▲ The newly opened Jeju Arts Center features an observation platform and solar panels over the outdoor car park as part of a government energy-saving policy. Photos courtesy Jeju Arts Center
In technology, size matters. Capacity grows bigger but physical size is reduced as innovations are made. This is not the case in the performing arts world. Jeju residents have long complained about the lack of space within Jeju City for large-scale cultural productions. Before the colossal International Convention Center Jeju was built in Seogwipo with seating for 1,500, audiences had to squeeze into the Jeju Culture and Arts Center (892 seats) located near the City Hall area or the Halla Art Hall in Sinjeju (831 seats) for big productions such as the martial arts combined non-verbal performance “Jump” and the first Korean-made musical, the “Last Empress.” But, even when ICC Jeju hosted large productions, many Jeju City residents complained that it was too far to travel for a night’s entertainment. The year round “Nanta” (also known as “Cookin’”) performance theater (290 seats) and newest on the scene, the Ara Muse Hall Auditorium at Jeju National University (450 seats), slaked the thirst for the performing arts somewhat but not enough and audiences still craved more.
Therefore, a bigger, grander, and ultra-modern performing arts center that was finally completed this year was awaited with eager anticipation. The Jeju Arts Center was officially opened on May 19. Center director, Kang Kun Wan, said a special performance musical called “Harmonium in My Memory” held from May 22 through 23 to mark the opening sold out for both days. Considering that the center seats 1,184 audience members, (801 on the first floor and 383 on the second), that was no mean feat.
“It has been a long-time wish for Jeju residents to have many various cultural arts performances here along with enhancements in the quality of their life,” Kang said. “The need was felt greatly to offer these performances not only to the residents but to foreigners and tourists as well. We wanted to have an upgraded facility that would be distinctively different from the facilities that are already available in that it would be able to accommodate all sorts of complex cultural performances.”
Partial funding for construction of the arts center came from the central government but the lion’s share came from local administrative coffers. Of a total cost of 31.4 billion won, 29.4 billion was provided by the local government. The name of the new center was decided through a contest entered by 234 people throughout Korea. The center is in Ora-2 dong, right across from Halla Library.
On first view, it appears that there are not enough parking spaces for such a massive building but a parking lot able to accommodate 369 cars snakes around the south side of the building, mostly hidden from view by a forest of trees. There are handicapped parking spots under the building as well and Kang said signs will be erected on the main road to indicate the parking as soon as possible. Since most performances will be at night, he said, the center can utilize the Halla Library parking lot as well, increasing capacity to 440 vehicles.
Three solar panels act as roofs over the outdoor parking lots. “Part of the government energy-saving policy states that if a building goes over a certain size, they are strongly encouraged to set up such facilities” Kang said. The parking lot is edged by a yet to be opened olle trail that was proposed by the Ora-dong village office. The building is also flanked by an observatory tower, from which visitors can access the fourth floor for a dazzling view of Halla Mountain on a clear day, accompanied by a magnificent panorama of rolling oreum (secondary volcanic cones).
An impressive array of cultural performing arts are lined up throughout the month of June, including, for the first time in Jeju, the Korean National Ballet performing “Swan Lake Highlights.” Kim Ji Young, a public officer working at the center, said it will close over July to take stock of what improvements might be needed before picking up again in August.
Accessibility for people without cars could be of concern because of the center’s relatively remote location. Number 5 and 8 buses service the site but run infrequently. Also, even though a Korean Web site is in progress, there are no immediate plans for an English site or for English-speaking staff members. Kang said he is aware of those problems and promised the center would try to resolve them.
Jeju Arts Center 898-8 Ora 2-Dong, Jeju City Tel: 064-753-2209
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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