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[Herald Interview] Performing arts congress to focus on ‘cultural shifts’

 ISPA CEO David Baile says Korean arts scene ‘progressive’


The month of June will be an exciting month for Korea’s performing arts scene as the International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA) Congress will held in Seoul for the first time.

The six-day event will bring some of the most influential performing arts figures together here, including Sydney Opera House’s chief executive Richard Evans, New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s executive director Zarin Mehta and Singapore’s Esplanade CEO Benson Puah.

A non-profit international network of some 350 performing arts professionals and organizations from more than 40 countries, ISPA annually holds two congresses ― in January and June of each year. While its January congresses are always held in New York, the June ones take place in major cities from member countries.

Consisting of forums, workshops, a performance showcase, pitching sessions and an award ceremony, the upcoming event, which is ISPA’s 26th congress, will take place in Seoul’s major venues including the Sejong Center, Namsan Arts Center, Myeongdong Theater, and Seoul Art Space Mullae. This is the third time the congress is being held in Asia, after Singapore in 2003 and Hong Kong in 2006. 
ISPA CEO David Baile poses for a photo during an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul, Monday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
ISPA CEO David Baile poses for a photo during an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul, Monday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)

“One of the reasons why we chose Seoul is because it is relatively lesser known than Shanghai or Tokyo,” said ISPA CEO David Baile, during an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul, on Monday. He was in Seoul for a week-long visit in preparation of the upcoming event. “I think many guests would be surprised (once they arrive in Seoul for the congress) to find out what Seoul’s like.”

Having served as the general manager of Opera Atelier of Canada prior to joining ISPA in 2007, Baile has made a number of visits to Korea in the last 10 years.

“The first word I think of when I think of Seoul or Korea is it is really progressive,” Baile said. “In terms of the arts community, I had the benefit traveling and speaking to various groups of people. And I often think of Seoul as a real model for a number of reasons. For one, over the past eight or 10 years, there has been a real increase of investment in arts and culture (in Korea). And they are strategic investments. I see fostering arts organizations and going out into other destinations, but also real openness in terms of bringing arts groups in. There’s really a strong sense of exchange.”

Baile also mentioned the development of Korea’s contemporary dancing as well as non-text or minimal text theater performances as things that he sees as “interesting.” He was particularly impressed by the quality of performance of Korea’s contemporary dance troupe Laboratory Dance Project during Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Massachusetts, last year.

“Non-text or minimal text works facilitates global exchange,” he said. “They really have been smart strategies.”

The upcoming event’s theme is “Cultural Shifts,” and its forum session will feature hallyu, prediction of the future consumers of performing arts, and the “new ways of creation, distribution and appreciation of performing arts in the global scene.”

Baile said “leaving legacy” in its hosting cities is extremely important for ISPA congresses, rather than being a one-shot event. When asked about what “legacy” Korea’s arts scene can expect after hosting the congress, Baile shared the example of the 2009 congress in Sao Paulo. After the event, a Brazilian-themed concert was held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, as one of the Dutch guests was impressed by what he or she saw during the congress.

Baile said he very much enjoyed his first experience with Korea’s traditional music ― gugak. A few years ago he attended a house concert of renowned gayaguem player Hwang Byung-ki, which took place in a hanok, or traditional residential house.

“The atmosphere was very casual and I appreciate that a lot,” he said. “The concert would not be translated the same way on a Western theater stage.”

The ISPA Congress will be held from June 11 to 16. Online application forms are currently available for local artists and institutions who’d like to participate on www.ispa.org. Translation and interpretation services are available by Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture for those who need assistance in writing their pitches in English. For more information, call (02) 3290-7052-5.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)
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