Between tradition and modernity, a South Korean woman creates a multicultural space in the heart of Seoul. Welcome to KOTE!
It’s not a myth, in South Korea, we work a lot, everywhere and until late … So depending on one’s profession, hobbies or needs, it is common to meet South Koreans with their computer, in the many cafes or co-working spaces that Seoul has.
At Atelier Insadong, we are not left out! We too, and for a long time, have enjoyed working in “nomadic” mode. This way we explore better our favorite city which, by the way, is always in motion and under effervescence …
We like to discover and stroll through new neighborhoods, new spaces. There was only one step for us to push a little by chance (which does things well …), the doors of KOTE and have a meeting that we remember! That of Julie Ahn who created this atypical, multicultural and artistic space intended for South Korean artists and creatives. But not only …
KOTE café, courtyard side.
KOTE, a unique collaborative artistic & cultural space in Seoul
Nestled in the heart of historic Insa-dong, downtown Seoul, KOTE is a haven of peace favorable to creativity in all its forms. In addition to being a beautiful, large welcoming and open space, its specificity is to be a place where the old and the new, the modern and the traditional, blend harmoniously, in synergy and complementarity.
Sheltered from the hustle and bustle of the nearby famous shopping streets, KOTE, thanks to Julie’s vision and passionate tenacity, offers South Korean artists and designers nearly 3,800 square meters of space to foster a “creative co-existence”, while housing a café, temporary exhibitions, conferences and a co-working space open to the public. A place as we love them at Atelier Insadong!
Being a woman
In South Korea.
Being a woman entrepreneur in Korea is just as complex and difficult as anywhere else in the world. With the difference that we harbor a little less illusions here because things are clearly displayed and we know in advance that the road will be particularly difficult in a pro-male society …
Fortunately Julie Ahn, is not one of those who lets herself be stopped by this … This is evidenced by her professional career as an editor for Time Korea magazine or as an asset manager in the real estate sector. Convinced by her desire to actively work for changes in mentalities in South Korean society, she decided to change her professional course to embark on the entrepreneurship of social, cultural and artistic projects. With her company July Partners, she can finally devote herself to projects that are close to her heart, such as KOTE. A place that meets real cultural and artistic needs, in the life of the high-tech capital city.
Julie Ahn, CEO & Founder of KOTE
The Guided Tour
with Julie AHN
”It is important that KOTE takes its part in the continuity of Insadong district history, that in its turn contributes to promoting exchange and openness to all, whatever one's place in society."Julie Ahn@kote.kr
On March 1, 2020, Independence Day in South Korea, a brand new hybrid collaborative space is inaugurated in the heart of Seoul: KOTE. Dedicated to culture, artists and designers, this brand new place is also intended to unify and accelerate change of mentalities by being completely open to the public. As its Founder and Director Julie Ahn explained to us, it was a question of offering a place redesigned and repositioned in relation to the initial project, to make it an open-plan place that targets a wider audience. A place that aims to be more inclusive, with an independent spirit, in a style that is both traditional and arty. With its large and different indoor and outdoor spaces, KOTE offers co-working, art exhibitions, conferences, musical and theatrical performances, in addition to very pleasant cafés.
KOTE Seoul, a modern place steeped in history
All the charm and the particularity of this place is that it is laid around a large interior courtyard, where grows a tree that is legendary in the land of morning calm, the Paulownia, also called Odong in Korean. It is in homage to this hundred-year-old tree that the name of this brand new space was chosen. Indeed, “KOTE” which comes from the word “flower” or “꽃” in Hangeul, represents the flower of the Odong tree (오동 나무 꽃). Besides this same word, also phonetically evokes in Korean, the English word of “court”. A well-found name which not only makes sense, but which also has its full meaning within the history of the place and the area …
Located at the junction of Pimat-gol alley and Seung Dong church, KOTE courtyard turns out to be an emblematic place in the history of the city and the country. Pimat-gol피맛골 (or Pimagil) refers to the alley used by the commoners. During the Joseon dynasty (1392-1897), it was an alley that the Koreans used to avoid crossing on Jongno Avenue, located a few meters away, aristocrats and high officials on horseback, who they had an obligation to greet by bowing each time they passed. The busy alley thus developed in time, was full of restaurants and bars that served traditional drinks and dishes, such as makgoelli, bindaetteok, gukbab, among many others. Today, due to successive urban developments, this Pimat-gol alley has almost completely disappeared.
For Julie Ahn, it is particularly important to perpetuate the spirit that has long animated this area: “This place, once so humble and welcoming, is loaded with all the memories of this alley, in which all kinds of stories and emotions were shared by everyone, regardless of their place in society. It is important that all of this continues to resonate with KOTE, which aims to be a space for exchange open to all”.
As for the Seung Dong Church, it played a leading role in the March 1st 1919 Movement for Korean independence from the Japanese occupation. It is indeed in this church, where protesting students used to meet, that they coordinated the events leading up to the reading and signing of the Declaration of Independence.
A place of cultural resistance in Seoul: between artistic freedom and creative exchanges
KOTE is openly part of an approach of cultural and artistic resistance in this traditional district of Insadong, which has become very touristy in recent years. A place apart, far from the ambient conformism, this generously sized cultural center has been designed to promote freedom of expression and creation in all its forms. It was imagined as a place to welcome diversity, ideas and concepts driven by a cultural and artistic approach. While relying on a layout specially made to promote exchanges, stimulated by the free movement between the various interior and exterior spaces.
At KOTE, everything is open and everyone is free to move around as they wish between the floors and the courtyard. Upstairs in the main building, KOTE lab offers a generous co-working space, dedicated to creatives and their projects. From there, you can access KOTE book & press, a magnificent space that houses old printing presses, real museum pieces, and in which many events are held, such as screenings of Korean and foreign films, as well as cultural meetings.
On the other side of the courtyard, we find KOTE Dialogue, the conference space with a rich program of presentations and eclectic debates, often in several languages, and which aims to enhance and stimulate freedom of exchange and expression. All this is far from trivial, because exchanging freely and giving your opinion, especially when it differs from that of others, is not common in Korea, nor very well received … Indeed, the debate of ideas, which can lead to tensions or conflicts, is considered negatively because it generates emotions which cannot be always controlled. But at KOTE, on the contrary, they want to demonstrate that freedom of expression is very important and even that it is a force for creation and change. An approach that is openly subversive in order to promote overcoming of cultural, social and educational limits that Korean society imposes on people and that they impose on themselves in return. By virtue of its approach, its program and its proactive openness, KOTE is a committed and essential player in the new cultural and artistic dynamics of the Seoul megalopolis.
In Seoul, do not miss this space of sharing, exchange, cultural & artistic aspirations, in perpetual motion. Each visit is unique, with the coloring of a snapshop, placed under the benevolent and creative energy of this place steeped in history.