Itaewon Alley Festival
May 26 2004
Itaewon Alley Festival was a raging sucess. Done on a budget the size of a pea and powered by the smell of an oily rag this event has to be one of our greatest accomplishments. We faced a huge challenge to get the vehemently independant competing venues, bars, restaurants and shops of the Itaewon Alley to sign on for the day. We had to convince the local body politicians and even get around interfering gangsters to make the event happen.
It was a case of pulling out all the favors from our contacts and keeping our fingers crossed that the weather would hold. Luckily for us the entire event came together in such a way that very few people had anything to complain about. Quite an achievement when you consider we had to interact with over 30 venues, 5 bands, and obstinate xenophobia from the local residents who were opposed to the idea of the "Waygooks" taking over and disturbing the peace and quiet of their inner city residences located right next to one of the busiest shopping zones in Seoul.
On the day, once the local venues realised that we were actually going through with it everyone pitched in, and came to the party. When they realised that we had managed to attract over 1000 people to stay in the area for the whole afternoon they understood the potential of the event. We had food and drinks flowing, raffle tickets selling and a diverse selection of live music including a stellar performance from Korean traditional music troupe "Kata" who stole the show. Other bands that participated were Jet Echo, Gu Woon Mong, and the Saints.
By the time the last act had finished and we had given away almost W1,000,000 in prizes. The audience was left with the impression that Itaewon is indeed a supportive community with the real potential to be a symbolic focal point for the new and improved Korea. A Korea that is proud of it's cultural identity but open to the culture that the rest of the world has to offer.
Of course, after the event the local politicians wanted to claim the success as their own and to a degree they were a very important part of the event. Without them on board it would have been shutdown before we even heard the first guitar strum. They even asked us to put it on once a month. Unfortunately for the community the enthusiatic attitude didn't extend to the pockets of the people in control of local arts funding budget. Yes, that's right, in typical Korean style they wanted us to do all the work and pay for it too!
As we had become accustomed to by now, the hard work we put into the event was not appreciated by all parties. In fact there were a few who saw us as a threat. Particularly the local gangster bosses who happen to have a good thing going with the W150,000,000 budget that they have completely tied up for the "Itaewon Global Village Festival". A bland attempt at cultural diversity by people who are really more interested in spending the excessive budget as much as possible on their own interests.
If Itaewon wants to move forward as a cutural focal point for the rest of Korea and break free of the negative image that is seared in to the minds of the average Korean about the community they will need to find a way to get out of the grip of the bosses and political cronies who are wasting the arts budget with excessive spending on poorly thought out events.