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[Op-Ed] Mismanaged Arts Council Korea

Posted December. 08, 2008 05:16,   


Kim Jung-heon has been replaced as chairman of the Arts Council Korea, an organization which provides almost 100 billion won (67.7 million U.S. dollars) every year to artists. His departure follows the resignation of his predecessor Kim Byeong-ik in July last year. Thus none of the council’s two chairmen have completed their terms since the organization’s foundation in August 2005. Kim Byeong-ik threw in the towel after struggling to make things right amid utter chaos. The Culture, Sports and Tourism Ministry let his successor go after he incurred losses of 5.4 billion won (3.65 million dollars) by violating regulations on funding. The council indeed is in deep trouble.

The Korean Culture and Arts Foundation had been in charge of managing subsidies to artists for 30 years until the previous administration overhauled the system. The council was set up so that artists could participate as council members to independently select beneficiaries. Though the measure met great resistance, the government pushed ahead with it backed by left-leaning artists who initiated the discussion. The idea of leaving the decision to artists themselves seemed logical in theory, but little did they know about the flaws.

After the council began operations, members were anxious to represent the interests of the genres they belonged to. This gave rise to intense conflict among members fighting for more funds. The Roh Moo-hyun administration came under fire for biased support since it appointed many left-leaning members to the council. Many forgot about the true purpose of the fund, which is to select promising artists and concentrate government support to them. The fund fell victim to a power play and soon became a lost cause hardly expected to bring constructive results.

Since artists with little knowledge in fund management took the helm, the fund’s coffers have substantially fallen from 488 billion won (330.7 million dollars) in 2005 to 458 billion won (310.4 million dollars) in 2006 and 427.1 billion won (289.4 million dollars) last year. If the drop persists, the fund is expected to dry up in ten years. The former chairman wasted 5.4 billion won (3.65 million dollars) from a fund already in deep trouble. The biggest victims are artists, who are usually the first hit when an economic crisis breaks out, since culture and arts are the first items to disappear on a consumer’s shopping list. The council should be a bastion for artists but is on dangerous ground. This winter could be especially chilly for artists.

Editorial Writer Hong Chan-sik (chansik@donga.com)