The following article was contributed to Business Korea by Oh Jae-hwan, leader of the Creative Interaction Team at the Icheon City Government. -- Ed.
Icheon City, a medium-sized Korean city with a population of 230,000, was selected as the chair city in the crafts and folk arts division of the UNESCO Creative City Network. It is the result of its achievements during the past eight years since its designation as a UNESCO Creative City in July 2010.
During the eight years, the city has been transformed from a small city in Korea’s capital zone to a global city that is actively leading international exchanges.
Let's take a look at some remarkable exchanges. First, as an extension of the official exchange, Icheon City formed a sisterhood relationship with Santa Fe in the United States in November 2013 and with Limoges in France in April 2015.
Santa Fe is a city of culture and arts in America. Since the signing of the sisterhood ties, Santa Fe has been dispatching delegates to the major festivals in Icheon every year, as well as conducting various programs with Korean Pottery High School in Icheon. In return, Icheon has been dispatching delegates to various economic and cultural events in Santa Fe, including the annual International Folk Art Market. Limoges is a famous ceramic city in Europe. Since the signing of the sisterhood ties, the two cities have been holding cultural programs such as sister city concerts as well as ceramic exchanges. Santa Fe and Limoges are, like Icheon, members of the UNESCO Creative City Network in the field of crafts and folk arts.
Icheon City’s exchanges with overseas cities have not ended here, and they are ongoing. Of course, not only is the number of overseas cities wishing to be closer to Icheon growing, but their ‘courtship’ towards Icheon is also becoming increasingly 'bold.' For example, the town of Seagrove in the United States and the city of Kutahya in Turkey recently adopted a resolution to request a sisterhood relationship with Icheon.
In general, an international sisterhood tie-up between two cities is concluded with the consent of the city councils based on continuous exchanges and mutual trust. Before forging sisterhood ties, they first conclude a friendship exchange agreement. But Seagrove and Kutahya omitted the intermediate process of friendship exchanges and requested a sisterhood relationship directly. The two cities’ bold courtship appears to be motivated by the brisk international exchange activities that Icheon City has shown since its designation as a UNESCO Creative City.
Icheon City has not only expanded international exchanges, but has made strenuous efforts to develop its craft culture and revitalize the ceramic industry. At the center of its efforts stands the creation of the Ye’s Park, a folk art village which was built in an area of approximately 407,000 square meters. The park accommodates hundreds of ceramics shops and craft shops and is also equipped with stages and other facilities. It is designed to kill two birds with one stone, that is, to contribute to the development of Icheon’s craft culture and attract tourists at the same time. The park is one of the key facilities that Icheon City has as a creative city in crafts and folk arts.
To live up to the reputation as a world-class craft city, Icheon City has sought to strengthen the global competence of craft artists in the region. For instance, it has been operating the Global Foreign Language Classroom since 2014. The program teaches English, Chinese, and Japanese languages to craft artists. The lecturers are city government officials who can speak one of the three languages. They have been producing and utilizing their own textbooks. Thanks to the enthusiasm of these officials who are willing to donate their talent, the foreign language classroom, which celebrates its fifth year this year, will continue amid a positive response from local artists.
In addition, Icheon City has been making various creative challenges, including the Ceramics Apprentice Program and the International Creative City Workshop, which have been held twice. The city has also been seeking to advance into the globally famous ceramics markets by making full use of its image as a continuously growing global craft city. As a result, it has successfully entered the Maison Objet in Paris, which enjoys a reputation as a prominent global home fair market, and UK's Collect 2018, a world-famous expensive craft market in London.
All these efforts contributed to Icheon’s selection as the chair city in the crafts and folk arts segment of the UNESCO Creative City Network. Now, Icheon City is preparing to transform into a city capable of sustainable development both culturally and economically, without settling for being a UNESCO Creative City. To this end, Icheon has set three major strategies.
First, Icheon City will continue to practice various experiments and challenges in network activities and international exchanges. For example, in 2019, Icheon City is preparing to hold a 'Global Youth Concert' in cooperation with existing sister cities and creative city network members. The idea is to create a multinational orchestra with young musicians recommended by these cities and have a concert in the Icheon Art Hall with songs recommended by the participating cities. Unique forms of music and youth exchanges that have not been tried in any city in Korea are expected to be achieved.
Second, the city of Icheon wants to involve more citizens in international exchange and creative city activities in accordance with its slogan – “Citizens are the owner of the city.” It plans to expand the homestay exchange program that has been limited to some exchange cities to the exchange cities and creative cities all over the world including the Americas and Europe.
Third, the city aims to improve the permanence and quality of international exchange policy by fostering more experts. It will continue to cultivate professional civil servants who have expertise in creative city administration, international exchange, crafts, and foreign languages. These experts will help the city develop and implement more diverse and sophisticated international exchange policies.