In 1999, the Seoul Metropolitan government collaborated with Yonsei University to create the Haja Project, otherwise known as The Seoul Youth factory for Alternative Culture. Under the stewardship of founding director Cho Hae-Joang, a practising cultural anthropologist and professor at Yonsei University, the project was at the forefront of a new scheme of ‘action research’, aiming to solve the problems of Seoul’s precarious youth from the perspectives of feminism, cultural studies and ecological studies, within the increasingly globalised East Asian context.
Since its inception, the Haja Project has operated through five divisions: web, film, music, design and civil workshops, seeking to cultivate inter-generational relationships and apprenticeships between creative individuals, with an eye to mutual development and cultural enrichment. In 2001, after conducting a vast amount of sociocultural research, the Haja Project instituted a brand new type of alternative school, the Haja Production School, which the organisation describes as, “like a conventional school but at the same time, nothing like the common notion of “school”.” They call it Nabihakkyo, meaning “butterfly school”; a hub of floating networks or “autonomous zones”, orbiting the Haja Centre. The principle aim of the Haja Production School is to prepare youths for life as engaged, creative and compassionate members of their society and global citizens.
Several of the Haja Project’s incubation projects have evolved into successful social enterprises. What began as the Echo Performance Group in 2004 went on to become Noridan, an initiative comprising a performance department which presents new concepts in street and theatrical performance, a design department that produces playgrounds and sculptures, and an education department that develops cultural programs. In 2007, Noridan became the first company from the field of Arts and Culture to be recognised as a certified “social enterprise” by the Ministry of Labour and has since expanded further to become a leading social business for Seoul’s youth.
Other successful offshoots of the program include an organic and multicultural dining and catering service, developed in 2008, named Organisation Yori, Career Week, Youth creative Camp, Moon Market and many more. Cho Hae-Jong’s visionary project has been a crucial element in Seoul’s cultural development over the past two decades, providing a space in which creative ideas and relationships can flourish and enrich the community and its members.