This project was sharing the same context with the currents of public art which was rapidly expanding at the time, and at the same time it was with communication and cooperation with residents of the neighborhoods in which the public artworks were installed. This was following reflection regarding how the several public art projects up to that time possessed an alien quality with regards to the lives of residents. At a similar time, in the city of Seoul the public art projects of City Gallery and Cultivating an Arts Village were undertaken. Especially, the Seoul Foundation Arts and Culture improved their ‘Love of Arts, Sharing of Culture’ project begun in 2005 to Cultivating Culture in Our Neighborhood in 2008 and then again to Cultivating an Arts Village in 2010, accumulating consistent achievements. Such movement in the area of public art appears as national phenomena in Busan, Anyang, etc., and this allowed public art to approach the essence of being community art, unlike in the past, by escaping from the formality and single-sidedness of the ‘art decorations for buildings’ business based on the law for the promotion of arts and culture, and through emphasizing communication with local residents. The Seoul Foundation Arts and Culture also greatly expanded its artist residency support project. This was of a quite significant stride considering how the same foundation previously had placed its focus on supporting arts organizations. The artist residency support programs which were begun with providing practice rooms in Daehak-ro to actors in their early stages were later developed in the form of transitioning industrial facilities, etc. in various areas of Seoul to locally based arts creation presentation spaces, forming a basis for locally based community arts to develop around such spaces.
4. Expansion Period: The Village Community Project of the City of Seoul (2012~)
2012 is foreseen to be a turning point in the expansion of community arts in Korea. This more than anything is in line with the city of Seoul’s policy changes, as mentioned above. The Neighborhood Community Support Project announced by the city of Seoul last May can be viewed as evidence that community arts which have been undertaken as individual business units created an occasion to change anew in any direction upon having met with the great power of government support, in terms not only of the magnitude of its scale but also of its content. Especially in this project, a foundation for community arts to develop has been formed as related projects are together implemented, such as with Creating a Foundation for the Fostering of Neighborhood Communities, A Welfare Community We Look After Together and An Economic Community which Creates and Consumes Together, etc. aside from the culture area project of An Exciting and Interesting Cultural Community.
Only, because the detailed aspects of the project belonging to the category of An Exciting and Interesting Cultural Community which the city of Seoul speaks of are not yet specifically revealed, no one can tell what influence this project will have. Furthermore, since this was quickly facilitated by a change in the mayor’s seat rather than having been proven through a prolonged period of research or pilot projects, it would be interesting to watch and see what chemistry will be had between the city of Seoul’s supervising department, which is being the subject of progress, and the newly formed organization of City of Seoul Neighborhood Community General Support Center, and above all the subjects of the progress of each community formed through such. Therefore, it is yet premature to decide on what achievements this project, which is just in its infant stages, and the motivation of the city of Seoul, which is implementing this, will bring to the city of Seoul’s cultural policy. However, it appears certain that this project will form the height of the so-called community arts policy which has been undertaken directly and indirectly by the government and local foundations.
Issues Surrounding Community Arts Policies
As examined above, the several policies related to community arts have not been designed to a clear and consistent purpose in relation to community arts, despite each of their purposes. Due to such, there is a difficulty in deciding what significances and influences such policies had regarding community arts. With regards to this, quite different perspectives arise based on in what genres and through what way community arts have progressed in the community arts scene as well. Therefore, various discussions could be presented regarding community arts related policies as well. Such debates are sometimes in the form of discussions regarding the theoretical side of things, but at others are of the appearance of a struggle surrounding limited public resources.
The first issue is about the purpose and aims of community arts, and is a question of which, between the community and the arts, one should prioritize. One could produce a vague compromise in the ways of arguing that good communication between communities and artists is important or that a balanced approach is needed between the community and the arts, but at some point will arrive at the point of needing to decide which of the two to focus on. Especially, in the culture field which belongs to the realm of promotional administration instead of regulation, most policies in the end turn to the problem of public resource distribution, so it is inevitable that one runs into a crossroads in selecting the criteria or direction of public resource distribution. Therefore, this issue may seem simple but in fact implies a considerably significant value judgement and conflict. For example, the city of Seoul aims to ‘realize an exciting and interesting neighborhood community in which people and nature coexist in harmony’ through its Neighborhood Community Support Program. This may perhaps bring about achievements completely unrelated to the development of the arts.
