If you recognize the name Paju, chances are that it conjures up visions of soldiers and barbed wire. As the South Korean city closest to the Demilitarized Zone that divides the South from communist North Korea, Paju has long lived beneath a cloud of military tension. Now, a nearby cultural venture known as Heyri Art Valley (heyri.net
) is trying to change that image by establishing the area as a mecca of arts tourism.
Originally conceived by publisher Kim Eoun Ho as a "book village" similar to Hay-on-Wye in Wales, Heyri has evolved to embrace the whole gamut of the arts since its reinvention began in 2001. Today, more than 70 artists, musicians, writers and cineasts—including director Park Chan Wook, winner of the Cannes Grand Prix 2004 for his film Old Boy
—have settled in the 500,000-sq-m valley, 40 minutes north of Seoul. The community is still a work in progress (60 buildings have been completed and 20 are under construction), but tourists will find plenty to see, including cutting-edge architecture, cinemas, cafés, galleries and craft shops. More important, it's a blissful change from the heavy atmosphere that hangs over the military outposts lining the main highway. "We will invite North Korea to host simultaneous cultural events," says Heyri spokesman Yoon Sung Taek. "Celebrating the arts creates harmony."