[INTERVIEW] Seoul Arts Center CEO prioritizes financial health to reach wider public - The Korea Times

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[INTERVIEW] Seoul Arts Center CEO prioritizes financial health to reach wider public

Seoul Arts Center's President and CEO Yoo In-taek poses for a photo in front of the arts center's Opera House in southern Seoul, Tuesday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

By Anna J. Park

It's been nearly four months since President and CEO of the Seoul Arts Center Yoo In-taek, 63, took office in March. During a recent interview with The Korea Times, the CEO shared his vision and goals to expand the arts center's reach to a wider public as well as developing the nation's performing arts industry further.

The former film producer and fund manager is taking a very practical approach with his strategies, stressing that one of the key goals during his term is strengthening the public arts center's financial resources by raising funds from the private sector.

"Out of the Seoul Arts Center's annual budget of $38 million, only about $10 million, or 25 percent of the total, is government-funded. In order to raise public awareness of the institution's programs, we need a more stable budget; but it is not easy to increase the amount of state funding. That's why we decided to raise money from the private sector, instead of just waiting for the government to increase the budget," the CEO said.

The arts center's new flagship Gold Membership Gift Card program is one of the CEO's ideas for gathering donations from the private sector. The gift card costs $85 (100,000 won) for a 13-month membership and offers a variety of benefits, including discounts up to 40 percent for the arts center's season programs and exhibitions, free parking and advanced reservations. Special benefits such as backstage tours are also available occasionally.

The arts center has run a full membership program since 1989, with the number of members currently standing at 14,600. About 5,200 of them have gold memberships by paying an annual fee of $85. What is different about the newly launched system is that it makes it possible to present such membership benefits to anyone with the gift card.

Yoo explained that the gift card system has three purposes. "First, it helps the arts center gain stable private funding. Secondly, as it is not easy to significantly expand the audience for fine arts genres such as classical music or opera in a short period of time, we'd like to solidify the loyalty of our regular audience with better access to the membership program," he said.

"Lastly, we hope this gift card can be a quality present on special occasions, such as graduation or a date gift. This gift card can induce the wider public's interest in the performing arts or exhibitions at the Seoul Arts Center, while serving as a meaningful present that can raise awareness about a generous donation culture."

Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Park Yang-woo, left, poses for a photo with Seoul Arts Center's CEO Yoo In-taek, after completing his purchase of SAC's Gold Membership Gift Card, at the end of last month. Courtesy of Seoul Arts Center (SAC)

Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Park Yang-woo was the first person to purchase the gift card at the end of last month. The Korean National Ballet's prima ballerina Kim Ji-young also signed up to purchase a card to promote the gift card system. Anyone who'd like to purchase one can visit the Service Plaza, located in the Vitamin Station at the Seoul Arts Center, or call 02-580-1300.

"Just like K-pop band BTS' Army, a global group of fans supporting the band, we hope to create our own Classical Army from out of our loyal fans for the Seoul Arts Center," Yoo said, similing.

The arts center is also closely cooperating with the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, in another attempt to reach out to wider audiences.

"In order to better engage with adolescent audiences, who are more used to K-pop music and video games, we are pushing forward an opera production at an introductory level. We hope such exposure to opera could broaden adolescents' perspectives, while securing some of them as potential audience members among the next generation," he said.

Seoul Arts Center's President and CEO Yoo In-taek poses for a photo in front of the arts center's Opera House in southern Seoul, Tuesday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Making the Seoul Arts Center more child-friendly is another vision of the CEO, who hopes to make the center more approachable by parents with children. He has already announced the arts center's plan to create a children's lounge in the center's main lobby by Christmas this year. The lounge will be built at the current location of the "Train Bleu" restaurant at the Vitamin Station.

"Women in Korea are predominantly responsible for childcare, and as such find it hard to follow their career paths due to a lack of social infrastructure. They also find it hard to enjoy fine arts concerts and exhibitions due to childcare responsibilities. As a public institution, I hope the children's lounge can allow them to enjoy cultural events at the arts center during the day or in the evening, by leaving their children under the lounge's care programs. That will be mutually beneficial to women and the arts center's revenue growth," Yoo said, expressing hope that such a model could be extended to some 250 theaters nationwide.

Seoul Arts Center's President and CEO Yoo In-taek poses for a photo in front of the arts center's Opera House in southern Seoul, Tuesday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Recently, the Seoul Arts Center signed an MOU with China's National Centre for the Performing Arts. CEO Yoo said while the arts center will continue its efforts to maintain steadily cooperative relations with concert halls and arts centers in countries in Europe and the Americas, it needs to expand its reach to neighboring Asian countries, especially China.

"Not only do Korea and China have long historical relations, China's market for fine arts and classical concerts will also be hugely booming in the coming years. With its 1.5 billion population and national plans to build 500 state theaters around the country, we should not miss the opportunity to grow further through close cooperation with China," he said.

"I think public arts and cultural institutions cannot just wait for the culture ministry to assign a larger budget for them. We need to look for ways to create new audiences, by finding creative ways to reach out to them. Continuous efforts to expand stages, through new experiments and active communication with the audience, are key to adjust and grow in this era."


