Cultures of Resistance Network Proud to Support NY Philharmonic Concert in Pyongyang

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In February 2008, the New York Philharmonic made a historic trip to North Korea to perform in Pyongyang; it was the first time that an American arts group of any kind had ever performed there. The Cultures of Resistance network was pleased to support this performance and to join the New York Philharmonic in Pyongyang.

The performance has been hailed as a potentially historic step in the path towards rapprochement on the Korean peninsula. Over two thousand audience members, mostly made up of North Korea's communist elite, gave America's oldest orchestra a standing ovation after a rousing set that concluded with a Korean folk song, Arirang, an unofficial national anthem in both North and South Korea. Some of the musicians were so overcome with emotion they left the stage in tears.

NY Philharmonic performs Arirang in N. Korea
VIDEO: English | Korean

"I want to keep the follow up in mind, the question is how is this going to trickle down to the average North Korean citizen," said Iara Lee, founder of the Cultures of Resistance network. Lee was one of twenty-five patrons of the Philharmonic who joined the orchestra in Pyongyang. "Everybody was crying. It was so emotional. Can you imagine, seeing the two flags, North Korea and the United States, up on the same stage?"

The Cultures of Resistance network is also engaged on a number of other fronts to use culture as a force for change in the "Hermit Kingdom." The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), the country's first English language institution of higher learning, opened its doors in September 2009. The Cultures of Resistance has facilitated an international lecture series to expose North Korean students to scholars and business people from around the world. Through the Make Films Not War project, we also collaborated with the Pyongyang Film Festival in 2008 by coordinating the delegation of filmmakers and performers that made up the jury, as well as facilitating the submission of a few American films to the festival, a first for North Korea.

The momentum from Philharmonic Concert appears unstoppable. A week after the Philharmonic performed, a North Korean diplomat in London invited rock guitarist Eric Clapton to perform in Pyongyang—the first such invitation to a Western rock star to the country.

Coverage in the media

Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry attended the concert and told the Associated Press afterward, "You don't go to war with people unless you demonize them first. You cannot demonize people when you're sitting there listening to their music."

Over a hundred foreign correspondents were also in attendance, helping to transmit news of the concert worldwide. Over seventy countries aired the concert live on satellite television, and the North Korean state television station (the Hermit Kingdom's only broadcaster) aired it live. CNN's Christiane Amanpour reported from the concert, and aired a live interview with North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, who called the orchestra's visit, "very successful art-diplomacy between the two nations." Foreign journalists were allowed unhindered internet access and international phone lines, unheard of in a country that imprisons people for unauthorized contact with the outside world.

The concert comes at a time when ongoing six-nation nuclear disarmament negotiations are currently at an impasse over the North's reluctance to make a full declaration of its atomic programs. North and South Korea have no diplomatic ties, are technically still at war and have troops staring at each other across the heavily fortified border that has divided the two countries for more than half a century.

The concert was a powerful affirmation of the work being waged by cultural activists and musical diplomats. This most recent symbol of a musical bridge to peace gives us hope that we are indeed moving closer to a world where "Make Music Not War" is not just the name of a campaign, but a widely accepted truism about how to resolve conflict.

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