“I’m over 80 and I’ve enjoyed enough. So now I want to leave a space for artists, who carry on the traditional heritage,” said Lee Young-hee, 84, who holds the title of national intangible cultural heritage master of the Gayageum Sanjo and Byeongchang, as she donated a 5,474 m² land, including her house, in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province to the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) on Tuesday.
Lee decided to donate the land to the CHA under one condition. She asked the state organization to build a training center for those who carry on the traditional performing arts and those who have completed it. “I want to be a help to the artists, who have been teaching students in their small houses because there is not enough places to nurture students,” said Lee.
According to the donor’s wishes, the CHA decided to build a national intangible cultural heritage arts training center on the land with a total floor area of 8,246m² by 2027. The four-story building with two basement floors will feature a performance hall and traditional arts experience space as well as training rooms for artists.
Born in Gunsan, Jeonbuk in 1938, Lee learned Gayageum Sanjo from the gayageum master Kim Yun-deok (1918-1978). After graduating from college in 1962, she nurtured young students for 60 years, serving as a teacher at the National High School of Traditional Korean Arts and a lecturer at Seoul National University and Chung-ang University. Following her master, she was designated as a national intangible cultural heritage master of Gayageum Sanjo and Byeongchang in 1991. Even now, at age 84, she teaches Gayageum Sanjo to about 10 students every weekend.
Her life was always about her students. Since 2018, she has been supporting scholarships of \20-30 million a year for students who study Kim Yun-deok style Gayageum Sanjo. In 2018, she donated 160 gayageums worth 40 million won to four elementary schools near her house. “I’ll spare no expense for young students until I die,” Lee said.
“People’s interest in Korean traditional music is on the decline. So I’m grateful that young students come to me to learn Korean traditional music,” Lee said. “I want to teach and support them as much as I can.”