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Officials kill projects amid Me Too

Some to be converted, others delayed or scrapped altogether
Mar 02,2018
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When the Suwon city government in Gyeonggi was chosen in 2013 to host Korea’s most beloved poet, Ko Un, it spent 950 million won ($874,000) on reconstructing an abandoned house where Ko would live and work, hoping to build for itself a national reputation as some sort of literary hub.

Then came the Me Too movement.

This year, Ko Un was one of the first in the local literary world to be accused of sexually harassing women for decades, though the poet, who has often been cited as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, never admitted to the allegations or issued an apology.

But with more women coming forward and vividly describing their experiences with the 84-year-old, including several who claim he pulled down his pants when they were alone with him and asked them to grab his penis, the Gyeonggi capital now finds itself scrambling to erase every trace of him from the city.

With Ko’s announcement last February that he would leave the sponsored house by the end of this year, without specifying exactly when he would go or where his new address would be, Suwon authorities are now contemplating how to make use of the space. Among the options, according to officials, are turning it into a public office, where authors living nearby can freely come to write, or an ecology learning center.

The Seoul government, which set aside nearly 300 million won last November to decorate a room dedicated to Ko on the third floor of the Seoul Metropolitan Library in Jung District, central Seoul, began to tear down the exhibit hall on Tuesday.

The space was used to exhibit Ko’s personal goods, including his clothes, glasses, hat, desk and nearly 3,000 books he used as references while authoring “Maninbo: Peace & War” (2015), a collection of his poems that took him 30 years to complete.

The Miryang government in South Gyeongsang faced a similar fate after Lee Youn-taek, 66, a renowned playwright and producer, was accused of raping and sexually harassing several actresses over the past decades. Lee only admitted to the harassment allegations and apologized.

When accusations against him began to surface, Lee’s Street Theatre Troupe was running the so-called Miryang Theater Village, a district specially designated by the city government to offer numerous cultural performances for local residents throughout the year.

The theatre troupe was using the land for free and received sponsorship from the Miryang government for its shows. Last month, the city scrapped the deal, kicked the group out and is now looking for a plan B.

Officials in Suncheon, South Jeolla, shut down a studio named after Bae Bien-u when his former students at the Seoul Institute of the Arts claimed they were sexually harassed by the prestigious photographer when he worked there as a professor. Bae used to hold his photo exhibitions in the three-story building and teach photography to the city’s residents.

The Ulju Mountain Film Festival, whose executive committee is led by the cartoonist Park Jae-dong, has indefinitely postponed a ceremony that was to officially announce the launch of its organizing group, when Park was mired in the Me Too movement last month facing allegations of rape. Ulsan’s Ulju County was in charge of managing and sponsoring the festival.

BY KIM MIN-WOOK, WEE SUNG-WOOK AND LIM SUN-YOUNG [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]