Clear picture needed on future of arts body

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 January, 2005, 12:00am

The transformation of West Kowloon into an iconic cultural district is intended to make Hong Kong the arts capital of Asia. We have been promised awe-inspiring architecture, world class facilities and famous names from overseas.

But the long-term success of the venture will depend on its ability to nurture local talent and to act as a catalyst for artistic development in Hong Kong.

The plight of the Arts Development Council (ADC) is therefore a matter of concern.

This is the body with the prime responsibility for researching, promoting, developing and funding the arts in Hong Kong. It has an annual budget of more than $100 million. Many arts groups depend on the council for their funding.

But this body is now without a chairman and a chief executive. The government has not appointed anyone to take up these positions, nor has it carried out its duty of appointing 12 councillors.

The ADC does have another 12 members who were elected by the arts community last November - and they are keen to get on with the job. They have, after all, fought election campaigns to win places on the council. But the government has not formally appointed them either. They have been left in limbo.

The result is that this key force behind arts development in Hong Kong is unable to function. The arts groups that rely on it for funding are becoming anxious about their future. This is a poor advertisement for Hong Kong's claim to be emerging as a leading cultural centre for the region.

A leadership vacuum has also been allowed to develop at the Hong Kong Philharmonic Society. The term of office for members of its policy-setting committee ended on October 31. But the government has only just appointed replacements. For more than two months it was left without leadership, making it difficult for the orchestra to implement its plans.

No explanation has been provided by the government for the policy paralysis that was allowed to grip both organisations. But there is plenty of speculation. There are some who fear for the future of the Arts Development Council.

The government rejected a 2002 proposal by the Culture and Heritage Commission that called for the council to be scrapped and replaced by a new cultural foundation. But there are now concerns that the idea of phasing the council out is on the agenda.

The recent establishment of three new cultural committees under the Home Affairs Bureau is fuelling these fears. The members of the committees, which concern the performing arts, museums and libraries, took up their positions on November 1.

They include representatives from the cultural sector, academics, professionals and government officials. Their mission, according to the government, is to 'formulate strategies and plans for the development of cultural facilities and services'. This sounds rather like the role of the Arts Development Council. The chairman of the new committee on performing arts happens to be Darwin Chen Tat-man, who, until recently, was chairman of the ADC.

The council has its share of critics. It has been accused of being too bureaucratic. And home affairs chief Patrick Ho Chi-ping famously suggested, when chairman of the council in 2002, that it funded lazy artists. But the ADC clearly has an important role to play in furthering artistic development in Hong Kong. It would be expected to have considerable input in the future of the West Kowloon cultural district.

The fears of abolition might be misplaced. The government may have every intention of maintaining the council. But officials should make their position clear, one way or the other.

There is no justification for allowing this core arts development body to stagnate - while extolling the virtues of Hong Kong's future as a centre for cultural excellence.