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[Bridging Cultures] Czech Center director links ‘true culture’ to quality

May 13, 2024 - 15:29 By Choi Si-young
Michal Emanovsky, director of the Czech Center Seoul, speaks during an interview with The Korea Herald at his office in Seoul on April 17. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

In an era of instant messaging, appreciating longer forms of the arts, such as orchestral performances, has become challenging. That’s why quality matters more now than ever, because the way culture is presented determines how people explore their inner thoughts, according to Michal Emanovsky, the director of the Czech Center Seoul.

“To be honest, money is a very important part of making decisions about projects,” Emanovsky said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald. The director was referring to the cultural outreach he has been tasked to lead since 2022.

But aside from stating the obvious, quality has to be “primary” in what Emanovsky calls the “long format culture” represented by classical music performances, books and films. Emanovsky was an associate principal horn at the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra from 2006 to 2021.

“I feel like most people can arrive into depth through arts and culture, reading quality (books) and seeing quality films,” he said, describing such activities as seeking “in-depth knowledge about the world,” and, eventually, the “meaning of life.”

What facilitates such a deep dive into the meaning of our lives, Emanovsky noted, is “true culture.” The director acknowledged that music, books and films may not be the only way to achieve this, citing religious practices as an avenue to similar explorations and self-reflection.

Embracing ‘true culture’

Smartphones are the biggest enemy because they encourage a shallow approach to entertainment, Emanovsky pointed out, labeling the device as antithetical to appreciating true culture. “I feel like I’m a fighter who is trying to promote the idea that this matters, not just to Czech culture, but to culture in general.”

“And now I have a chance to actually shape what gets delivered to the people,” he said, referring to his previous orchestra experience as a bonus because he had the opportunity to explore for himself what the long format culture entails -- devoting more time instead of a “quick and easy fix.”

The Czech Center’s joint exhibition last year with the Korea Foundation on promoting sustainable development goals is the kind of message he wants to put out. “Towards the Day After Today” ran from late February to early April 2023, showcasing works by Czech photographer David Tesinsky.

Michal Emanovsky, director of the Czech Center Seoul, poses for a photo ahead of an interview with The Korea Herald at his office in Seoul on April 17. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

“We presented (the works) through playful augmented reality apps,” said the director, explaining how the center made sure that people did not shun the serious topic of closing the wealth gap while advancing biodiversity and clean energy.

“We want to present those topics that matter,” Emanovsky added, saying that the center is also interested in working with smaller partners like local libraries.

Culture projects underway

“You can’t just play the big symphonies in the Seoul Arts Center. You also have to go out to the people and talk. ... It’s not necessarily small because I feel like it introduces the country in a way that an exhibition might not,” Emanovsky said.

Starting in June, the center aims to connect with students from four middle schools in Seoul through the “EU Goes to School” program.

As part of the program, the 47-year-old director sits down with a group of students, making conversation about Czechia, a member of the 27-member European Union.

“We playfully present Czech stuff to children,” Emanovsky said, showing off items from puzzles that test the Czech language to puppets and hats -- all hints of Czech traditions children can easily identify with.

Emanovsky came up with the idea, having launched it in July 2023 at an educational center run by the Gangnam-gu Office. In September of the same year, he met with some 180 Subuk Elementary School students in Damyang County, South Jeolla Province.

Michal Emanovsky (center standing), director of the Czech Center Seoul, meets with students from Subuk Elementary School in Damyang County, South Jeolla Province on Sept. 26, 2023. (Czech Center Seoul)

Emanovsky is keen on extending his “personal touch” to local libraries, where he believes he can introduce children to his “Czech 101.”

The musician-turned-director pointed to celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of composer Bedrich Smetana and the 100th anniversary of the death of writer Franz Kafka as some of the highlights this year.

While concerts on Czech musicians will soon take place, an exhibition on Kafka is already underway.

Sojeonseolim Book Art Gallery is showcasing the novelist’s works along with illustrations by Czech artist Renata Fucikova. The exhibition on the writer, whose name is synonymous with modern anxiety and alienation, is running through June 30.

This is the third in a series of interviews with heads of foreign cultural centers at the forefront of cultural exchange. --Ed.