|How did you personally become involved in the performing arts world?
At university I majored in Korean Literature and my professor had a connection with the theater world. That led me to begin to write plays and become active as a member of the university’s theater club. This gave me many opportunities to work on-site in the theater world as a student, and enough to realize how hard it is to make a normal living in theater (laughs). That experience is what led me to join an ad agency after graduation, but I wasn’t able to forget the theater, so after working for about three years, I returned to the performing arts world as a free-lance producer.
At the time, the term art management was little known or understood in South Korea, and the profession of producer was not an established thing either. In 1998 I started my own company out of my desire to create a new kind of production office with planning, publicity, marketing and company management as its main business areas. This got me involved with the ASSITEJI International Festival of the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People (ASSITEJI), the Changmu International Arts Festival organized by the Changmu Dance Company, the SIDance program of the CID-UNESCO Korea Chapter, and other festivals. After that, I quit the company and spent six months in Mexico as a sort of mid-life vacation, and while I was there I got an offer to come back and work in the administrative section of the SIDance Seoul International Dance Festival. That job at SIDance got me thinking deeply about things like international exchange, joint performances, working with government agencies and international arts management professionalism. It was at this time that I cooperated with the Japan Foundation in organizing the Butoh Festival [held in Seoul in 2005].
After working there for a few years, I got the desire to apply the things I had learned in broader fields than dance alone, so I quit my post at the SIDance office in 2006 and went to work at Seoul Performing Arts Company, which is a public theater company. At that time, the producers and programmers of my generation, who were called the first generation of Korean performing arts festival professionals, all seemed to be experiencing doubts about their fields of work, just as I was. Lee Gyu-Seog was one such person. It was a time when people like us were deciding to leave the festival work to the next generation and begin to search for our own new realms where we could support them and the arts. As the next step after working at the Seoul Performing Arts Company I decided to come to work at KAMS to take my career to the next dimension. Still, my ultimate dream is to be a writer. Not necessarily writing plays or creative work like that, I want to write about human beings and the world. That is still my dream today.
This interview gives me the impression that you have always been moving upward in your career to the next stage with the same logical and strategic approach that you bring to your work. In your present job dealing with entering foreign markets, is there any area that you are placing special focus on strategically?
South Korea’s current administration has placed special emphasis on actively promoting Korean traditional arts in foreign markets. Based on this culture/arts policy, we at KAMS are putting particular efforts into the promotion of Korean traditional music overseas. Among Korea’s traditional performing arts are a variety of forms such as Pansori (percussion accompanied narrative singing) and dance, but among these, traditional Korean music has a special identity and uniqueness and, with the power of young musicians’ performances, we feel that it can be especially well received by international audiences. Also, compared with other genres, it is easier to put together a tour with.
However, unfortunately Korean traditional music is not well known in the outside world. That is why we are also engaged in other programs to help promote it overseas. We are presently doing research and analysis on the international music scene and building networks with music festivals and professionals in the world music field. In the last two years we have succeeded in arranging some 30 concerts for seven Korean musician groups to perform in six markets in Europe, North and South America and Australia. And we plan to continue expanding this in the future. The BBC has done a program introducing Korean music, and while we are building these networks, I want us to realize ideas for approaching internationally renowned media like National Geographic.
What visions and issues do you see for the future?
In the five years since KAMS was launched, we have succeeded in building considerable networks and PAMS has become known internationally as an arts market. I believe that now is the time for us to begin moving to the next stage and taking on the next set of issues. This year we will be launching a number of new projects.
One of these is a “Visiting Arts Joint Cooperation” project that we will be carrying on over a five-year period with several main theaters and festivals in the United Kingdom with the aim of strengthening our cooperative relationship with the UK and increasing our ability to work globally. Eventually we want to see collaborative works created through this program touring internationally in our networks. Other new projects this year will be a “Joint Cooperation with Dance Info Finland” and an “NPN Joint Cooperation” which we hope will strengthen our cooperative relationships with the USA and Finland. Until now, a lot of our focus has been on helping Korean artists perform abroad, but now, through these kinds of cooperative projects, we hope to build a more stable foundation of two-way cooperative exchange relationships. This will represent an attempt to build deeper international exchange from the long-term standpoint, I believe.
We are also working on programming intensive and multifaceted introductions of Korean culture in the form of Korea features, but so far there has only been one such program held in an overseas city. From now on we will be working to strengthen the support system for performance tours within the different regions. In addition to support for airfare and peripheral aspects of touring (PR, etc.), we plan to provide consulting and support to help companies conduct tours of several cities.
In the field of theater, we plan to begin full-fledged support for translation projects. Theater involves the language barrier, which makes it difficult for the theater works we present in PAMS Choice showcases to find overseas performance opportunities.
In another area, we are in cross-departmental discussions with the Korean Foundation, which is under the umbrella of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, about ways to strengthen our support budgets and systems.
One of the big issues for the future is surely training of human resources capable of working in the field on international exchange programs and collaborative production projects, and also strengthening the understanding of international society and functional capabilities of private-sector companies to engage in sustainable exchanges.
Are you involved in any specific projects toward those aims?
A service like ours, and the programs we engage in, are all dependent on human resources. No matter how KAMS may work to build overseas networks and create opportunities for overseas performances, it is meaningless if there aren’t companies to develop on those opportunities and engage in sustainable exchanges and overseas activities. All KAMS can do is provide support on a short-term basis. Once we have helped a company get an opportunity to perform overseas in a particular country, I believe the ideal situation is for that opportunity not to end as a one-time event but for that company to then go on and build on the experience and develop their own capability to develop overseas markets for themselves and engage in meaningful exchanges. The problem I am most concerned with right now is how to pass the baton on from the public organizations like ours to the private-sector organizations and companies and have them become able to engage in exchange and overseas expansion.
To tackle this issue, we have established our “International Exchange Academy” at KAMS to train people in the field of international exchange. It is a program that offers a four-month curriculum to educate people in the basics of international exchange, practical skills, with separate workshops for the different arts genres. We are also actively engaged in international consulting services, regarding things like participation in the Edinburgh Fringe and developing markets in North and South America and Europe. Beginning this year, I want to initiate a project aimed at building new networks to strengthen producers, while also continuing our educational program.
For someone like me who has no formal training in arts management, it has been very educational for me to hear what KAMS has achieved in the fields of arts management and international exchange. Also, I am often using KAMS frequently as a source for quickly gathering information about what is happening in the arts and culture in South Korea. I am looking forward to your activities in the future. Thank you very much for this informative interview.