Analysis of Festive Korea and Hong Kong Contemporary Art Fair in Terms of Promoting Cultural Exchange and Diplomacy

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This research is the first research made on promoting cultural exchange and diplomacy of South Korea in Hong Kong, in particular with the annual focused event, Festive Korea, making it significant to be the first step in the study. It is believed to be useful for researchers who are interested in further study in the future. In this research, Festive Korea and Hong Kong Contemporary Art Fair are two main focuses. The details of the activities and the findings are nailed down as part of the case studies used in this research.

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Festive Korea was under the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Hong Kong since 2011 and will be organized by Korean Cultural Center in Hong Kong in 2018. It is an annual non-profit-making activity that promotes Korean culture to the general public. Art auctions and exhibitions of works by Korean artists are held every year in the event to showcase various Korean art to people in Hong Kong.o In this research, issues on policy crashes between Hong Kong and Korea are brought out. There are significant differences in policies in Hong Kong and Korea in regard to budget approval and funding released. For instance, the Korean government requires certain administration processes in applying for budgets during a certain time of the year. Time is needed to confirm the results and to transfer the funding to Hong Kong. This causes problems in time arrangement and financial issues when organizing cross-border art events.

As Festive Korea is a non-profit-making activity, all sponsored received for the event needs to be cleared at the end without having one dollar remained. To spend all the sponsored, there is always a need to set up planning beforehand. “……nonprofit organizations (NPOs), institutions that are legally prohibited from distributing a monetary residual and must therefore spend all their resources on organizational activities.” It is under regulations that non-profit organization should not make any single profit from the event they organized, thus there is a need of planning of spending all the money on the activities before non-profit-making activities like Festive Korea is held.

Problems arisen as well in booking venues in Hong Kong due to different practices in Hong Kong and Korea. In Hong Kong, venues need o be booked at least prior to one year before the actual event. However, in Korea, they do not have such practice and sometimes Korean team requests on short notice for around three months prior to the event. This causes problems in booking venues as most of the possible venues are already booked by other groups. Moreover, as the artists have to get the funding settled before confirming to come to Hong Kong, in some cases it might be too late to get a venue after the confirmation of successful funding application as the result of application is only announced by the Korean government in the early time of a year.

Another problem arisen would be the cultural difference in workplace in Korea and Hong Kong. Korean seniors express their anger and emotion directly to the staff but it is different in Hong Kong, especially in the communication with volunteers, leading to possible workplace conflicts in their cooperation.

To examine issues about organizing international art exhibitions, individual interviews were conducted that questions were set respectively for recipients who participated in Festive Korea. Participants were asked to share their own experience and reflect on the challenges they encountered in the previous events they have participated in. Several significant conclusions can be successfully drawn from their views and contribute to the objectives of the project. For the interviews, 2 exhibitors, Prof. Cho and Paul Yip, an art management staff Peggy Wong and a government officer Consul Yu are invited to share their own experience and express their view on the questions. They have all involved in the annual cross-cultural art event, Festive Korea, and have experience in organizing international art exhibitions. Prof. Cho is an exhibitor who organized collaborative art exhibitions in New York and Taipei with Chinese, Japanese and Korean. He has rich experience in organizing art events in cross-cultural context that helps to provide knowledgeable answers to the questions asked. The other exhibitor, Paul Yip, has mainly cooperated with Koreans and he also provides English to Chinese translations in such events. The questions set for the 2 interviewees focus on the sufficiency and efficiency of aid provided to artists and exhibitors in order to examine the function of government’s support in their views and to explore possible solutions of improving the situation. The third interviewee is Peggy Wong, who has been an art management staff for Festive Korea since the first launched of the event in 2011. Her participation in liaison local partners and art groups, as well as being in charge of media coverage, demonstrates a more in-depth understanding in the differences in management styles and way of operation between Hong Kong and Korea. Consul Yu, the fourth interviewee who is a government officer, gives enlightenment on Korea’s Art Diplomacy, which is one of the main focuses in this project.

