Virtual K-Culture: Promotion of Korean Culture During COVID-19

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Normally, the summer season is a busy time for the Korean Cultural Centre (KCC) in Canada’s capital city of Ottawa. KCCs are a global initiative that were started in 2009 by the Korean Culture and Information Service, a subdivision of South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. As of this moment, there are 32 KCCs in 27 countries. The KCC in Canada was created in 2016 under the jurisdiction of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea to Canada and its mandate is “to enhance Korea-Canada relations by promoting mutual understanding between Koreans and Canadians through the sharing of Korean culture, and facilitating bilateral cooperation between arts and cultural institutions.” The KCC does this through a number of engaging and interactive cultural activities which include exhibitions, performances, film screenings, festivals, cultural/language classes and outreach programs. This all had to be put on hold due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in the temporary closure of a number of cultural institutions around the world, including the KCC in Canada.

However, the KCC has managed to find a way to continue to deliver their programming. According to Mr. Jung Joon Rhee, Public Relations Coordinator to the KCC and the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, the KCC shifted its activities online and created “Virtual K-Culture”.

“We launched the ‘Virtual K-Culture’ initiative to bring light to the variety of digital cultural content produced by our partner institutions in Korea, and provide Canadians an opportunity to experience Korean culture from the comfort of their homes,” says Mr Jung Joon Rhee.

Virtual K-Culture includes a combination of their longstanding initiatives such as the promotion of K-Cinema as well as new content. There are three components to the Virtual K-Culture series: audio-visual, participatory and educational.

The audio-visual content is focused on videos that showcase Korean culture such as art exhibitions and performances as well as film screenings.

The participatory content requires the contribution of the audience, for example, in the form of K-pop cover dances, which are then used by the KCC to produce compilation videos. Another example of the participatory content are food “webtoons” (a digital comic format that originated in South Korea) that teach the audience how to cook different Korean food while talking about the cultural history of the dish.

The educational content is aimed at enhancing people’s knowledge about Korea and Korean culture through such means as Korean language learning resources and hosting online Korean culture workshops.

The shift to virtual content was quite natural for the KCC.

“We already had those digital channels to complement our offline activities prior to COVID-19, so it was just a matter of searching for content and items and executing them with our audiences in mind,” says Mr. Jung Joon Rhee.

As a global leader in the field of ICT (information and communication technology), South Korea is one of the most digitally connected nations in the world with nearly every household having high-speed Internet access. South Korea’s success with ICT is due to their government’s policies aimed at promoting the use of digital technologies as well as Koreans’ enthusiastic response to them. South Koreans have a “balli balli” (meaning hurry up/faster in Korean) approach to life which also transcends to their use of technology as the majority of people are known to be early adopters of new digital technologies and services.

Therefore, it is no surprise that along with the KCC, other cultural institutions in South Korea have transferred their programming online. One notable example is the National Gugak Center (located in Seoul). The National Gugak Center is focused on promoting traditional Korean music and dance by offering classes and showcasing performances. With the Center being closed due to COVID-19 and all performances currently cancelled, the organization has started to host concerts on their YouTube channel.

As the future surrounding COVID-19 remains uncertain, the KCC in Canada is planning on prioritizing their digital outreach as they look for new ways to allow people to experience Korean culture while adhering to the regulations concerning COVID-19.