Continuing with the KCC UK 5th Anniversary celebrations, after the concert at Cadogan Hall, a Culture Forum was held at the Korean Cultural Centre itself a few days later. This Culture Forum, titled ‘A Bridge to the Future‘, aimed to look at the past and potential future of the KCC. The forum featured talks from four speakers whom all work in building a bridge to Korean culture, with a Q&A session afterwards. Before the forum began, the core staff of the KCC came together to celebrate the KCC’s birthday, and even had a special tteok birthday cake prepared. A shout out to Paul for a great rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ in Korean, with a ‘saranghaeyo KCC’ thrown in!
The first speaker, and general MC for the forum, was Philip Gowman, founder of London Korean Links. Philip Gowman looked back on the KCC’s first five years, from its inception to where it is now, looking at what it had achieved in helping promote Korean culture in the UK. The full text of Philip’s speech can actually be seen on the LKL website here, and makes for a very interesting read. Philip talked about the achievements of the KCC since the beginning, and the efforts and hard work of the staff. From exhibitions, language courses, film nights and the epic annual Thames Festival and LKFF, the KCC staff never seem to stop!
Philip’s talk highlighted that before the KCC UK was established, Korean acts coming to the UK, and Korean culture in general, was not largely publicised. If it was, it would be in Korean, making it hard for people to find information. The KCC UK helped raise awareness for Korean culture happening around us and holding events itself help to publicise and promote Korean culture. Philip gave examples of some of the great events the KCC have held, showing just how great an organisation they were, like the London Korean Film Festival, ‘The Year of the 12 Directors’, and securing a prominent spot at the Thames Festival. All these events have been invaluable for promotion of Korean culture in the UK. Philip also mentioned the possibility of the ‘3rd Hallyu Wave’, a wave that would promote traditional arts, and the KCC is the perfect medium to help make this happen as they’re already using programmes such as the Kpop Academy to introduce Kpop fans to traditional Korean culture.
Up next was Dr. Hyunsun Yoon, who lectures at the University of East London. Dr. Yoon took an interesting look at how the media have reported about Korea from the early 2000s to present, and how the ‘Hallyu Wave’ has affected the way Korean culture has been reported and what aspects are being focused on. Dr. Yoon said that early on in the 2000s, most British newspapers only focused on Korea’s financial or political stories, and if they did mention the entertainment industry, it was regarding illegal downloading in the most internet enabled country. The Financial Times and The Economist were the two broadsheets that featured Korean related articles the most but the way South Korea was referred to in general can often be seen as quite negative, with stories looking at how ‘Korea was struggling for a place in the world’.
When Old Boy was released, Director Park Chan-wook helped gain awareness for Korea as he established a fan base in Britain, but this audience was limited to film fans. But when the KCC launched the London Korean Film Festival in 2006, Dr. Yoon cited this as a time when general publicity increased, especially when celebrities like Jonathan Ross tweeted about the LKFF. The KCC was clever with their use of social media as promotion, which has been and remains an invaluable resource.
In recent years, Dr. Yoon has said the British coverage about Korea is a lot more widespread in topic, with a good amount of well researched and neutrally based writing. For example, when British publications started taking an interesting in Kpop, the articles gave a good coverage of both the positive and negative points of the industry, whereas Korean media can use language that is largely nationalistic when talking about the Hallyu wave, such as using buzz words like “invaded”. There has definitely been a shift in how Korea is written about, with more articles appearing on news sites and papers such as the BBC and The Guardian. Dr. Yoon also mentioned the Psy phenomenon, and the positive and negative aspects this could bring. On the down side, she thought Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ MV might enforce stereotypes, but on the positive side, there’s no doubt that since ‘Gangnam Style’ went viral, the media has expanded the aspects of Korea that were and are being reported on and no longer only focus on politics. Dr. Yoon had some very detailed research and it was very interesting to see the progression on how Korea has been reported in British media over the last decade or so.
Jeremy Akerman, an artist and the curator and co-director of Akermandaly.com, was the third speaker. He talked about his experiences as an art teacher in the UK and what it was like working with Korean students coming to study in the UK. It was interesting to hear about the cultural differences between British and Korean art students. Akerman was noticing that many Korean students were not taking advantage of their rich cultural heritage and was instead trying to confirm to European styles. This inspired Akerman to discover what Korean art was himself, resulting in him traveling to Korea and meeting lots of local artists. As oversea students, Akerman pointed out that it’s important for Korean artists in Britain to develop their own unique style. As a government entity, the KCC can be see as a soft and safe option but Akerman states that as a public facing organisation, the KCC should help young Korean artists in the UK and put effort into nurturing them, engaging them on a critical level. It sounded as though Akerman wanted the KCC to be braver with the Korean artists they chose to exhibit, and should go from being a “good student to good teacher”. Maybe we will see some crazy exhibitions at the KCC soon!
The last to talk was by Sioned Hughes, the Director of SRH Arts Management who specialises in international professional development of people across the arts and creative industries. Her talk looked at her experiences working on a 2 year research exchange programme for Korean and UK performing arts managers. On this exchange, arts producers and managers could work together on collaborative exchanges between the two countries, and would share their experiences in working in the arts industries. This amazing exchange program gave many the opportunities to share their cultures discover each others arts events and performance style. This gave them a chance to develop and enhance their art and raise their international appeal as well as learning from each other to develop a better and more efficient way of working. Relating to the KCC, Sioned said that they did a wonderful job in the area of performing arts, showcasing many of Korea’s talents such as Jump and Crossroads at the Thames Festivals. She mentioned that the strategic relationship with the Thames Festival organisers was a great one, and the work the KCC did to be involved in the Mayor’s Thames Festival was a fantastic move in helping Korean performance arts gain more awareness. She said the KCC has worked very well with British organisations and organisers so that the British people could experience Korean culture in their own culture.
After the presentations, there was a Q&A where the audience could raise any burning questions they had. The audience had some very interesting questions, and many were interested in Korea in the British media and if it’s possible for people to ever intrinsically understand another culture without translations. This was a great event to hear experts talk about their field of knowledge, and gave people an opportunity to learn how much the KCC UK has done to help the promotion of Korean culture in the UK. With ten years left on the KCC UK’s lease in its current location, we can’t wait to see what they have in store for the future!
After the Forum, the speakers, and close friends of the KCC were invited to a swanky dinner over at the Corinthia Hotel. The KCC UK has uploaded an album this event which you can see here. Chef Kiejo Sarsfield, who kindly taught us a few Korean dishes before, was also invited and has since written up her thoughts on the delicious looking food on her blog here. Give it a read and prepare to be hungry!
The KCC UK’s 5th Anniversary celebrations were fun and engaging, as well as informative and interesting. Heres to another five glorious years with the KCC! Happy 5th Birthday KCC UK!