As Research & Policy Director for the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, I have a passion for how public policies can help artists and cultural organizations serve the public via direct funding, tax incentives, education regulations, and intellectual property protections, among others.
Another one of my passions is international travel. So when my wife Susan and I planned a June vacation to South Korea and Vietnam, I decided to combine my passions and meet with fellow cultural policy wonks in both countries. Why, not.
As Susan and I do more traveling, we're finding that intentionally meeting people with shared interests, and then staying in touch afterwards, is a great way to "extend" our trips well beyond photos and souvenirs. For Susan, as President of the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh, we met with Tran Tuyet Lan, Director of Craft Link, a non–profit Fair Trade organization in Hanoi that helps traditional craft producers to revive their cultures, earn a fair wage, and market their work worldwide. Very impressive organization.
Now, to be honest, our trip wasn't all such high-minded faire. As one friend said, It was very "Bourdainey" (as in Anthony Bourdain). Yes, lots of eating--from "Jungsik," the noted restaurant in the Gangam district of Seoul featuring "new Korean" cuisine to touring the food stalls of Hanoi to finding locals' favorite versions of Pho (rice noodle soup with beef) and Bun Thit Nuong (vermicelli with grilled pork) to whipping around the streets of Saigon on the back of Vespas seeking fresh seafood and Banh Mi sandwiches. (I guess food is a passion too).
Another "Bourdainey" feature of our travels was an extended "layover" in Seoul. We originally were just passing through on our way to Hanoi, but elected to hang out for a few days and visit with three of my former students from the Master of Arts Management program at Carnegie Mellon University, where I'm an adjunct faculty--Sophia Ahn, and Bomin Angela Choi,Yejin Kang--who are now living and working in Seoul. Lovely chance to catch up (and eat).
Sophia and Yejin were also part of the meeting I set up with noted cultural policy scholar Dr. Kiwon Hong, director of the Cultural Administration program at Sookmyung Women's University, and arts research consultants Dr. Chae Boyeon and Jee-Hye Suh. Fascinating discussion. South Korea is dealing with how to "professionalize" its arts sector, how to expand public dollars for the arts beyond relying on a percentage of movie admissions, and how best to fund the humanities. I hope to return in 2016 for the International Conference on Cultural Policy Research, which Dr. Hong is hosting for the first time in Asia.
On to Hanoi where I met with officials and researchers at the state-run Vietnam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies. I heard about their 15-year plan to develop creative industries in Vietnam with UNESCO support. They were very interested in American approaches to arts administration and cultural policy training, fundraising, and creative placemaking. Since the visit I've sent along many a link to resources in the States and Europe on these and related topics.
Finally, in Saigon, I visited with the Foreign Office head of the Ho Chi Minh Conservatory of Music, who acknowledged that Vietnamese parents, like those in America, worry about whether their music major offspring can find jobs after graduation. I've sent him research from Indiana University's Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, which shows that arts graduates, contrary to many media reports, do quite well on a range of financial and quality-of-life measures, especially those who are resourceful entrepreneurs.
Mixing personal and professional passions is a great way to travel. We certainly learned that in South Korea and Vietnam. Now, where to apply this approach next? Bon voyage.
David B. Pankratz is Research and Policy Director at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.