Dreaming of Becoming a Sincere and Caring Arts Educator: About the Role of Arts and Culture Education
- Kim Na-ye, Art & Education Tree of Life Teaching Artist
This year, we celebrate 10 years since the announcement of the “Seoul Agenda: Development Goals for Arts Education”, which established a platform for international discussion on the future directions of arts and culture education. At the same time, we also celebrate 15 years since the implementation of the Support for Arts and Culture Education Act, which introduced policy-driven financial support for arts and culture education. With the passing of time, children who received arts and culture education have now grown into young adults, many of whom have become colleagues. What memories and impact did arts and culture education leave behind for these individuals? What role will arts and culture education play in the world that these individuals will move on to create? Here, we seek to learn more about the need for, role, and next steps in arts and culture education from the young adults who grew up together with such educational opportunities.
Could you please introduce yourself?
My name is Na-ye, a purely Korean name that comes from the Korean words for “butterfly” and “pretty.” My uncle was the one who chose it for me. Whenever I meet someone for the first time and hope to leave behind a good impression, I tend to introduce myself in this way. When I meet elementary students or other young children, I often draw a butterfly and ask them to guess my name. Currently, I am working as a teaching artist at the Tree of Life, where a total of 11 teaching artists work under the mission of “promoting change and comfort in life through arts education.” At the Tree of Life, we conduct various arts education programs and classes, including creative hands-on activities, free-semester systems, student activity groups, local arts and culture festivals, youth champs, and training for teaching artists and businesses. We mainly operate educational programs related to musicals. The Tree of Life is my first job and I have been working there for about three years now. Although I still have a lot to learn, I truly enjoy my job.
Can you tell us about your first experience with receiving arts and culture education? When and in which program did you participate?
It was back when I was in high school. When I think about it now, although I had a band teacher back in middle school, it felt like more of an after-school program than a form of arts and culture education. Considering that I joined the student band in middle school, it is safe to say that I was interested in the arts from a young age. When I entered high school, I was determined to join a student group as a way of making memories. Out of the various groups that were available, including the dance club, the pungmul club, the video production club, my attention was drawn to the theater club. I remember thinking how fun it would be that, if I were to learn acting, I could become anyone and take on any job that I wanted. And so, I decided to try out for the club. The audition took place on a stage in the audio-visual room, which the theater club mainly used at the time. Lights had been set up, and props were even provided. The audition involved a free acting mission, and I remember being so nervous that I could not act properly. Instead, I just sang a song before leaving the stage. I remember telling myself that I should have just tried doing this or that instead. Thankfully, I passed the audition and would go on to practice one performance each year. I even performed at several youth theater competitions, including the “Seoul Youth Theater Festival.” I was a member of the ninth theater group and was surrounded by individuals who had already won various awards, including first place at the National Youth Theater Festival. As such, the members of the group were very serious and hoped to follow the success of the senior members, so that we all made the effort to practice as hard as we could.
However, being a part of the theater group was not simply about preparing for competitions. I had the opportunity to receive arts education, as opposed to simply learning artistic techniques, from Ham Hyung-sik, a teaching artist who had worked with the theater since the first theater group. These classes were a very special time during which I worked together with my colleagues, not only developing a sense of teamwork, but also learning how to express my emotions honestly, which was something I was never very good at. My fellow club mates also learned to overcome their shortcomings and showed gradual signs of change. Indeed, it was a very meaningful time. Even now, when I think back to my high school years, the strongest memory that comes to mind is Onsaemiro, the theater group at Yeongdeungpo Girls’ High School.
Considering that you were a part of a theater club that boasts a long history and tradition, I am sure that there were a lot of interesting and difficult times when preparing for performances. Are there any episodes in particular that come to mind?
Usually, students only participate in clubs until their second year in high school, but seeing as how I wanted to study theater and film in university, I continued being active even throughout my third year. That is part of the reason why so many of my high school memories are from my time in the club. In 2011, when I was in my first year of high school, our theater club was invited to participate in the 7th Kijimuna Festa, an international youth theater festival. We traveled to Okinawa, where we put on a musical performance of Kim Yu-jeong’s The Camellia, and that is a memory that I am very fond of. I was excited not only because it was my first time traveling abroad, but also because it was an opportunity to share a Korean art form with this particular performance, which made it all the more meaningful. With support from the festival organizers, we were also able to watch performances from other countries and also had time to interact with our Japanese colleagues. Although there was a language barrier, it was a precious experience in which we became one through art. One of the happiest moments in my life was when my club teacher, fellow club members, and I saw the beautiful sea and sky in Okinawa while staying there.
