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ARTISTS SPEAK OUT ON COVID-19 Updated: 2020-12-08 15:47:16 KST

Our ability to create and appreciate art and culture is what sets us apart from animals.
From the very first cave paintings daubed several millennia ago to the critically acclaimed television series of today, art is an essential part of our lives.
It is a fundamental aspect of human nature and, until very recently, it was something we perhaps took for granted.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused tragedy and suffering on a global scale.
Aside from the lives we've lost to the virus, the arts and entertainment industries are perhaps one of the most dramatically affected industries.
Cinemas and theaters were among the first to close and may be the last to reopen.
Concerts, theater and dance performances were called off, disappointing fans in their thousands and costing several hard-working individuals their jobs.
But with some creative thinking, can its future hold some positives?
We have a special arts and culture in-depth tonight. Our correspondent Kim Bokyoung joins me live.
Good to see you, Bokyoung.

Thank you for having me.

So tonight, you're here to share with us the stories of some prominent artists who are enduring and persevering these challenging times just as we are. Battling through the corona blues, hopefully uplifting his own and our spirits is pianist Yekwon Sunwoo, is it?

That's right.
Suddenly not having places to play the piano was hard for him as he had been through very busy schedules for a long time after we won the Van Cliburn competition.
He even stopped playing the piano for around two months but eventually was again motivated by music.
Let me show our viewers his full story.

"COVID-19 has made the year 2020 very rough for everyone on the globe and I assume it must have been very hard for you too given that the performance industry has been hit hard by the pandemic. I heard that you’ve even temporarily stopped playing the piano for one or two months. Why was that because of Corona Blues? What made you so depressed?"

"All the concerts were all getting canceled and delayed again so I was basically jobless for couple more months, then I felt like I was kind of avoiding being sitting at the piano and playing the piano somehow. But I think it was mostly because if I play the piano then I will miss being on the stage more, and sharing, expressing through music so to avoid those feelings I think I was just not playing the piano and I think it was almost up to, close to two months that I didn’t play the piano."

"Everyone has their own way of coping with their anxieties and perhaps Corona Blues. How did you overcome your feeling of depression? Did music again help you motivate yourself?"

"I had some concerts coming up in Korea and that was one of the reasons that I started playing the piano again. All of the sudden, all my senses were heightened and it was almost as if I was reborn again somehow. That's also difficult to describe, but it was very exuberant, happy and also in a way sad feeling. But I really appreciate that I could play the piano and there’s music. After few days I was starting to have a little more functioned life and my brain started working again."

"Do you believe in power of music and if so, why do you think playing and listening to music is so important amid times like this?"

"I believe that music can help. When you listen to classical music several times in a row and if you really attentively use your ears, then there’s something far beyond than just what’s there and it really takes you to a different planet and that’s why I think the classical music especially is very helpful to people who are suffering and even struggling what they are doing at this time."

"Thank you for your great comments and thank you for sharing your thoughts and stories. We appreciate it."

"Thank you."

It's so comforting to hear such melodies. I hope our viewers felt some happiness as it is not easy to see Yekwon Sunwoo playing this piece.
The performing arts industry is also a sector that is going through difficult times as shows usually involve more than 50 people on stage.
Whose story do you have for us next?

I met up with the winner of the female vocal section of the International Tchaikovsky Competition in 2011 -- Seo Sun-young.
She plays the main character in the Korea National Opera's new production 'La Boheme'.
But as the social distancing level got beefed up recently, the show had to go through some sudden changes.
These changes made her more tired of the pandemic, yet she says the arts are needed even more in these tough times.

"Performing arts have been heavily affected by the coronavirus. Shows and concerts have been cancelled. There are fewer seats available in the venues. Could you tell me more on how the industry has been affected so far?"

"The performance industry has been hit the hardest, because we usually have audiences of at least 500 people. The virus is closing in on all sides as more people who are close to us are getting infected. I think it will get much harder for us."

"I heard that the Korean National Opera's show which was scheduled for this week is going to be either canceled or streamed online. I would like to know what's happening right now."

"It's so discouraging when a show gets canceled just a few days before. We have to memorize all the lines and practice because even if it's a piece that we've done before, like 'La Boheme', it can be forgotten when doing other shows. If a show gets canceled after I'm finished preparing, it feels so exhausting. Of course it could be a great chance for me to practice, but it's so tiring because there's big difference between being able to perform and a show suddenly disappearing. We've been very careful as if we were in self-quarantine. Although we had the opportunity to perform in Gwangju, I wish I could share this opera with more people."

