Sunday, May 3, 2009

Hi Seoul Festival 2009 - and beyond

When ? From May 2nd to May 10th
Where ? Five Royal Palaces, Seoul Plaza, Cheonggyecheon
What ? Concerts, exhibitions, food, performances
Questions ?
HiSeoulFest.org

Among the good points for this edition :
- popular success : Seoulites of all Gus and nationalities, international tourists... a festive festival (even if interrupted by candle-light activists)
- organization (communication, information, staff...),
- better balance between major sites (ie Gyeonghuigung at last well exploited)
- international food festival (yum)

- weather...

Yet, there's still room for improvement :

* program : culturally less dense than previous editions. The Imperial exhibition in Deoksugung is almost embarrassing..., and Prada Transformer sums it up : a big void space inflated with hype. The event, already dilluted from once a year to once a season, suffered from the global crisis (only two editions for 2009 : Spring and Winter).

* f&b : visitors are invited to salivate at an exhibition on Korean food (Gyeonghuigung), but cannot taste any ! only refreshments available : permanent soda / coffee machines. you don't want palaces to be littered with used cups and napkins, but you must prepare something special. The international food festival is absolutely perfect, but lasts only one day.

* concept : some ingredients and key assets, but it looks as if the city struggles every season to market an event which needs to get its message clear and focus. "Spring", "May Palace", "Global Seoul"... many keywords splashed over billboards, many stimuli and operations, but the big picture remains blurred.


=> It's time to rebalance the festival, take some of the burden off the city's shoulders, and empower Seoul's citizens. After all, this used to be Seoul's Citizen Day. And beyond the city and its people, third parties must also gain visibility. Not just tourists but partners and special guests. You need a stronger concept because co-branding and partnerships can bloom only under a strong Seoul Festival umbrella.

=> Twice a year, Spring and Winter. One could prefer spring and autumn, the best seasons, when the city displays its marvels and gives its best shot for the World to see, but this is about the reality of a city and Seoul can be very cold. And furthermore, unlike in Paris, Seoul winters are very lively because Seoulites know how to cope with it and have great fun in spite of it.

=> The Soul of Seoul, at its very heart : the ancient city and its palaces host the party, but all gus play their part, and each district has a spot around Seoul Plaza, which then fully deserves its name. This is where Seoul meets, unites, shares. In all its diversity.

=> The city should focus on one question : what makes this Seoul Festival a special event everybody is waiting for months in advance ? It could be that special moment of the year when every citizen feels he or she really owns the heart of the city, when some rules change, when what uses to be closed is opened. The SFAC (Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture) obviously follows the right path, but could give more space to "citizen generated contents", beyond Cheonggyecheon. For instance, Seoulites could hold their own festival on a Sejongno closed to traffic : schools as well as individuals would expose their talents (stages for music, poetry, or dance, screens displaying movies and pictures...), and partners partly sponsor a selection of street as well as fine food...

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