BusinessKorea recently spoke with Yoo Duk-hyung, president of Seoul Institute of the Arts and a living legend of Korea’s modern performing arts history. A pioneer in opening and developing new chapters of Korean arts, Yoo is known for his experimental adventures into unexplored territories. We asked him about his long-term goals and interpretation of the current state of the Korean artistic scene. Speaking at length on these topics as well as Korea’s artistic role on the global stage, what follows are highlights from the interview.
Could you first introduce us to the history of Seoul Institute of the Arts?
It has been 52 years, this year, since Seoul Institute of the Arts was established by Dongnang Arts Foundation. Dongnang Arts Foundation has its roots in the Korean Theater Research Institute founded by a scholar “Dongnang” Chi-Jin Yoo in 1958.
In 1958, Chi-Jin Yoo founded the Korean Theater Research Institute.
Dongnang also built the affiliated Drama Center and Theater Library in 1962. In the same year, he also started the Korean Theater Academy, which has become what is today Seoul Institute of the Arts.
You pioneered a new landscape of director’s plays in the Korean theater culture.
After graduating from Yonsei University in 1963, I studied at Trinity and Yale Universities in the U.S. I then worked at many famous performance groups as a director, lighting designer, and set designer, supported and funded by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations.
In 1966, when the play “Rashomon” acted by Fay and Michael Kanin was performed in Dallas Theatre Center, I managed a broad spectrum of direction including stage art, lighting, and costumes for the performances. This garnered great interest and expectations from American critics and press.
When I came back to Korea in 1966, I presented “DukHyung Yoo Direction Plays” in the Drama Center, and I suppose this was the very first play performed under a director’s name.
I have been trying to introduce a new theater style based on direction that can surpass the limits of existing plays but then replace them with frames of time and space. Back then, mainstream Korean theater emphasized dialogues through strong playwriting. However, I have been consistently attempting to highlight the director’s sense of beauty by delivering messages via visual, auditory, and sensual channels.
And very thankfully, my theatrical experiments have been appreciated by theatrical and academic professionals as “a remarkable revolution in the Korean theater history which announced the emergence of a super creative director.” I have been even more encouraged to complete the systematic beauty of my plays.
In November 1971, invited to the 3rd World Theater Festival held in Manila by ITI [the International Theater Institute], I dramatized the play “Alamng” and directed it with the Filipino theatrical company “Kalinagan.” I also directed the play “Jilsa” with New York LaMaMa E.T.C. in 1974. These are the two most unforgettable projects I have done so far.
At that time, Mrs. Rosamond Gilder, an honorary president of ITI and the world’s most renowned theater critique, chose along with representatives from many countries “Alamng” as the best production of the festival. The review in the Manila Times was even more complimentary, stating “Alamng is one of the world’s most impressive plays in recent years, and this realized the dream of reviving Asian traditional cultures in the middle of Western influences.”
What are the reasons you chose to become an educator, putting the life of an artist behind you?
My late father, Dongnang, strived to maintain and restore our own artistic culture through creative production and education. Through the Drama Center, the Korean Theater Research Institute, and the affiliated Theater Academy from 1970, I have done my utmost to honor his last wishes. I have also desired to revive and further develop our national culture by reinterpreting and recreating our traditions while being proactive and progressive towards globalization at the same time.
My philosophy in art education is “to propagate Korean national arts to the world.” This has always been my lifelong mission when I was a director, even before today’s globalization.
In order to promote my motto above, stay true to the philosophy of having established the school, and guide the future of Seoul Institute of the Arts, I launched the “Special Studies” in 1981. This is very important, as all of my purposes above are reflected in this program.
Phase One of the Special Studies program is to study the fundamental components of the arts. Phase Two connects the arts to science. Phase Three includes the ranges of history, the humanities, and science to create art. And finally, in Phase Four, one learns the matrix in which arts and society are linked together. I aim to show the educational prototype of the arts, systemize identity development as an artist, and ultimately obtain international universality based on our national cultural identity.
One aspect of Special Studies is to create our national arts in the end. The other is to find internationally-accepted components among time, space, rhythm, and energy, of our traditional arts and then promote Korean culture worldwide, which is my insight into future art.
Since then, I have been trying to emphasize the issue of arts and sciences in view of Special Studies. I have also been preparing the future motto of Seoul Institute of the Arts and 4 educational indicators of a world-class educational environment, integrated education, strong cooperation with businesses, and a hybrid combination of arts and sciences.
Seoul Institute of the Arts currently has various high-quality programs to combine arts and technology and promote creative experiments through ATEC [the Art & Technology Center] and the ACC [Art & Creation Center].
Our institute provides a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in the School of Performance and the School of Creative Media. The schools are designed with the advances in technology in mind. This new educational paradigm eliminates the walls between the schools, genres, and majors. Our students receive training that prepares them to become professionals in their chosen field and artists that can stand on the world stage.
The Associate of Arts degree program is divided into the schools of performance, media, creative writing, design, music, and communications. The students are encouraged to explore art forms with an interdisciplinary education across all the schools. When the students are ready to graduate they will have received basic vocational arts training.
Why was Ansan chosen as the second campus?
We must adapt to the rapidly evolving arts and entertainment world and realize the 21st century vision of art education. I concluded that we needed to fundamentally restructure our educational system by creating a second campus as a part of our medium and long-term plans for advancement.
After extensive research throughout all of Seoul and its adjacent areas, Ansan, near Gwangduk Mountain was selected because the space provided the ideal conditions for our new educational system.
It took me five years to design this campus to include the artistic spirit of our generation, the zeitgeist, and cultural senses everywhere to be the most appropriate arts education space. Accordingly, all buildings are no taller than three stories, spread out but connected to each other, in order to make education flow efficiently, performances more practical, and classes more convenient.
