By Shim Sun-ah
SEOUL, May 23 (Yonhap) -- The Asian Cultural History Program of the U.S. Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History is pushing for a plan to establish a research center in South Korea to facilitate exchanges of curatorial and scholarly people between the two countries, the head of the program said Tuesday.
"Our office will try to establish a kind of counterpart research center office here. So we have exchanges of curatorial and scholarly people between the two countries," Paul Michael Taylor, director of the program and curator of Asian, European, and Middle Eastern Ethnology, said.
"And we may try to establish an office here for that purpose just jointly with some other organization. These are some of the ideas we're discussing here," he said during an exclusive interview with Yonhap News Agency at a Seoul hotel.
Taylor arrived here Thursday as a guest to the Daegu International Musical Festival (DIMF) that kicked off at various places in Daegu, about 240 kilometers southeast of Seoul, for an 18-day run.
On Tuesday, he also attended a ceremony at the National Assembly for launching a memorial society to honor late South Korean taekwondo master Jhoon Rhee on the sidelines of his visit. Rhee is widely recognized as the "father of American taekwondo" for introducing the martial art to the United States in the 1950s. The museum will take part in the memorial society.
He said the Asian Cultural History Program is interested in topics like the cultural history of Korea, heritage, and history of music, and forecast the research center will serve a bridge role between the two countries.
"All these topics can be studied in Washington, but ideally they're studied in both places, both in Korea and in our records in our collections. So that's why we'd like to develop some kind of a base which we could use and develop a base in Washington that we can offer for our Korean friends and counterpart's scholars."
Discussions are still ongoing over various possibilities and his organization will announce the plan when its details are fixed, he added.
In 2007, he was responsible for the opening of the museum's Korea gallery, which provided a comprehensive view of Korean history and modernity. It was the museum's first permanent independent exhibition space dedicated to a country.
As a curator with approximately 40 years of experience at the Smithsonian and cultural anthropologist, he said he feels no regrets about the Korea gallery's closure after a decade of operation.
"We were very lucky to get it as long as we did, and it was the most popular Korean exhibit. So, no regrets," he said, calling it the flagship exhibition of the program's very active Korean heritage project.
The exhibition presented 7 million visitors per year for 10 years with an introduction to Korea's millennia of history and its distinctive culture, he added.
He also positively rated the memorandum of understanding (MOU) recently signed between the South Korean government and the Smithsonian Institution for the expansion of cultural exchange and cooperation, emphasizing that carrying out the agreement is more important.
"We want to look at it as what it is as a symbol of good cooperation, which we have always done even before the MOU, so we will continue that after the MOU," Taylor said.