Culture Ministry seeks to revitalize arts scene after Sewol disaster

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jun 12, 2014 - 20:21
  • Updated : Jun 12, 2014 - 20:21
Korea’s performing arts scene suffered a major blow when the ferry Sewol sank in April with over 300 people trapped inside.

Concerts, musicals and various other stage performances were canceled, postponed or scaled down, as the nation mourned. Even those who avoided such a fate struggled with low ticket sales.

About two months after the disaster, the country is slowly returning to pre-Sewol normalcy, but many artists are still grappling with financial hardship and a bitter taste of the reality of their role in Korean society at a time of tragedy.

To revitalize the local arts scene, the government plans to spend 5 billion won ($4.9 million) over the next few months.

“Many people in the fields of art and culture seem to have suffered financial damage as well as a dent to their self-esteem as artists. We’re looking at diverse ways to support them and help the local performing arts community emerge from the doldrums,” Kim Tae-hoon, director of the arts policy bureau at the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, told reporters Wednesday.

Much of the 5 billion won will be used on subsidies for new performances.

“For instance, we’re planning a series of small outdoor performances at various vacation places such as Haeundae Beach in Busan, starting from the end of next month. Not just pop or classical music concerts. It will present magic shows, dance performances and various other stage works,” the official explained.

The measure is part of a package that the government and ruling Saenuri Party agreed upon in their policy coordination meeting late last month in order to boost local tourism, arts and culture in the aftermath of the April 16 ferry accident. 

According to the ministry, of the 26 performing arts festivals scheduled between mid-April and the end of May, only 10 took place. Ten were postponed, four had their programs scaled down and the remaining two were outright canceled.

The impact from the Sewol sinking was more acute in provincial cities, where major venues are run by local governments with tight budgets.

A survey of 43 performing arts centers outside Seoul found that there were 122 cancelations, 53 postponements and three programs that were scaled-back during the April 17-May 31 period.

In Seoul, some small musical companies reported massive losses, as they relied heavily on the over 20,000 students of provincial high schools who were expected to make excursions to Seoul and see their shows. But most schools canceled their excursions, picnics and all other kinds of outings after the ferry accident. Of its 476 passengers, 325 were high school students on a trip to the southern resort island of Jejudo. Only 75 of the students survived.

By Lee Sun-young (