Creativity for the General Public: Cultural policy in South Korea

by Kyungeun Lim



In the recent years, creativity has gained a significant place in cultural and educational policy in South Korea and the government is recognizing the importance of creativity. In the recent past, cultural polices have changed to now concentrate on the ‘general public’s creativity’. This increased interest has led cultural policies to expand their target group - from artists to include all people. The traditional aim of cultural policies was to support experiences for artists and protect cultural heritages. In the recent years, the strategies of policies have changed to include artistic experience for “all”. This change makes it a very interesting turn in cultural policy matters in South Korea. Policy makers now acknowledge that education can be used, as a strong strategy, for attaining these changes, and in this context, the Arts and Culture Education Policy in South Korea is a remarkable change. 


The Arts and Culture Education policy

The Arts and Culture Education policy was enacted by joint directions from the Department of Culture and the Department of Education in order to encourage creativity through arts and culture education. The Policy came in effect due to a change in perspective towards culture and the arts. Until the 1990s, the cultural policy of South Korea focused on protecting the nation’s cultural heritage, supporting artists and changing the national image as a developing country. Since the late 1990s, cultural policies started concentrating on improving the quality of life, with an aim for economic development. The government recognized culture as a vital part of economic output and hence, desired for people to enjoy and “spend their time and money” on cultural activities. This perspective of ‘improving the quality of life’, led to a change in the groups targeted by cultural policies. With the change in perspective, the target group expanded from only artists to include people in general. Moreover, recognizing the economic possibilities of culture also worked as a catalyst for expanding the target groups. The idea was that, if culture can produce economic output, then individuals should be consumers of culture and become new producers to stimulate this output. These individuals should therefore also include the ‘general people’.

Although the government recognized the need for expanding the target groups, until the early 2000s, cultural policies placed a disproportionate emphasis on groups that only included the educated, urban, upper-middle class living in or near Seoul. There were still a significant number of people who did not benefit from the policy and could not become consumers and producers of art and culture. This gap was because individuals did not have enough opportunities to be exposed to various forms of art and culture. Art classes provided in public education did not provide frequent or qualified artistic educational experiences, since public education in South Korea placed (and still continues to place) enormous emphasis on education for the entrance test at schools. Further, it is often difficult to find opportunities after graduate studies, to learn about the arts in society. Due to these limitations, “enjoying the arts” was meaningful only to small groups of people, who majored in art subjects or those concerned with art.

In view of these limitations, the government has now begun to consider using education to develop arts and culture for the general public and open up greater opportunities for them. This requires a change in art education in the public education system and the society. For this, the government has considered a new type of cultural policy in cooperation with the education department. The Department of Culture has now become more aware of the importance of changing education methods and with this awareness; the government has planned to make policy connections between culture and education. In 2002, the Department of Culture and Korean Art Management Conference enacted the “Law of Arts and Culture Education promotion” through symposiums and academic research. A Committee for Cultural Administration was established in 2003 to discuss issues related to improving current cultural policy. They accepted a proposal about Arts and Culture Education from the Department of Culture and established the Arts and Culture Education Task Force in the Department of Culture. The same year, the Government implemented the Arts and Culture Education policy. After that, the Department of Education established the Arts and Culture Education Team Division in Arts as part of the Department of Culture. In 2005, the government then established ARTE (Korean Arts and Culture Education Service Center) with the cooperation of Department of Culture and Department of Education and enacted the Arts and Culture Education Law to support art and culture education in schools and in society. 

                                          Figure 1

Figure 1 shows a Saturday concert with an education program at National Contemporary Art Museum of South Korea, in March, 2008. In front of Marcel Duchamp's art piece, a Korean Traditional singer is reciting Pansori, a genre of Korean traditional songs, with docent's explanation of Duchamp's art work, the song, and how they can be related. It was a project of harmony of tradition and contemporary arts that is one of approaches of South Korean cultural policy.


Challenges to Arts and Culture Education

The Arts and Culture Education law has however faced several challenges. First, there has been a lack of consistency in the goals of this law. For the purpose of consistency in pursuing the goals, Arts and Culture Education “should” be supported more by the Department of Education at the state-level education departments, school districts, and each individual school. The most serious challenge in this respect is that it is difficult to find agreement on, or the degree of desire for Arts and Culture Education in schools and education agencies, including the Department of Education. Arts and Culture Education is not the main concern of the field of education. Thus, the low numbers of participation in Arts and Culture Education, make it hard to achieve the goals consistently. Secondly, the aspect of efficiency also presents a significant challenge of Arts and Culture Education. Varying degrees of agreement and a weak desire on the part of the field of education for Arts and Culture Education in schools make the efficient working of ARTE very difficult. ARTE is conducted indirectly through the Department of Education, the state-level education department, and the school districts. Sometimes even contacting schools for certain Art and Culture programs becomes a difficult task. In addition, a lack of necessity for such education also contributes towards inefficient implementation. Further, within the field of Arts and Culture Education, there are conflicts among specific spheres such as the visual arts, drama, music, theatre, movie, animation, dance, and photography. These tensions influence the ARTE’s projects. 


Future Directions

It must however be recognized that in spite of these challenges, the policy for Arts and Culture Education in South Korea provides a new approach to art education that is supported by the government. It is an interesting cooperation between he Department of Culture and Department of Education and shows promise for developing creativity for the genral public i.e. creatvity for all. It must however be recognised that this concept will need greater support from schools and school districsts and art teachers and art educators can come together to make this more effective and consistent.



Department of Culture of Korea, A. (2007). A white book of Culture and Arts Education. Seoul: Department of Culture of Korea.

Kim. S.H. (2004). Long-term plan for culture and arts education. Seoul: Korean Culture and Tourism Institute.

Lim. H. S. (2007). Arts education program and partnership. Seoul: BookKorea.

Lim. K.L. (2010). Analysis of Culture and Arts Education Policy. Master, Seoul National University, Seoul.   

The Korea Times (2007). Exchange Students Feel ‘Education Fever’, Korea Times.

UNESCO. (2010). The 2nd world conference on arts education : proceedings. Seoul: Department of Culture of Korea.

Yang. H.M. (2004). The Administrative and legal system for culture & arts education. Seoul: Korea Culture and Tourism Institute.



Kyungeun Lim is an Associate Instructor and a doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum and Instructions, Indiana, University, Bloomington, USA.