Another memorable episode was in my third year of high school, when we performed the final performance of an original piece called Father. That year, after having participated in several competitions and performances, we decided to put on this final performance at our school festival. Father is about the ups and downs in the relationship between a father who is blind in one eye and his teenage daughter. The song we selected for the curtain call was Insooni’s Father. During the curtain call, all of us broke character as we imagined singing the song to our own fathers, bursting into tears in the process. Unfortunately, during this emotional moment, an announcement came over the school’s loudspeaker, but not a single one of us was flustered, instead singing even louder as a way to drown out the distraction. Although it was disappointing to have been interrupted during this important, final performance, it makes it that much more of an emotional memory. During my theater club activities throughout my three years of high school, I remember aspiring to become someone who could emotionally move others. As such, I decided specifically that I would accomplish that dream through arts education. In this way, arts education played a crucial role in my own growth and development, as well as in guiding me on my desired career path.
It is quite impressive that you wanted to become someone who could “emotionally move others.” The theater activities that you started in high school have now become your dream and your job. I can imagine that you would like to give back to the community the same level of arts and culture education that you received when you were younger.
Participating in the student theater club helped me set a specific career goal for myself. Now that I have achieved that goal, I can say that arts and culture education played an important role in my life and in my career. After witnessing first hand both in myself and in my peers that arts and culture education helped us grow from within, I can say without a doubt that such education is essential and valuable to students. However, I am aware that the same value and goals that I had realized by choosing theater cannot be easily conveyed across all classes. After all, a student club includes a relatively small number of members who have the luxury of getting to know each other very well and are presented with multiple opportunities to share various experiences. The same cannot be said for other classes, which are often limited by time or other factors. Despite this, I often think about how arts and culture education can be used to provide students with something more.
Is there anything that you try not to lose sight of or any sentiment you keep in mind while partaking in arts and culture education?
Now as someone who is working as an arts educator, I try my best to try to listen closely to my students and try to connect with them on a personal level. If I had received a similar type of arts and culture education that instead had focused on reaching first place and nothing else, I would not be the person I am today. They say that students follow in the footsteps of their teachers, and this rings true with me when I think of how my teacher repeatedly told us that acting comes from the heart, not from the head. That is something that has stuck with me throughout these years. Also, thanks to the friends with whom I could share both the good times and the bad times, I was able to grow into a much more respectful person. I was not the only one, for I remember a friend who was feeling down and found comfort in the emotional expression that came with performing on stage, as well as another friend who overcame traumatic experiences that damaged her self-esteem and moved on to become a confident leader. Although a person’s life is unlikely to change drastically after a single class, as an arts and culture educator, I am always devoted to my work and constantly thinking of various new methods of reaching my students. I believe that it is both natural and important for human beings to embrace and express their emotions honestly, whether they feel happy, sad, or hurt. While that does not mean I encourage people to just let it all out without taking responsibility, I do believe it is important for people to learn how to understand their emotions. The more I know about myself, the more I can learn about others and the more considerate I can be towards them.
Lastly, what do you think the role of arts and culture education is in society?
When I think about Korea’s education system, the first words that come to mind are standardized, input-driven, and first place. Many students tend to receive input-driven education in order to enter a good university, which means they are stuck sitting at a desk all day studying. People have become so solely focused on themselves that it is more common to see students staring at their phones than running around together in the school gym. Although the development of various channels enables students to access and learn a lot more information than before, they are still kids at heart. The vast majority of students find themselves studying without even knowing what they want to do in life. I believe that arts and culture education can help today’s youth break free from the stagnant reality they are faced with, break down barriers in communication, and help teach them what it means to work together. Even if students choose not to follow a career path in the arts, arts and culture education can still help them realize and express their unique strengths, build self-esteem, and develop leadership skills. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the sad reality is that many of us are growing accustomed to varying levels of social distancing in our daily lives. However, one thing to be sure of is that human beings are, by nature, creatures of community and cannot survive alone. I believe that arts and culture education can help teach society how to maintain close relationships while being physically apart. I hope that arts and culture education can be an outlet for comfort for those who need it and play a role in promoting a healthier society.
Kim Na-ye first began performing in theater as a member of the student theater club Onsaeromi when she was a student at Yeongdeungpo Girls’ High School in Seoul. In 2011, along with the other members of her group, she performed Camillia at the 7th Kijimuna Festa, an international youth festival held in Okinawa. In 2012, her team won the group grand prize with their performance of The Blowing Acacia Petals at the 6th SAC Youth Musical Competition. Kim majored in counseling psychology at Sejong Cyber University and completed a professional training course at the Institute of Light Finders to become an educational theater instructor. Currently, she is working as a teaching instructor at the Tree of Life and as a student activity teacher at her old high school and a musical drama instructor at elementary and middle schools.