The second issue is regarding the subject of community arts and is the question of who among artists and local residents becomes the subject. The most ideal form would of course be when both artists and residents become the subject. However, cases in which such happy subjects lead community arts are actually rare. In many cases of community arts, artists who are not based in the concerning community become the subjects. Especially for community arts tied to public support, an artist of a certain genre comes to form a relationship with the community based on subsidies, and makes art and presents their work. The reason that artists not based in the concerning communities participate in such support projects may be out of their interest in artistic achievement as well as their desire for public funding. However, in either case the community met with by the artist becomes a community as an object or subject matter for art, and not a home for their life. It does not become a community to which the artists belong, of which they become a part of. Even if they remain in the communities for some months in order to strengthen the connections between their own work and the community they work with and raise the ultimate completeness, the results do not become significantly different. The issue of whether the art of an artist can maintain a certain degree of continuance after the artist has left is certainly not easily answerable.
The third issue is regarding the extent of professionalism of a work of community arts and is about who among professional artists and amateurs becomes central in the creation of community arts. This could be another side of the second issue but is of a perspective emphasizing the artistic accomplishments rather than the subject. It also often tends to develop into debates on the quality of artistic accomplishments. For example, when installing a piece of public art, installations by professional artists of course are more highly regarded than attempts by amateurs. However, this does not change the difficulty of judging across the board that such installations reflect the current issues or problems of a community any better. Amateur artists sometimes participate in the designing of ideas or the production processes but even in those cases their roles usually remain at extremely limited levels.
The fourth issue is regarding the local-ness of the artist, and is an issue of who to put first between highly accomplished artists and local ones. This may actually be petty to be discussed as an issue. However, in reality intense competition arises for limited public funds in the cases of community arts tied to support projects undertaken in various regions. In the process, the issue arises of who to select with preference between tested artists with much experience in the art world and artists who lack such objective credentials but live in the concerning community. This is not simply a matter of artistic ability. It is because, in the case of artworks which are not based in the community, the former kind of artist could of course produce better results in terms of quality, but for community arts it would be difficult to claim the same outcome.
The fifth issue is about public reliance and a question of who among the public and private sectors, in other words the government and individual citizens or artists, leads the formation of community arts. The essential quality of community arts would suggest that this of course is created and developed by members of a community or a group of artists relating to the issues surrounding their lives. However, such theoretically justifiable directions have seldom been convincingly applied in domestic artist circles where the foundations for private funding such as foundations or private sponsors, etc. are extremely meager. Instances in which the government aggressively creates related support projects, and community arts are made in reliance of subsidies through this, are much more commonly found. This fundamentally raises the question of whether the development of community arts by public support is indeed justifiable. As discussed above, much of the examples of community arts recently activated in the country are reliant on public support programs. Community arts relying on such public support programs often develop greater dependency as time passes rather than naturally gaining independence and self-sustainability. Thus if funding is cut, the artistic accomplishments and achievements hitherto made instantly disappear without a trace. I.e., public support could result in the negative effects of making the life of community art itself disappear regardless of the purity of its intentions. Such community arts led on by the government deepen the dependence on support projects without forming self-sustaining developmental energies, ultimately implying the possibility of falling into becoming a parasitical art regarding public support. However, contrary to this there can be found examples of the buds of community arts being formed and occasions for their development through public support as well. Ultimately what is important would be through how delicate and long a breath public support programs are created.
The community arts related web site run by the Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation ‘Talk Talk Community Art’ states its mission as “In the current circumstances of an anonymous audience being exhausted by life and unable to perform the role of consumer, the arts are no more than a game played by a selected few. We aim to value this topsy-turvy unbalance of the arts and move into a realm of common interest through an approach centered on Others.” Community arts are an effort to return the arts, which have been downgraded to ‘a game of the few’ as stated above, to the sites of their consumers’ lives. However, it is deemed that much pondering and discussion is needed in the future regarding how, to what extent and through which ways the government’s policies and public support projects combine with this. It is true that arts and culture policy in our country has been significantly affected by government-led projects or government funding, in good ways or bad. Community arts by their definition have many incongruities making it difficult to readily accept such logical connections of the government’s arts and cultural policy. Nonetheless, conditions are being fostered in which community arts are appearing center stage in cultural policy, having escaped from their previously held, nonessential, support roles, as in the recent changes in the city of Seoul’s policy, etc. It is considered that what achievements this will yield needs some more, continuous track research in the future.
1) City of Seoul press release “A Recovery of ‘Human Values’ through a ‘Neighborhood Community’ which Residents Lead”, May 2, 2012.
2) Explanations of ‘Cultural Democracy’ are a summarized excerpt from my humble manuscript, ‘Issues and Directions of the Culture Voucher Policy, Collection of Treatises on Cultural Policy, vol. 26, book 1, Korea Culture and Tourism Research Center, 2012..
3) Ministry of Culture and Tourism, 2006 Arts and Culture Education Policy White Book.