Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Undoubtedly and Undeniable: brand power of Sejong Center

One of the nation’s key cultural landmarks is the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in central Seoul, the nation’s first modern performing arts complex since its founding in 1978.

But it has been undergoing an identity crisis in comparison to other establishments of similar stature, such as the Seoul Arts Center or the National Theater.

In particular, the public image and brand power of the Sejong Center has suffered since the opening of the Seoul Arts Center in the 1980s, which has hosted prestigious events for Western performing arts.

Bagh In-bae, the Sejong Center’s new CEO, recently announced a series of measures to improve the venue’s content and facilities, aiming to establish it as the nation’s “Lincoln Center.”

“It is a priority to improve the competitiveness of our arts groups. One of the problems has been that our nine arts groups have yet to produce a work that has staying power.” Bagh told The Korea Times at his office.

The groups specialize in traditional and modern arts and include the Seoul Metropolitan Opera, the Seoul Metropolitan Traditional Music Orchestra and the Seoul Metropolitan Theater.

Bagh said that he will subject the performing art troupes to a bidding process to put their respective creative works onstage long-term, in order to ensure higher quality and creativity.

“We hope to see this system producing some outstanding results starting this fall,” he added.

One of the more successful companies has been the Seoul Metropolitan Opera, which has been leading a homegrown opera movement that started in the mid 2000s.

The troupe will stage its popular production “Yeonseo” or “Love Letter” from March 15 to 18. The opera features an original score by Seoul National University professor Choe Uzong and libretto in Korean to facilitate the listener’s understanding.

It traces the tragic, unconsummated romance between two lovers that reoccurs over three different periods in Korean history: a star-crossed manservant and “gisaeng” (female entertainer) during the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) are reunited in the next life, only to be separated by tumultuous events of the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945) and finally meeting again as fashion designers in present-day Seoul. Since its debut in 2010, it has become a representative work of the Sejong Center.
Aside from elevating the stature of the arts troupes, Bagh hopes to see the center fulfill its initial purpose as a cultural hub for Seoulites.

“I have been reflecting on whether the center has truly served this purpose,” Bagh said. “After the construction of other theaters, the Sejong Center’s status has diminished over the years.”

For a cultural hub, the 58-year-old is envisioning a place where people can visit not just for concerts and exhibitions, but also as somewhere that plays an active part in the development of their cultural life.

Serving citizens

As the Sejong Center is partly funded by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, Bagh underlined that the center has a duty to serve the people.

This is why the former theater producer has placed heavy emphasis on the center’s educational facilities, in particular with youths in mind.

“We will expand educational opportunities for children and teenagers. If they are subject to orchestral music through concerts, for example, it will serve as a good introduction to classical music and this will result in the expansion of the audience for the genre.”
As a cultural hub, the center will also work closely with cultural centers in every district of Seoul to render performing arts more accessible.

Not much is known about Bagh, who brings with him extensive experience in theater as a producer and artistic director. A former aide of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, the 58-year-old started his three-year term in late January.

During a press conference at the center last month, he stressed that he will focus on delivering the arts to the people through educational activities, particularly through the improvement of the Sejong Arts Academy. The academy was established in June 2007 to help people develop an understanding and appreciation of culture.

“During the latter half of the year, we will finish the construction of a new wing for the academy and incorporate lecture programs that can speak to audiences of all ages,” he said.

His core plans also include diversifying the functions of the center, including providing access to the audio-visual center for visitors. The new wing will house more rehearsal spaces and working studios for the nine ensembles affiliated with the center.
His appointment came as a surprise to many, since the top job at the nation’s largest cultural center has been mainly filled by experts with extensive government or management experience.

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