Before moving to the discussion on challenges faced in the organization of international art events, Peggy Wong and Consul Yu, as the decision-maker in the organizer of Festive Korea and the government in charge of the event respectively, commented on the factors that raise Hong Kong’s awareness on Korean Culture. With the rising popularity of K-pop, K-drama and K-food, more people in Hong Kong are willing to learn more on Korean culture, and this is the main reason that Hong Kong people are getting more interested in traditional Korean art culture, as mentioned by Peggy Wong. Having their culture spread in other countries, Korean government has successfully boosted the economy of the country and used culture as their soft power in the diplomacy. “Although the Korean Wave is an effort most from the private sector, the government has been able to support this initiative by joining it through……All with the aim not only to improve the country’s image abroad but also to increase exports.” It shows a successful strategy in building a good image and improve the economy through the use of culture. At the same time, Consul Yu pointed out that people in Hong Kong are generally familiar with Korean pop culture regardless of ages, cultural background and races, thus the cross-cultural art events are held for all ages and groups of people in Hong Kong. It can be seen that Korean popular culture is actually the main factor that gives the introduction of more diversified art culture to Hong Kong. According to Consul Yu and Peggy Wong, K-Wave has not gained its popularity yet in the first year of Festive Korea held and there was only one K-pop start coming out for shows, until the mega hit of the Korean drama, Dae Jang Guem, aired in 2005 in Hong Kong. Since then, Korean culture has become the trend and started to get popular among teenagers. Consul Yu believes that Korean culture’s strength is visual impact that is loved by young generations. At the same time, visual impact can be fully presented in the visual art culture in Korea, hence it is believed that Korean art culture can gain its fame in Hong Kong as well.

According to Consul Yu, the Korean government is planning to open the Korean Cultural Center in Hong Kong to promote Korean culture as a tool of cultural diplomacy as Hong Kong is considered as a very important place with many auctions and art fairs for cultural diplomacy for Korea. However the rent of property with large space in Hong Kong is extremely expensive so they are trying different sources. If the Korean Cultural Center is opened, it can be predicted that more exhibitions promoting Korean visual art will be showcased more regularly and the popularity of Korean culture will even get higher. By the time that K-Wave is not that popular, Festive Korea started by introducing art exhibitions, performing arts and Korean food. It gives more diverse ideas to the public instead of limiting on pop culture. As decision-makers, Consul Yu and Peggy Wong shared their experience in organizing exhibitions to give a view of their duties. For Peggy Wong, she has organized exhibitions of ceramic, paintings, contemporary art and also a Korea travelling exhibition including installation artwork. She shared her experience of being a PR and inviting reporters to their events. Group tours of different organization were also organized. She shows her main participation in promoting the event, which is often the main job of an art manager. It is notable that the group tours, which explained the history of Korean artwork, had boosted the interest of the public and encouraged them to join in more exhibitions. Some of the participants were even under training to become docents. It shows how her job contributes to the rising participation rate of public in art exhibition. For Consul Yu, he mainly participated in inviting certain Art groups from South Korea to exhibit their work in Hong Kong and helped with supporting applications from other art groups that contact them. When contacted, the possibilities of doing the exhibition and performances in Hong Kong would be checked before the programme was put into Festive Korea. It gives a quite supporting image that the consulate provides help to those who have interest in engaging in the event.

Venues booking for exhibitions and liaison local partners with artists are also main duties of Consul Yu, which is mostly the backstage work. Shipping of artworks is another duty that he is in charge with, and it is often considerably a problematic issue in organizing art events. In the 4 interviews, a common question concerning the funding issues was asked and raised different opinions from different interviewees. The feedback is generally positive that financial issue is commented as a problem with relatively less concern. Both Paul Yip and Prof. Cho suggested that they are able to maintain a control on the expense with their income or the help of galleries and their personal connections. Also, they commented that the government funding schemes provide sufficient amount of money for artists and exhibitors in organizing art events that helps a lot in cutting down costs. However, Paul Yip suggested that it usually requires a lot of time in waiting for acceptance of application and effort in preparing paperwork and supporting documents to apply for the funding. It seems difficult for small-sized art companies and individual artists to apply. The reasons of certain time needed for requiring administration process and confirming the results for funding application, and most importantly a long time needed for transferring the funding to Hong Kong from relevant organization in South Korea, are suggested by Consul Yu. With no doubts, it explained the slow process of funding application, but yet it is still a problem that the process is too complicated for small-sized company and individual artists. It shows a need for government to simplify the process of application and provide more support for small art companies and individual artists in organizing art events. Moreover, as suggested by Consul Yu, there are different funding bodies in Korea that can provide financial support for artists depending on the categories they belong to. He listed organizations and government departments that provide funding for people involved in art events. However, it brought out another notable problem that the funding system is not clear for applicants. As a government officer, Consul Yu is knowledgeable about the application process of funding.

