City, People, and Art: Seoul Street Arts Festival

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Street art encompasses different types of artistic expressions that have as their only element in common the fact that they occur in the everyday spaces in which outdoor life takes place. By invading these spaces, in addition to being disruptive, street art invites anyone to easily participate in it and become its main character, leaving aside the role of spectator. Also, through street art, citizens of large cities have the opportunity to get in touch with art, without really having the intention of doing so, because many times between daily occupations it is difficult to take a moment to visit a gallery or go to the theater. That’s the case for citizens in Seoul, South Korea’s hectic capital. Luckily, Seoul is also one of the cities in the world where you can see street art samples every day. In particular, between the months of September and October of each year, when the Seoul Street Arts Festival takes place.

Seoul Street Arts Festival 2017.

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Organized by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture, this initiative began in 2003, under the name Hi Seoul Festival, and in 2016, to completely co its identity, it changed its name to Seoul Street Arts Festival. Since then, the festival has become one of Asia’s most representative art festivals, with a cumulative audience of around 34 million people. Every year during the festival, circus, theater, modern dance, media art, and installation art transform Seoul City from Mullae-dong, Yongsan-gu, and Seodaemun-gu to Nodeul Island. All events, both in-person (“Official Program”) and online (“Off Program”) through the official website of the festival [1], are free of charge and involve national and international artists.

Seoul Street Arts Festival 2017.

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The street art shown at the festival is huge in terms of scale, but this is still a space whose goal is to merge the public and art into oneself.  In that sense, the festival opens up several opportunities for everyone to participate in it. Among them, citizens over 18 years of age can join the festival as volunteers in the role of planners (Gil-dong-e), and take care of its management and operation. In fact, every year around 300 people participate in the Seoul Street Arts Festival as Gil-dong-e. Also, over the years, the shows have diversified, allowing the intervention not only of professionals but also of those who only have art as a hobby.

In 2020, considering the COVID-19 situation, the festival was held only in its “Off Program” version, through online forums and the publication of some archived brochures. In 2021, the “Official Program” resumed with 215 in-person performances. Nonetheless, to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, the exhibitions were held in small spaces, and citizen participation, unlike in other editions, was minimal. On the other hand, the “color” of the festival was also different, due to its theme Disappear, Come to Life, which invited the public to reflect on the experiences and changes left by the pandemic, both in people and in the spaces they inhabit. This year, the festival will be held from September 30th to October 2nd, and it is expected that with its theme Still Here and There, and the full participation of the public, the atmosphere that the festival had before the pandemic will be felt again, in an attempt to reduce the distance between everyone.

Poster Seoul Street Arts Festival 2022: Still Here and There

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Knowing and participating from afar in the Seoul Street Arts Festival is important for those of us who love Korean culture because this festival, like many other street art festivals around the world, has provided the opportunity for thousands to enjoy and get closer to diverse cultures through art. Even more importantly, the festival has been the space for professional artists from all over the world to publicize their work, thus promoting job opportunities in the creative industries.  At the Seoul Street Arts Festival, the city, people, and art meet to give Seoul a new meaning as a space for community creation and enjoyment, and it is important to know that from anywhere in the world we can be part of it.



Written by: Luisa Quintero

Reviewed by: Andrea Ramírez

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