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For International Arts Education Week this past May, South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Korea Arts & Culture Education Service held a number of art projects and events to examine the role of culture and arts education in times of crisis. In the midst of the global pandemic, these programs sought to unearth new possibilities in arts education and expand awareness of its value.

How Can Arts Education Help Resolve Today’s Challenges?

Representatives from 35 culture and arts education groups from 13 different countries attended the fourth UNESCO-Unitwin Symposium in Seoul and online, where they discussed how arts education can enable creative responses to a variety of crises, including those relating to climate, diversity, equality, health, and the pandemic. Theatre director Peter Sellars, one of the opening ceremony’s keynote speakers, said that the role of arts and culture in this era ought to be one of collective encouragement, mutual support, wisdom, and healing power from communities, not of individual achievements. He urged the audience to change how we treat our planet and encouraged artists to take the lead in issues of justice, environment, and fairness. The pre-session event “Climate Crisis and Arts Education” followed this speech and wrapped up the first day.

The second day of the symposium began with the first plenary session, “Diversity in Arts Education 2.0” by Ernst Wagner, Senior Researcher at the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich, after which came sessions on Arts for Healing, Social & Cultural Inclusiveness, and the Seoul Agenda. The third day opened with the second plenary session, “‘Cultural Resilience’ and ‘Aesthetic Resilience’ as a Task of Arts Education?” by Benjamin Jörissen, chairholder of the UNESCO Chair in Arts and Culture in Education at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany, which was followed by discussions on Arts in the Classroom, Arts Engagement, and Diversity & Cultural Representation.

When reflecting on the symposium, attendees said that it was a good opportunity for considering arts education in different ways after the COVID-19 outbreak. Many also mentioned that it was refreshing to connect culture and arts education to climate change, and that after months of isolation, the event helped them realize that a large number of people are in fact helping each other and working to raise the inclusiveness of society through the arts.

Korean researchers and UNITWIN members discuss the results of the symposium at the Closing Ceremony. Panelists, (from left): Shin Hye-sun, Kim In-sul, Hong Yu-jin, Park Shin-eui, Chang Woong-jo | Panelists, (on screen): Shifra Schonmann, Bo-Wah Leung, Emily Achieng’ Akuno, Ralph Buck

Art Project Workshops Expand the Worldviews of Artists and Citizens

While experts took the week to continue their discussions at the scholarly symposium, artists and ordinary citizens created several intercommunicating arts programs called “Art Project.” Despite being held in the middle of the pandemic, audiences were excited about these programs, saying that they helped them feel connected to their daily lives and enjoyed the themed artistic experiences that emphasized interaction between humans and nature.

Seven artists from various fields, including visual, electronic music, dance, and media art, created and shared their work through online activities. As a whole, Art Project recognized the unavoidable fact that humans who are vulnerable to invisible viruses must now seek ways to achieve symbiosis with animals, plants, objects, and beyond, and to think beyond a human-centric mindset. Under the theme of interaction as a sense and the process of recognizing the impact of individuals’ actions on each other, the various Art Project workshops revisited and explored the many ways in which our daily lives have been forever changed.

Just Project, “Tigers die and leave their skins; people die and leave their trash” (2021)

Electronic music producer Dguru’s workshop, “The Sound of the Universe: Collecting Daily Sounds,” used the cell phone to record and collect surrounding sounds. “I wanted to let people know about the world that can be recognized by listening to sounds,” he said. “Reflecting our days in the pandemic, the sounds recorded by participants were mostly crowd-free, people-free, routine and ordinary.”

Choreographer Hur Yun-kyung’s “I and We, Remembered by the Connection Between Bodies” had participants observe and imitate each other’s movements when they were unable to physically reach each other in this COVID-19 era. One participant said, “As we moved along to the voice of the choreographer from behind the screen, we found a new way to reach each other at a time when we could not have physical contact.”

Media artist Song Ho-jun imagined a new lifestyle based on the premise of leaving the land through “It’s Time to Leave the Land: Ocean Coin.” Out to the sea but occupying a very limited space — a yacht — he shared fresh ideas on the environment, residential form, and the economy of human beings living on the land.

Song Ho-jun, “It’s Time to Leave the Land: Ocean Coin” (2021)

Just Project’s workshop, “Tigers die and leave their skins; people die and leave their trash,” focused on human relationships, the stories we share, and the overflow of objects around us. “The pandemic gave us an opportunity to think closely about death,” said Just Project. “But death is all so natural. We hope this project has offered time to contemplate how we should continue to live.”

Media artist Choi Seung-joon’s “Curiosity Lens” offered an opportunity to guess at and share other people’s stories through collaged videos of footage from contributors’ daily lives, which were recorded through a web application. One participant said, “Unlike many other formalized online education programs, this created an experience made up of new interests and a new way to communicate with others by utilizing interesting camera functions.”

Paper Company Urban’s “Doom Drawing” was inspired by the fact that more and more people started to keep pet plants at their homes due to the COVID-19 lockdown, but ironically, many plants died at home as well. 70 participants gathered online to share new views on pet plants and to paint dying plants.

Pop-up Engineer Kepler49 collected about 60 paintings of animals and insects, containing participants’ imaginations and stories. She produced a pop-up book called “Forests for Everyone,” which took the shape of a globe, and shared it through videos and photos.

View the Art Project workshops and check out stories from behind the scenes at arteweek-artproject.kr through December 21, 2021.

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