Cultural Playing Field

World Culture Clubs Forum, Seongnam, South Korea by Robin Simpson
September 24, 2009, 9:01 am
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , ,

Last week I was in South Korea to speak at the World Culture Clubs Forum conference. Seongnam City is a new city with a population of 1 million people on the outskirts of Seoul. The Seongnam Cultural Foundation has been working to make Seongnam a ‘cultural city’ by developing a voluntary arts network organised by amateur or citizen-led art groups (culture clubs). These groups are involved in both making policy and delivering policy, and are helping to establish the new identity of the city. The Department of Arts & Cultural Management at Kyunghee Cyber University in Seoul has been studying the development of this voluntary arts network and the World Culture Clubs Forum conference was a platform to discuss the results of their research and to compare this with other models of amateur arts practice from around the world. I was one of five guest speakers, along with representatives of the European Network of Cultural Centres, the International Council for Cultural Centres, the National Cultural Festival in Shizuoka, Japan, and the Mid-America Arts Alliance. The conference delegates came from across South Korea and included politicians, local government officers and civil servants from the Ministry of Culture. I was amazed and delighted to discover that almost everyone at the conference was familiar with ‘Our Creative Talent’ – the study of the voluntary and amateur arts in England commissioned by DCMS and Arts Council England in 2008. I was even more surprised when someone approached me after my presentation to say he had recognised my voice from the podcast of a speech I had given to a NALGAO seminar in Bristol in 2007!

World Culture Clubs Forum conference

World Culture Clubs Forum conference

It was a fascinating conference and we identified lots of ways in which our organisations might be able to work together. There was some discussion about the idea of developing a Global Network for the Voluntary Arts, though we agreed not to rush into anything.

World Culture Clubs Forum speakers

World Culture Clubs Forum speakers

Korea is a fascinating place: everything seems very modern – on our way to the conference we drove through the ‘old town’ which dates from 1990! But there is more greenery than I expected – lots of trees and lush green grass. The Han river which runs through Seoul is huge – much wider than the Thames. But in terms of buildings it’s just masses of skyscrapers and neon signs. Everyone is exceptionally polite and helpful: I’m very glad I read the bit in my guide book about the reverence which is attached to the exchanging of business cards and brought a big supply with me. Everyone you meet in any vaguely business-related context hands you a business card and expects you to hold it in both hands and study it carefully for at least a minute before carefully filing it away. And still, a week later, I am finding myself naturally bowing to everyone!

Korean meal

Korean meal

We had several enormous meals in traditional Korean restaurants – very hot and spicy food, sitting cross-legged on cushions at low tables. We attended the opening of an exhibition of amateur art works – including a performance by a local amateur guitar group – and an opera gala concert featuring two Korean singers who are now regular performers at La Scala, Milan.

It was wonderful to have the chance to meet up with Debbie Brooks who left VAN at the beginning of this year to take up a job in Seoul teaching English as a foreign language. She is really enjoying teaching and is considering whether to sign up for another year in South Korea.

Robin Simpson.


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