Red tape, faults blight arts centre

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 January, 2009, 12:00am

Tenants complain about defective equipment, delayed theatre, lack of publicity

A pilot creative arts centre converted from a factory building has been struggling since its opening last March, with some of its tenant artists complaining about bureaucratic administration and defective equipment.

Complaints about the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre in Shek Kip Mei include unusable public space, inadequate publicity, delayed opening of the theatre, and tap water tainted with rust.

The centre, a revitalised nine- storey factory building housing 120 artists, was an initiative of Baptist University to provide workspace for artists and promote arts.

It is holding open days today and tomorrow, with artists from 10 studios organising special activities.

With a donation of HK$69 million from the Jockey Club Charities Trust for renovation, the centre is managed by a company under the university, which was granted the short-term land lease without paying a premium to the government.

Ten months after moving in, Lai Sau-hin, who plays, teaches, makes and repairs the Chinese instruments erhu and guqin in his 900 sq ft studio, is considering terminating his two-year lease. The musician, 65, moved into his studio from Prince Edward in March in the hope of meeting more musicians, but he is disappointed to see many shut their doors.

Lai's studio and those of six other musicians occupy different floors.

'I can't make any money out of this. I thought this would be an arts mall, but no one is coming,' he said.

The performances he staged earlier attracted only a few visitors and three students, he said, and old customers had stopped coming.

He said he would leave as soon as he recovered the HK$60,000 rent he had paid. So far he has earned HK$50,000.

Although the centre says on its website that it 'encourage[s] tenants to interact with the public rather than just occupy the units as offices or studios', not all open their doors.

Three of six retail outlets remain unleased.

One artist's idea of throwing a poon choi feast accompanied by performances in an effort to get visitors and artists together was recently ruled out by curator Andrew Lam Hon-kin.

'Someone in the management office said: 'If someone drops a piece of tofu on the ground, who will pick it up?'' Lam said.

Lam, who was a member of the museums advisory group for the West Kowloon Cultural District, said the centre should serve as a reference for management of the new arts hub.

'Artists cannot use all the public space,' he said. 'When the West Kowloon hub has half of its area as such space and involves many more artists, management has to be flexible.

'I understand this is only the beginning, but the red tape is discouraging.'

Artists and former staff members have made attempts to promote the centre themselves. A non-official website contains the latest events and news clips. It also introduces tenants' artwork and contact information, missing from the official website.

Painters Mac Mak Keung-wai and April Chan Heung-yu moved in believing the centre would be 'interactive and activity-based', as the centre's brochure said, but they said they now found themselves among the few who would organise activities on the podium every week.

Mak said visitor numbers could be fewer than 100 on an average Saturday. 'If people come in and find most studios shut, I doubt they will come again.'

The couple are spending HK$450 each month on bottled water to drink and to wash paintbrushes, since their unit and some others have a rusty-water problem, which will not be solved until later this month.

The delayed opening of the black-box theatre has led to performer Hoi Chiu cancelling the shows he prepared. 'Performers, unlike visual artists, need audiences and a happening space to survive,' he said.

Management attributed the delay to a holdup in obtaining a licence for a place of public entertainment.

Democrats lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan criticised the management as bureaucratic and said he would ask to meet the government to discuss strengthening its monitoring of the centre.

A Home Affairs Bureau spokeswoman said the bureau, as an observer on the board of the management company, had discussed the complaints with Baptist University, which would start regular consultation meetings with tenants.