West Kowloon: Can’t we have HK$23b for arts and culture instead?
Apparently, the government thinks that HK$23 billion is good money for the construction of an integrated basement – to honour the Foster + Partners’ City Park West Kowloon Cultural District plan “selected” by people back then – to contain all the road traffic underground in a cultural district that was originally estimated to cost HK$21.6 billion.
In the latest revised implementation phasing and budget for the West Kowloon Cultural District, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor assured us that HK$21.6 billion – the upfront endowment approved by the Legco to build the arts hub in 2008 – would be enough to complete the eight cultural facilities outlined in the first two phases by 2020:
Phase 1, 2015 – 2017
Freespace [black box + outdoor stage]
Arts Pavilion [exhibition spaces]
Xiqu Centre [Centre for Chinese opera for those who don’t understand the word Xiqu]
M+ [visual culture museum]
Phase 2, 2017-2020
Lyric Theatre [for dance]
Centre for Contemporary Performance [delayed due to express rail link hold ups]
Medium Theatre II [also delayed due to express rail link problems]
There are supposed to be a phase 3 where four more buildings – the Great Theatre, Music Centre, Musical Theatre and Medium Theatre I – have been mooted, but as yet their future remains up in the air. Lam said whether these buildings will be built depends on the state of Hong Kong’s cultural development after 2020.
The way Lam worded this was probably to find a way to get out of this big mess, but what she was really saying is that these four buildings are not going to happen – the government is not likely to cultivate a holistic cultural policy, or loosen its purse strings to support cultural development.
Just at the beginning of this year, nine publicly funded major performing arts groups called for the government to increase its over all spending on arts and cultural from less than one per cent of total government expenditure, to two per cent – putting Hong Kong on par with South Korea.
A quick look at past records show that Hong Kong’s cultural budget has in fact dropped over the past three years, from 1.2 per cent in 2010/11 to 0.98 per cent in 2011/12. The percentage went back up to 1.01 per cent in 2012/13 but will again ease to 0.93 per cent for the current financial year – to some HK$3.3 billion, according to the Home Affairs Bureau.
Property and construction are not really my area of expertise. All I know is that HK$23 billion would be enough to fund the following for quite some time, based on their annual government subvention figures:
- Arts Development Council for 240 years (HK$95.8 million a year)
- Academy for Performing Arts for 81 years (HK$283 million a year)
- Nine major performing arts groups for 75 years (HK$304.2 million a year)
- Public heritage, museums and exhibitions for 37 years (HK$613.5 million a year)
- Public performing arts venues and programmes for 24 years (HK$947.4 million a year)
Indeed, there has been no U-turn on plans for the grand basement so far, but bear in mind that the basement with its great cooling system and quiet traffic will not make West Kowloon a real cultural district.
You have to put the content there – and that's what this city needs to invest in.