Time for Another Leap beyond Street Performance Festivals


Time for Another Leap beyond Street Performance Festivals
[Trend] The Status of Today’s Korean Street Arts

From April 23 to 26 this year, there was an opening event for the Seoul Street Arts Creation Center at the Guui Water Intake Facility in Gwangjin-gu, Seoul. In 2011, it was announced that the water intake facility would be shut down and repurposed for street arts, drawing the attention of interested parties. After 2013’s the open studio pilot program, the center went through a full-scale remodeling and officially reopened in April of 2015. The space now includesproduction and studio spacesin the first water intake facility, while the second facility has been updated to include practice rooms. Additional remodeling for residence and education facilities and practice spaces is scheduled to occur through 2017.

The Goyang Lake Art Festival

Street Arts Market at Seonyudo Park

 by Korean Street Arts Center

The Search for a Realistic Plan for Korean Street Art

In the latter half of 2014, there was another notable event in the street art world:Facingsudden cancellations of invited pieces from international artists, the usually impressive Gwacheon Festival underwent last-minute changes that resulted in a feeble event. Despite the longstanding art director’s defense of the festival’s reputation as a national platform for street art, both the event and its leader had their image damaged by Gwacheon’s weak performance, inciting criticism. Around the same time, the local government opted to take the festival in a new direction, moving away from street arts and instead launching a Horse Festival, a decision made amid debates and hearings supporting the contrary. But in spite of the controversial shift,the 2015 festival is moving ahead as planned. At present, the organizers are accepting suggestions for a name for the new festival, one that signifies the bond that exists between humans and horses, carries on the tradition of mounted nomad descendants, and embodies the contribution of horses to local culture and tourism. The art director and the planning manager of Gwacheon Festival have already resigned from office.

The launch of the Seoul Street Arts Creation Center and demise of Gwacheon Festival are indicative of the current state of Korean street arts, which up until now were mainly represented by festivals. In 2003, the aforementioned Gwacheon Festival was renamed from Gwacheon Madang Festival to Gwacheon Han Madang Festival, with aprogram that includes courtyard performances, street performances, and outdoor performances. Since then, the term “street arts” has often come to replace “street performanceat such events, seen by some as a reflection of modern trends in the street arts sector. As a key proponent of diversity among street arts projects, the Gwacheon Festival is widely recognized as more than a convergence of invited performances from abroad, academic projects, and production support projects: The alumni of the Gwacheon Festival have spread out to Ansan, Goyang, and Seoul, leading the development of the genre at other festivals.

The Ansan Street Arts Festival, which notably includes “street performance” in its name, is recognized for having raised awareness of the genre among the mainstream crowd. The festival started out by appealing to local audiences with one- to two-person busking performances, but has since made an effort todiversify its acts. Though the festival has been helmed by a number of different art directors since its debut, each has managed to maintain the general direction of the event, which had its 10th anniversary in 2015.Artists and local citizens’ expectations from the event will likely be influenced by last year’s Sewol ferry accident—which had been transporting many students from an Ansan high school, among others—thus, this year’s program is expected to take such factors into consideration.

The Goyang Lake Art Festival intends to differentiate itself from other festivals by highlighting the concept of space in its street arts. The “Lake Park” concept, in which water, nature, and city center come together in one spaceand the idea of combining this spatial characteristic with street artsis drawing a positive response from the general public and the interest of artists. Unlike the organizations behind the aforementionedfestivals, this festival is prepared entirely by the Goyang Cultural Foundation. The festival, which had been growing steadily despite concerns regarding the lack of an artistic director, is expected to face difficulties this year due to the delicate situation with the cultural foundation itself.

Once thought to lack a clear focus, the Hi Seoul Festival has now solidified its identity as a platform for street arts, and is quickly establishing itself as one of Korea’s premiere festivals in the genre. The festival will benefit greatly from the launch of the Seoul Street Arts Creation Center, which has thepotential toencourage the development and distribution the works of contributors.In the case of street arts-inclusive festivals such as the Suwon Theatre Festival, the Chuncheon International Mime Festival, the Seoul Fringe Festival, and the Mokpo International Madang Art Festival, we can observe the forefront of the Korean street arts scene. Since the Gwacheon Festival incident, however, various opinions about Korean street arts have arose, especially regarding the boundaries set in government-sponsored festivals. These issues have sparked extensive debate regarding the development of the Korean street arts identity while developing an alternative to the current reliance on government-supported festivals.

Another remarkable trend in street arts is the significant increase in busking. These street performances, which in the past had been had been restricted to areas such as Hongdae and Daehangno, are now seen not only elsewhere in Seoul but also in nearby suburbs. In terms of genre, these performances are focused on specific genres of music and dance. Riding the wave of the audition program trend, busking seems to be spreading as a form of self promotion or appeal to a mainstream crowd. This is mainly due to the increasing popularity of street performance culture rather than an expansion of cultural diversification, but, regardless of the reason, the positive response from the general public presents an opportunity for artists. There is, however, a counterpoint: Though the street may be a space for the public, it still poses considerable limits for arts and cultural activities. Some local governments, such as those of Seoul, Busan, Yongin, and Gangnam-gu, have successfully commercializedthe concept of the street artist, but what remains to be seen is whether these efforts will result in opportunities and support for artists or unnecessary bureaucratic limitations.

Opening event for the Seoul Street Arts Creation Center

The Opening of the Seoul Street Arts Creation Center:Getting aSecond Wind

Rather than receiving support from the central government or other funding bodies, Korean street arts havedeveloped discourses independently, instead looking to festivalssupported by the local governments, cultural organizations, and participating artists. The Korean Street Arts Center serves as the discipline’s unique representative organization, established in 2009 after the 2007 launch of the Korean Street Performance Research Institute. It was founded by active professionals in the street arts community,including festival planners, members of creative organizations, and art producers themselves. With a business strategy that focuses on engaging in street arts research and providing relevant information and support for creative activities, the center has contributed to academic events, street arts flea markets, and field research. Although at times limited in its ability to produce projects due to its more informal organizational structure, the Korean Street Arts Center seeks to make changes with the appointment of a new director and managing committee in the third quarter of 2015.

With the opening of the Seoul Street Arts Creation Center, Korean street arts are now moving beyond the festivals that once acted as their sole distribution paths. What lies ahead is a new phase of development, one that promotes the dissemination of resources, improves training opportunities, encourages academic research, and resolves the current paucity of spaces for the development and public performance of street arts.

ⒸCho Youngsun



Cho Youngsun_ the Goyang Cultural Foundation
Cho Youngsun_ the Goyang Cultural Foundation

Cho Youngsun currently works as the manager of the Goyang Cultural Foundation are now moving beyond festivals. She is the founding member of the 2008 Goyang Lake Arts Festival, which he continues to lead. In the past, Chohas worked for Gwacheon Festival and World Peace Festival, and is a member of the Korean Street Arts Center Management Committee.