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An Interview with Tak Mu-kwon: Giving Life to Culture in Our Society

Maybe many Kingos are enjoying cultural life at the end of the year. Some may have seen a movie, gone to a gallery, or read a book. People enjoy their own cultural lives, but few people necessarily care about culture itself. Among these people, there is one person who is striving for the cultural diversity of our society. He is Tak Mu-kwon. The Sungkyunkwan Times (SKT), met with Tak Mu-kwon who is the owner of Nowon Bookstore and the complex cultural platform, The Forest.

Sowing the Seeds of The Forest

1. Please introduce yourself to the Kingos.

Well, I majored in History at Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) in 1976. At that time, the foundation was Samsung, and in 1977, the foundation problem was a big issue. The foundation’s action towards SKKU was controversial. So I did a demonstration to prevent it and was expelled. Later, I left the university in 1979 because I was implicated for being part of the demonstration and I later went back to school in 1987 to finally graduate.

2. What drove you to start Nowon Mungo?

I started Nowon Mungo in 1994. At the time, there were two kinds of bookstores. One type was the large bookstore and the other was the very small bookstore. Medium-sized bookstores that represent the regions were hard to find. Comparing bookstores to society, the middle class, which might be equivalent to a medium-sized bookstore, was so small that the market was unhealthy. Like all ecosystems, markets should have trunks like trees, not just branches and roots. I started Nowon Bookstore because I thought that a middle class was needed in terms of the bookstore ecosystem.

3. How could you run Nowon Bookstores for 25 years among other large bookstores? Statistically, it is much more likely that internal deterioration would lead to failure rather than simply external changes. In other words, the main reason is self-destructing where there is a failure to react properly to external changes. This does not apply to all stores, but they are generally not very good at pursuing change when they are in trouble. On the other hand, Nowon Mungo has made a lot of effort to make internal changes such as our operation style, system, and staff management. We have changed little by little to survive.

Thinking of a Better Society

4. How was The Forest started?

The Forest is a space that combines various spaces, including a movie theater, gallery, cafe, and stage. As people read fewer and fewer books, bookstores have slumped. Online bookstores are also encroaching on offline bookstores. Therefore, challenges for offline bookstores were to evolve as well. Various types of bookstores emerged and, one of them was called Tsutaya in Japan. Many people tried to benchmark Tsutaya, but the store was too big and needed a lot of skill and experience. So, I wanted to pursue small diversity in Korea. As a result, the bookstore has changed into The Forest.

5. The Forest combines various cultural spaces. How did the various spaces come together?

I think movies and books are like twins. They need each other. It is a book if you want to express content on paper, and a movie if you want to express it in a video. However, people do not read books very often these days, so I planned to build a movie theater to supplement that with video. The nature of the movies that we are screening in The Forest are different from that of ordinary movie theaters. Instead of commercial films of violent, sexual and entertaining content, we are screening movies with cultured content at the level of books. Movies should include the contents of the book and should be diversified. There are many books in the bookstore, but not many movies in the theater. Even if many people are watching a movie, we should look into whether the movie is a desirable one.

A gallery is an important aspect of art, but locals lack such space. Korea is a backward country in terms of culture compared to national income. Because there are few galleries run by private operators, we are operating a gallery with the spirit of experimentation. We also provide concerts together. In conclusion, The Forest was created by combining the need for a private-operating cultural space in the local area with the evolution of bookstores. When I first started it, I knew only books, so I had a lot of difficulties. I am doing this with the help of experts in the entertainment field because I do not know the genres of film, art, and performances.

6. Is there a reason why you are particularly interested in cultural development?

Although Korea is a developed country, it is hard to find a happy person if you look into society. The government also invests less in cultural welfare than in social welfare. While social welfare is just about supporting people to live and eat, cultural welfare makes people happy. I thought that cultural welfare is necessary. Also, culture is not pervaded in Korea because of emphasis on competition. That’s why many people do not know how to appreciate or enjoy art. Culture is diversity. When cultural diversity is realized, Korea will become an advanced country and feel happier. In this context, The Forest is trying to promote cultural diversity.

The Future of Tak Mu-kwon

7. What are your future goals?

The Forest has been run for three years and still has lots of things to supplement. If I complement more content and make a profit, I want to open a second and third store, and then maybe more. I hope that our current business will become a center for the community that provides and shares cultural content and local cultural space. And I will support various young people in the cultural and artistic fields. In particular, The Forest is now doing a program that allows people to live and experience overseas life, which is going on in Berlin. It is a goal and also it is going on. In the future, I want to expand this program to tens of countries. Also, I hope that The Forest becomes a successful model that many people in other regions want to benchmark.

8. Please give some advice to Kingos.

Everyone has a goal. Maybe your goals will vary depending on the environment you have grown up in, conditions, and hopes, but I hope that you set your goals based on values. Values do not mean self-profits but are more like the concept of the public. Consider your work and the public interest together. Where there is a will, there is a way. Have a will. A will is like one’s view of life, but it is not about considering one’s interests. Do not do it for money. Do not do it for your honor. Do it for your will. Then there is no doubt that people will follow, it will feel rewarding and you will not regret it. And you will live a noble life. A way would not be a lonely one but will be a heart-filled way. Don’t put material values first. It is good if it follows, but there’s a big difference in order. There will be times when the order will deceive you. Don’t fool yourself when the boundary is ambiguous.

백주희  vb852@naver.com

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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