"Some performers say they themselves have had the ‘Corona Blues’. I want to ask you, have you also been affected by it? If so, how have you been holding up those emotions?"

"It makes me get angry when a show is just canceled all of a sudden and it even made me burst out in anger questioning how long this will continue. So, I tried to be thankful for even the smallest details. I would be thankful for the rest a canceled show would bring, I would be thankful for having the opportunity to perform in the first place.
As I try to be thankful for everything, I was slowly able to manage my feelings.
We all grumbled at trivial things that we once took granted but are now hard to get, but if we find something to be thankful for, I believe we can overcome these hard times and do so with a new sense of purpose."

"Art often depicts tragedy -- but also triumph over hardship. In your opinion, what's art's role amid these difficult times?"

"There's the term 'music shower' when it comes to musical therapy. As if music cleanses us and relieves us of our fatigue. Even if the audience isn't at the venue, we can still splash them with our music. I believe that's the healing we as musicians can provide. Fortunately, some say it's nice to be able to see our faces and expressions up close when the show is streamed online as it's usually hard for the audience to see. 'La Boheme' is a well-known story, sad and at the same time very beautiful, and we hope our acting and music can soothe people's minds as if they are having a 'music shower'."

"Thank you for joining us, we appreciate it."

"Thank you"

I myself was overwhelmed listening to the soprano's story. I hope people in the performing arts industry can overcome these challenges.
There's only one more artist to share his story with us. Who is it?

The final artist is Yang Teo, the designer who made the first Korean collection for renowned wallpaper brand 'de Gourney'.
He felt isolated due to the closed borders, but used that challenge as an opportunity to find local materials he can use for his artwork.

"Due to the pandemic, your work schedule has changed a lot I guess because it's hard to go overseas. How did the virus affect you and like other people did you also sometimes feel let down because of the virus?"

"Yes, definitely. For me and for everyone I am sure it was a very hard time. Not being able to travel and borders being closed, I definitely felt very isolated. But I had to find my own space and my own schedule to cope with that."

"We are actually sitting in front of your artwork at MMCA. What makes you keep going on amid these difficult times?"

"Even amid hard time like this, I think you still have to be very positive and still create and send out a message. Even though it was tragic time for all of us, I think it was an opportunity to think about deglobalization and also think about local values. So I had to find a way to work with what I have, materials that is in our nation, and that is reachable and just work with what you have."

"When I saw your description of your installation, it said that the virus ironically gives us a chance to look back on our own traditions rather than looking outward for inspiration. Could you elaborate more on this?

"I wanted to find inspiration within our local culture and how we celebrate the year end. We had Christmas trees for almost over a century but it's one of the artifacts that hasn't been affected too much with about our local culture. Usually foreign cultures come into Korea and it evolves and changes through local eye and local vision and I wanted to tell people that perhaps there could be another local version of Christmas tree. So I have chosen to use rice straws from the field and also use a traditional technique to move these things and create a structure with it. And after it has been used, it actually gets all recycled and these straws go back to the field. So it talks about local values and also how we could work with materials that pretty much have no effect on the environment."

"It’s quite surprising how you have changed difficulties into opportunities. I heard that this Wishing Tree can also be a way to deliver hope? How?"

"As you can see there are these paper tags tied on to the straws. You can actually purchase by donating one-thousand korean won and purchase this envelope that includes a small paper tag and a small pencil. So You can write your wish and tie it on to the tree. The funds gathered will be used for children in need to receive art therapy. So I hope more people can visit the museum and make a small difference."

"What do you think the art's value amid these times is?"

"Art always sends out provocative messages in a very effective way. People are more acceptant to art I guess so using art to send out positive messages, positive feedback to the world, I think it is a great tool for us to utilize ."

"Before we end our interview, could you give us a message of hope perhaps to those who are suffering from the Corona Blues?"

"I am very sure that we will overcome this situation and things will be very different after the corona pandemic. I think this is a really important and crucial time for us to adapt to change and create new values. So let's not crawl up and be sad about the situation but let's try to be positive and try to find new directions for ourselves, and for our society."

"Thank you for sharing your time with us. We really appreciate it."

"Thank you so much for visiting."

We have seen how artists from different areas are dealing with the Corona Blues in their own way.
Thank you Bo-kyoung for sharing their stories with us.

Thank you.

And, that is our News In Depth tonight.
Thank you so much for your company.
Wherever you are in the world, stay safe and stay strong. Let's get through this.
Take care.
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