Yet, as the art management staff, Peggy Wong did not have much idea on the government funding system and she points out that the artists need to secure the funding from the regional government or Art council of the Korea Republic or other organizations by themselves before contacting her. It shows a lack of clear guidelines of applying funding for people involved and the problem of having difficulties to find financial support is seen to be a main issue in organizing art events. It is interesting to notice that the challenges faced by the 4 participants can be mainly divided into 2 groups, one suggesting shipping problem and one suggesting the setting of time and venue as the main challenge. The reason of having such difference might be about the identity of the participants, that the group suggesting shipping problem, with Prof. Cho and Paul Yip, can be considered as participants that have less involvement in event management than the other group, with Peggy Wong and Consul Yu, who has suggested the setting of time and venue. Prof. Cho suggested shipping problem as the main challenge he has faced as he met a situation of delayed artworks delivery before. It caused the paintings to arrive later than the opening of the exhibition and it might give negative impacts to the organization of event. Paul Yip also mentioned the shipping problem as a main issue that it is troublesome to check carefully on cultures and regulations of different countries before shipping artworks from Hong Kong to overseas countries. Sometimes overseas planners lack efficiency even in responding the request of help from artists and it is another challenges that artists faced in transporting their artworks to other countries. Different from them, Peggy Wong and Consul Yu suggested the setting of time and venue is the biggest challenge faced in the view of management work. Both of them mentioned a problem in finding venues for exhibitors with the first reason that there is very limited number of venues that are available for public and the second reason that most of the venues require appointment a year in advance.

It is believed that the first problem can be improved after M+ opened in Hong Kong where it provides more choices of venues for events and exhibitions. However, the second reason is in fact an issue related to cultural difference that Hong Kong requires booking at least a year earlier than the actual event where other countries like Korea does not have such practice and sometimes they inform Hong Kong staff only two to three months before. Also the result of application on funding offered by the Korea government is announced in the beginning of the year, making it too late to book venues in Hong Kong after confirmation of successful application. It happens due to the cultural difference between the practice in Korea and Hong Kong. Peggy Wong also mentioned that another difficulty in managing the event is the cultural difference in communication. In Korean culture, seniors usually express anger and emotion directly to other staffs, however it is totally different in Hong Kong culture. In the events she has organized, sometimes the Korean artists express their anger and emotion directly at the volunteers so that she needs to give explanation to smooth out the situation. Also personal matters are seldom the topic in Hong Kong workplace and again it is quite different from Korean culture. Therefore she has to help in striking a balance between the two different cultures. Given by Prof. Cho, it is advised that people working in the industry should love their job and also art. He believes that the mentioned challenges can actually be solved with an outstanding portfolio, which is built by loving to be involved with art and artists. Personal connections are believed to be extremely useful as it helps in arranging venues, cutting down costs and avoiding troubles due to issues like shipping problems. In other responses, the importance of personal connections is also raised, for example in the process of arranging venues in a short period of time or some printing issues that involved in cost control.

In the four interviews, similar answers in identifying the common challenge can be found, but yet different views from different perspectives are noticeable as well. From the response, it can be clearly seen that Paul Yip and Prof. Cho’s responses are more likely from the perspective of participants in the event, that may have more knowledge on the difficulties needed to be faced by participating artists. However, Peggy Wong and Consul Yu’s answers provided a more complete picture on the organization of art events in Hong Kong as they are in the position of organizers who are involved in more aspects of holding an event. They are able to draw conclusion on challenges faced in interaction between Hong Kong and Korean government, artists, gallerists, public or even shipping company, and this gives a clear image of how the whole thing operates. The focus on cultural difference is also clearer in the responses of Peggy Wong and Consul Yu since they have more interaction with different people who involved in the event as the operators. It is also notable that Peggy Wong, as the person in charge of the whole event, may not have much knowledge on the funding issue, which is under the government, and she suggested that the artists have to secure their funding before they contact her to come to Hong Kong. This suggests that before the art manager can make any decision, the approval of government is needed.

Meanwhile, Consul Yu, as a government officer, met limitation even he is working in the government. As he mentioned there are different policies in different countries, and so as Korea and Hong Kong. There are political issues that need to be considered before making judgment. Even for the issue concerning ‘one-year prior in appointment’, he mentioned that it is a policy issue of two nations that is out of his control. It gives the image that even the government officers do not have the full power to control everything in organizing cross-cultural events. Moreover, the challenges suggested by Paul Yip and Prof. Cho are often found possible to be solved by points suggested by Peggy Wong and Consul Yu. It shows the possible solutions that the government should provide more help to those artists and exhibitors, for instance, improving the application procedure of funding scheme.

From the four interviews focusing on the needs of participants and organizers, a full picture of the operation of cross-cultural art event can be captured and it helps in drawing conclusion on how to prevent problems and coining solutions for art exhibition organization.

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