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Case studies

Seoul Art Space (SAS Jamsil, SAS Geumcheon, SAS Seongbuk, SAS Sindang)

The Seoul Art Space programme has regenerated a number of former industrial buildings for use as cultural spaces. It has:

  • Created more affordable workspace for artists
  • Encouraged citizen participation in the arts and creative activities
  • Raised individuals’ and communities’ self-esteem.

In 2009 the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) launched the Seoul Art Space (SAS) programme. The project has three primary aims: promoting artistic creation, urban regeneration, and increasing participation in cultural activities to promote a variety of social benefits.

As South Korea’s capital city for more than 600 years, Seoul has a long history and rich culture. It is a highly populated city, with more than 10 million residents, but it welcomes almost the same number of people again as tourists every year. Partly these tourists come for cultural reasons. Seoul has a number of arts festivals, 628 cultural facilities and institutions, and is a huge exporter of pop culture. This is supported by high levels of creative sector employment: 9.4% in 2011, something which the SMG has encouraged through clustering policies and creative-enterprise-friendly legislation. However Seoul has also gone through a long process of deindustrialisation that has left behind many empty buildings; deciding how to reuse these facilities is a key challenge for the city government.

In terms of cultural policy, cultural participation is a major driver. SMG wants to encourage citizens to think of themselves not just as audiences for cultural services, but creators of their own culture. To promote more active civic participation, SMG operates various cultural projects where amateur artists and citizens can take a leading role. This is because SMG regards cultural participation as a means to tackle broader social issues; allowing citizens to voice their thoughts, to restore self-esteem and to share their civic pride. At present, however, Seoul’s resident population’s participation in the arts lags behind many other cities.

On the supply side, the artist population in the city is relatively high (55.2% of national creative industry employment resides in Seoul), but its dependence on public funding is significant. Most art groups struggle to be commercially viable and to find appropriate affordable workspace downtown.

The SAS programme is designed to meet these various challenges by turning disused and derelict former industrial spaces into new arts and cultural facilities. There are currently 9spaces in the SAS portfolio making use of disused and derelict spaces for a variety ofpurposes. From a social transformation perspective, four particularly interesting cases are SAS Jamsil, SAS Geumcheon, SAS Seongbuk, and SAS Sindang.

SAS Jamsil supports the creative activities of people with special needs, especially disabled artists, and offers creative spaces for more than a dozen disabled artists. SAS Jamsil’s Project A fosters interaction between children with developmental disabilities and arts. By providing the children with workshops where they can communicate with emerging artists through various artistic activities, SAS Jamsil encourages the children and artists to develop a strong mentoring relationship. Project A aims to give children with special needs more opportunities to both discover and practise their artistic talents so that they can better express themselves.

SAS Geumcheon is located in a culturally marginalised area where small businesses and factories are densely clustered. In an effort to increase access and availability of arts and culture for residents, SAS Geumcheon has run a Community & Research Project since 2009. In 2011, nine housewives residing in the Geumcheon area participated in an eight-week workshop with artists, reflecting on their lives. These women, also known as ‘Geumcheon Mrs.’, carried out various art projects – a break from their busy housekeeping routine – including writing and producing the film Geumcheon Blues, about the life of a housewife who was a factory worker in the Geumcheon area in her youth. (The film subsequently received an award from the Seoul Senior Film Festival 2013 and played at several cinemas.)

SAS Seongbuk has been running various ‘healing art’ projects, one of which is Ga-ga-ho-ho folding Zip house. In this project, homeless people created sleeping bags (as art) and communicated with the wider society through exhibitions. This was intended to help them heal their social wounds and view their own lives from different angles.

SAS Sindang, located in a traditional market, has been running many projects to enhance collective and individual self-esteem and the quality of life of the market vendors. The vendors and artists-in-residence created the New Tune for Hwang-hak-dong festival together, telling their own stories and strengthening the cohesion of the market community.

The social impacts of these projects – and of the many other Seoul Art Spaces set up since 2009 – are numerous and varied. They include increasing self-esteem of individuals and social cohesion, addressing specific human rights issues and empowering citizens through access to cultural expression.