Seoul Arts Center's President and CEO Yoo In-taek poses for a photo in front of the arts center's Opera House in southern Seoul, Tuesday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

By Anna J. Park

It's been nearly four months since President and CEO of the Seoul Arts Center Yoo In-taek, 63, took office in March. During a recent interview with The Korea Times, the CEO shared his vision and goals to expand the arts center's reach to a wider public as well as developing the nation's performing arts industry further.

The former film producer and fund manager is taking a very practical approach with his strategies, stressing that one of the key goals during his term is strengthening the public arts center's financial resources by raising funds from the private sector.

"Out of the Seoul Arts Center's annual budget of $38 million, only about $10 million, or 25 percent of the total, is government-funded. In order to raise public awareness of the institution's programs, we need a more stable budget; but it is not easy to increase the amount of state funding. That's why we decided to raise money from the private sector, instead of just waiting for the government to increase the budget," the CEO said.

The arts center's new flagship Gold Membership Gift Card program is one of the CEO's ideas for gathering donations from the private sector. The gift card costs $85 (100,000 won) for a 13-month membership and offers a variety of benefits, including discounts up to 40 percent for the arts center's season programs and exhibitions, free parking and advanced reservations. Special benefits such as backstage tours are also available occasionally.

The arts center has run a full membership program since 1989, with the number of members currently standing at 14,600. About 5,200 of them have gold memberships by paying an annual fee of $85. What is different about the newly launched system is that it makes it possible to present such membership benefits to anyone with the gift card.

Yoo explained that the gift card system has three purposes. "First, it helps the arts center gain stable private funding. Secondly, as it is not easy to significantly expand the audience for fine arts genres such as classical music or opera in a short period of time, we'd like to solidify the loyalty of our regular audience with better access to the membership program," he said.

"Lastly, we hope this gift card can be a quality present on special occasions, such as graduation or a date gift. This gift card can induce the wider public's interest in the performing arts or exhibitions at the Seoul Arts Center, while serving as a meaningful present that can raise awareness about a generous donation culture."

Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Park Yang-woo, left, poses for a photo with Seoul Arts Center's CEO Yoo In-taek, after completing his purchase of SAC's Gold Membership Gift Card, at the end of last month. Courtesy of Seoul Arts Center (SAC)

Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Park Yang-woo was the first person to purchase the gift card at the end of last month. The Korean National Ballet's prima ballerina Kim Ji-young also signed up to purchase a card to promote the gift card system. Anyone who'd like to purchase one can visit the Service Plaza, located in the Vitamin Station at the Seoul Arts Center, or call 02-580-1300.

"Just like K-pop band BTS' Army, a global group of fans supporting the band, we hope to create our own Classical Army from out of our loyal fans for the Seoul Arts Center," Yoo said, similing.

The arts center is also closely cooperating with the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, in another attempt to reach out to wider audiences.

"In order to better engage with adolescent audiences, who are more used to K-pop music and video games, we are pushing forward an opera production at an introductory level. We hope such exposure to opera could broaden adolescents' perspectives, while securing some of them as potential audience members among the next generation," he said.

Seoul Arts Center's President and CEO Yoo In-taek poses for a photo in front of the arts center's Opera House in southern Seoul, Tuesday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Making the Seoul Arts Center more child-friendly is another vision of the CEO, who hopes to make the center more approachable by parents with children. He has already announced the arts center's plan to create a children's lounge in the center's main lobby by Christmas this year. The lounge will be built at the current location of the "Train Bleu" restaurant at the Vitamin Station.

"Women in Korea are predominantly responsible for childcare, and as such find it hard to follow their career paths due to a lack of social infrastructure. They also find it hard to enjoy fine arts concerts and exhibitions due to childcare responsibilities. As a public institution, I hope the children's lounge can allow them to enjoy cultural events at the arts center during the day or in the evening, by leaving their children under the lounge's care programs. That will be mutually beneficial to women and the arts center's revenue growth," Yoo said, expressing hope that such a model could be extended to some 250 theaters nationwide.

Seoul Arts Center's President and CEO Yoo In-taek poses for a photo in front of the arts center's Opera House in southern Seoul, Tuesday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Recently, the Seoul Arts Center signed an MOU with China's National Centre for the Performing Arts. CEO Yoo said while the arts center will continue its efforts to maintain steadily cooperative relations with concert halls and arts centers in countries in Europe and the Americas, it needs to expand its reach to neighboring Asian countries, especially China.

"Not only do Korea and China have long historical relations, China's market for fine arts and classical concerts will also be hugely booming in the coming years. With its 1.5 billion population and national plans to build 500 state theaters around the country, we should not miss the opportunity to grow further through close cooperation with China," he said.

"I think public arts and cultural institutions cannot just wait for the culture ministry to assign a larger budget for them. We need to look for ways to create new audiences, by finding creative ways to reach out to them. Continuous efforts to expand stages, through new experiments and active communication with the audience, are key to adjust and grow in this era."


Park Ji-won annajpark@koreatimes.co.kr


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