▲ Cyril Brenner-Loegel hands the Jeju governor his own portrait at the first Dolkorom Talk, Jeju. Photo by Eric Hevesy
“Bear with me” was the message from Jeju governor Won Hee-ryong as he met with Jeju’s international residents on Monday, Nov 23, at J-space, Jeju Creative Economy & Culture Center, Jeju City, to discuss how to make Jeju an “island of culture.”
At the inaugural “Dolkorom Talk, Jeju,” organized by The Jeju Weekly and sponsored by World Culture Open and Jeju Special Self-Governing Province, Governor Won outlined his plans to attract more creative individuals to Jeju Island.
▲ Photo by Eric Hevesy
Speaking to an audience of locals and international residents involved in the art and culture fields, Won said he recognized that strict visa regulations were deterring many foreign artists from settling on the island.
In 2013, visas issued nationwide to foreign artists lagged behind corporate visas 200 fold, and Won said he was in constant dialogue with the national government on the issue.
“This is not only a Jeju problem, but a national one,” he said, adding that it was also needed to allow more “digital nomads” in the high-tech industries to settle in the province.
The governor said his administration saw “infinite possibilities in 'culture'” and since taking office in 2014 he has increased spending on art and culture and helped turn Jeju’s “Wondoshim” old town into a cultural hub.
Won stressed that he wants to support everyone who is “innovating right here, right now,” and his representative added that overseas artists will have increased access to provincial funding next year.
▲ Olivier Duong presents his photographic work. Photo by Eric Hevesy
Four foreign artists and activists then took the stage to show the governor what was going on “right here, right now,” and also present some policy reform suggestions.
Lithuanian artist Agne Latinyte spoke about her extensive work on the Jeju language and mythology before taking examples from Europe on how Korea could reform its exclusive visa policies for people in cultural fields.
French artist Cyril Brenner-Loegel was already acquainted with the governor having handed Won his own personalized caricature upon entering.
▲ Photo by Eric Hevesy
While on stage he introduced more of his work inspired by local folklore and culture, and hinted at how they could be used for provincial campaigns.
Next up was Haitian photographer Olivier Duong, who said his striking images are inspired by Jeju’s “unique aura.”
Duong suggested that a photography institute would ensure photographers have the institutional support to match the stunning natural and cultural landscapes.
The final slot was taken by American environmentalist Eric Sweet, who shared his dream for a re-evaluation of trash, and society, through design.
Sweet introduced some of his own recycling art projects before supporting the expansion of the island’s bottle-refund policy. (Click here to see his video shown at the event.)
In the short time allotted for open-floor questions, David, a pianist, read out a prepared statement which denounced the notion of turning Jeju into an “Island of Culture.”
The governor's cultural policy comes at a time of immense change for Jeju society, and some feel that the province is neglecting Jeju's heritage and environment.
▲ Photo by Eric Hevesy
David said Jeju was already a rich and vibrant culture, one under threat by development, and overseas artists were wrongheaded in discussing how to change the island.
Agne Latinyte was first to respond, stressing that she was not attempting to change local culture.
She pointed out that much of her work was actually a celebration of Jeju’s heritage, adding that culture is never static and, in a globalized world, artists have always adapted local cultures.
Olivier Duong concurred, adding that what should be feared is not foreign artists coming to Jeju, many of whom engage directly with local culture, but how modern society alienates youth from traditional culture.
The question certainly gave pause for thought on the morning, and the artists agreed that it is an area that requires sensitivity.
Following the first session, there was a simple buffet and some networking time.
Performances were provided by illusionist Ko Hey from Japan, Korean dancer Kim Misuk and Lithuanian folk musician Agne Latinyte, who showed another of her talents.
▲ Illusionist Ko Hey from Japan. Photo by Eric Hevesy
Reflections on the first event
The first Dolkorom Talk, Jeju provided Jeju's creative and international community with a chance to discuss important issues with the governor for the first time.
Before stepping out early, the governor also said he hopes the events can become “the cornerstone [of] an active cultural community of foreign residents” engaging with Jeju culture and heritage.
As a step toward this cornerstone, local writer and photographer MJ Kwon said the event would have benefited from the presenters presenting their ideas together as a group to Jeju officials.
“My idea is have an open discussion for foreigners [first] and then to invite a public official responsible for that area to discuss the details.”
American photographer Eric Hevesy said he was pleased to see dialogue open up between the governor and “creative foreigners who truly want to help Jeju grow in a beneficial way.”
▲ The group dance led by Kim Misuk. Photo by Eric Hevesy
Hevesy added that only time would tell if the event would lead to meaningful results, and this caution was echoed by American scholar Tommy Tran.
Tran added that he would like to see organizers do more to break down barriers between locals and foreigners through the event.
“What hasn't been addressed is how to bring foreign artists/professionals and a greater plurality of Jeju locals together to generate mutual understanding and respect of each other’s needs.”
▲ Photo by Eric Hevesy
With this the first Dolkorom Talk, Jeju event in the series, the organizers expressed the desire for progress at future events.
Song Jung Hee, publisher of The Jeju Weekly newspaper, said this kind of engagement from the local government had been a longstanding aim of the newspaper.
“I would like to thank everyone who supported the first ever Dolkorom Talk, Jeju. We will keep listening to both Jeju locals and the international community to ensure the pertinent issues raised are reflected at future events.”
If you have any suggestions for future Dolkorom Talk, Jeju events please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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