With all of the focus now on the present technological marvels and the future just around the corner, one can often lose sight of the past. That's one of the things that the Asian Cultural Council (ACC) and its former director Ralph Samuelson are thinking about. Cultural treasures and traditions from the past should not be forgotten. The ACC supports Asian and American artists and scholars in international exchange programs. "The idea was to award fellowships to artists, scholars, and specialists from Asia undertaking research, study, and creative projects in the United States; and similarly to support Americans traveling to Asia," explained Ralph Samuelson at a press conference in Seoul in September. The ACC has been active in Korea since it was founded, and has given grant support to over 150 Korean individuals, including some of the most distinguished names in Korean cultural life, such as Ahn Hwi-joon, art historian; Kim Eui-kyung, playwright and director; Paik Nam-june, a pioneering video artist; and Park Ilkyu, a dancer and actor. The ACC has also supported institutions in Korea over the years, including the Geonggyi Provincial Museum, the National Museum, and the Seoul Institute of the Arts.
History of the ACC
In the years following World War II, the American philanthropist John D. Rockefeller III was very much aware of the seminal role of the arts in contemporary life. In addition, as one who greatly admired the artistic and cultural traditions of Asia, he was convinced that artists and scholars could make a special contribution to a new era of mutual understanding and respect among nations, particularly between the United States and the countries of Asia. With this in mind, in 1963 he established a small foundation called The JDR 3rd Fund (John D. Rockefeller 3rd Fund) that would support Asian and American artists and scholars in international exchange programs. These grants included not just financial aid but also personalized,individually tailored professional guidance to enable each grant recipient to fully realize his or her goals. The grants would not only support the individual recipients, but would also stimulate the development of and a respect for the arts across Asia, and would encourage international understanding and cooperation. This grant program, nearly 50 years later, continues to the present day. In 1980 the foundation's name was changed to the Asian Cultural Council (ACC), but the core program concept has remained the same. Through careful grantee selection and then sensitive professional guidance, many of the ACC's Fellows have become prominent artists, educators, scholars, and cultural leaders in their home countries.
The ACC Today
Since 1980, the ACC has needed to raise funds in the US and Asia to continue and enhance its grant programs. Within Asia, successful fundraising initiatives in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines have enabled the ACC to establish offices and special grant programs in those regions. Elsewhere, including here in Korea, as funds are limited, the ACC can make only a very small number of grants (perhaps just one or two) each year. This is particularly disappointing in Korea, where we find a growing number of highly qualified applicants in fields such as dance, visual arts, new media, art history, music, etc. Indeed the talent pool in Korea is vast, but mechanisms to assist dedicated artists and scholars seeking international exposure, training, and experience are few and far between. The ACC is very much committed to doing more in support of the arts community in Korea, but we cannot do it alone. By working together and partnering with donors and cultural institutions in Korea, a meaningful program of cultural exchange can be created to support the growth and development of the next generation of arts and culture leaders.
Disappearance of Traditional Teaching Methods
Throughout Asia and the rest of the world, many skills and art forms have been taught by one generation to the next in several ways. This may be an intimate, lifelong teacher/student relationship or system of patronage. Unfortunately, these methods of teaching skills to the next generation have recently been fading from existence. In a modern teaching format of a university, students are taken through a whirlwind tour of many different art styles, genres, teachers, and subjects that give them a brief but wide overview of art. However, the extended time it takes to transmit deeper artistic skills or abilities is simply not available. This concerns Ralph Samuelson. "Anecdotal evidence observed and gathered during 40 years of travel and study in Asia leads me to conclude that, in many cases, the generation of artists now in their 60s -- that generation born near or shortly after the end of World War II -- may be the last generation trained entirely or primarily within traditional systems of giving and receiving," he said. He emphasized that it was therefore critical to create opportunities for these artists to convey some sense of this elusive wisdom to the younger generation.
Proposal: A Council of Elders
Mr. Samuelson had a proposal that he presented at the press conference. He wants to bring together older artists who have trained within traditional knowledge systems and younger artists whose education reflects the world of today into a Council of Elders. He described it as a give-and-take gathering of older artists and younger students to explore how to teach the skills to the younger generation, technique, style, spiritual understanding, and creative expression. This Council of Elders would be a yearly gathering, starting in 2012, in the form of discussion series and workshops. He wants to start small, with something like 10 elders and 10 students representing different art forms and countries throughout Asia. He described it as, "The group dynamics might work best if each pair consists of a teacher and his or her student, and if in most cases one person in each pair can communicate in English. The group would come together over a period of several days in a program of discussions, workshops, and performances, all to be thoroughly documented and reported. He said that institutions in Indonesia, Japan, India, and Thailand have already said that they were interested in hosting such a gathering, and he hopes to create an annual rotating series. "The recording of artists' oral histories should be an important component of this work," he emphasized, "ideally with the cooperation of a museum, library, or research institute with a commitment to traditional arts.
He ended his presentation with an African proverb, which said, "when an elder dies, a library burns to the ground." He wanted to emphasize the power and depth of indigenous knowledge, and the importance of carrying it forward to the next generation. He said that this Council of Elders is an attempt to look at tradition and change in the transmission of art and knowledge, at a most unusual time in history. He invited suggestions and ideas from anyone.
A Special Visit to Seoul Institute of the Arts in September
“I’ve been a guest artist and lecturer at Seoul Institute of the Arts (SIA) where the theme from my visit has been “Arts and Music across Borders”. Last week, I gave one lecture to the faculty, one lecture to the students, and I met with all of the different departments of the school and we talked about the importance of the interdisciplinary and international communication. On September 26, we had a great concert using the Seoul Institute of the Arts’ telepresence studio in Ansan campus, linking it up to the studio in New York. This allowed us Korean and American musicians in both Ansan and New York and played music together,” said Samuelson. Mr. Samuelson has been in close contact with SIA for nearly thirty years now. “I have a great admiration for the president Yoo Duk-hyung for building this new campus and pulling together such a talented team of teachers.”
"Korea has the potential to play a true leadership role in the arts and cultural sector in Asia. Those who experience Korea are deeply moved by the rich diversity of traditional art forms, and by outstanding work in contemporary performing arts, visual arts, and film and media. As in many Asian countries, artists in Korea face a particular challenge in building on tradition to create and express something new. Encounters with artists, ideas, and aesthetic principles from other cultures will greatly enrich and stimulate cultural developments in Korea, while Korean artists themselves are sure to influence and impress colleagues and audiences abroad. The ACC is eager to do more in Korea, and we hope that with the cooperation and partnership of funders and institutions here a significant program of international cultural exchange in the arts can grow and prosper," Samuelson said.