I have also attempted to harmonize natural surroundings and educational spaces so that the entire 231 million square meter space can be one “Cultural Theme Park.” More specifically, all kinds of rooms and spaces, either inside or outside, have a good sense of balance, and any classes or performances can be held anywhere. Eventually, our Ansan campus won “The Korean Architecture Award,” which was the first time for a college building.
Naturally, the original Namsan campus became more specialized as an art center for professional content and our new campus offered the multi-dimensional education for artists on their path to become professionals. I believe that this is the most ideal form of art education, since creative exploration, as well as real world experiences, are supplied to our students on our two campuses.
This is why the Seoul Institute of the Arts has 14 different majors in its dual campus system, with Ansan focused on the academics and fundamental training of art education and Namsan provides the environment for actual professional-level productions as well as the space to present them in.
One of the most outstanding features of Seoul Institute of the Arts is the “Global CultureHub program.” Could you please elaborate on this?
I have tried to systemize the curriculum and education system in order to realize my personal goal of obtaining international universality based on Korean traditional arts, as well as proposing new art education models and creative directions. This also enables professors and students to have their own sense of arts in relation the world.
I established the Art and Technology Expression Center also known as ATEC in 2007, to give the students and faculty the environment for research in applying cutting edge technologies to their own art making. My goal here is to incubate artists and projects for demands of the next generation.
Furthermore, I built a remote visual studio at ATEC with telepresense technology, which makes the study of high technology-based art expression possible. And I formed a new, innovative art education model which connects to the world’s top art schools and performing sites with HD quality visual and auditory networks. This is essential to enhance effective regional remote communication.
Within ATEC, we have a telematic studio that is able to connect to anywhere in the world with high quality video and audio. That allows us to meet, exchange and collaborate with artists and art institutions throughout the world.
In 2009, we have set up our own telematic studio in New York, which in turn named CultureHub New York. Through this studio we are able to access one of the world’s most important cities in the arts and culture. We followed that with the establishment of CultureHub Los Angeles in 2010. LA offers us access to a center of the media industry. Starting now, we would like to expand our global network with studios in various locations around the world.
Seoul Institute of the Arts has nourished many talented professionals in various fields of Korean arts, and this has been highly acclaimed by society, even including the government. Please tell us about the activities of alumni and the school.
Currently, Seoul Institute of the Arts is getting the spotlight with Hallyu [Korean Wave] throughout Asia.
|1963||Yonsei University, BA in English|
|1967||Trinity University, MA in Acting|
|1968||Yale University Graduate School Special Program in directing and combined stage|
|1969||Head, Drama Center|
|1970||Principal, Seoul Acting School|
|1973||Representative of Korea, International Theater Institute General Assembly in Moscow|
|1974||Principal, Seoul Arts-Occupational Training College|
|1978||Dean, Seoul Arts-Occupational Training College|
|1984||Member of Building Committee, Seoul Arts Center|
|1985||Chief of Cultural Pre-Ceremony, Seoul Olympics Organization Committee|
|1994-2007.2||Head of Director, Dongrang Arts Center|
|1995||External Director, Seoul Arts Center|
|2000||Festival Planning Committee Member, Seoul World Cup Cultural Event|
|2007-present||Chancellor, Seoul Institute of Arts|
|1975||Grand Prize in Arts, The 1st Cultural Award, Joongang Ilbo (Grass Tomb)|
|1980||Grand Prize and Director’s Prize, The 16th Korean Drama & Film Arts Award, Hankook Ilbo (In the Hills and Fields, When Spring Comes)|
|1981||Director’s Prize, The 16th Donga Drama Award, Dong-a Ilbo (In the Hills and Fields, When Spring Comes)|
In the last half century of Seoul Institute of the Arts has trained a great many artists who have gone on to succeed as professionals in their field of expertise. As Korean arts and entertainment have set its mark internationally, so have our talented alums.
I dare say that the Korean arts presently is being led by our alumni. They actively engage in various fields of art businesses including entertainment, theater, literature, fine arts, and media. Wherever you go, more than half of the working team graduated from Seoul Institute of the Arts.
Particularly in literature, most of our alumni started their career through annual literary contests that are often accused of causing “literary upheaval” or being from a “literature training academy.” The Seoul Institute of the Arts is also renown in the fields of design, advertising and music.
In conclusion, Seoul Institute of the Arts won various awards as a professional art school which is critical in vocational education. Especially, the Korean Press Federation, which supervises the True Education Award, selected our school as a winner and praised us by saying that “Seoul Institute of the Arts has focused on art education and creative works for past 52 years since its establishment, for advancement of the Korean arts and cultures. With its practical education system which puts art education and creative activities together, it has greatly contributed to the growth of Korean cultures and its globalization.”
This year, the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism reported their performances to Korea’s President at the Seoul Institute of the Arts. President Park Geun-hye complimented the institute for its great contribution to the prosperity of the national culture.
Lastly, how do you see the future and vision of Seoul Institute of the Arts?
In brief, our school’s motto can be summarized as “contributing to the national and worldwide nourishment of humanity through recreating our national arts and traditions but achieving global universality and independence at the same time.” In essence, the purpose is to achieve global universality based on our national arts and traditions. From its establishment, Seoul Institute of the Arts has understood the importance of globalization.
As Seoul Institute of the Arts opens the next 50 years of its history, it will continue to play a crucial role to enlarge the artistic and cultural influences in all of society so, that society moves towards another level.
Our ultimate vision is to be in the center of Neo Hallyu, or the new Korean wave, by spreading Korean artistic and cultural content worldwide, and I am sure that our alumni will continue to successfully promote the arts and culture of Korea.