West Kowloon Cultural District

In search of a gem to lead cultural district

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 May, 2015, 11:46am

Appointing a CEO for the West Kowloon Cultural District is perhaps the most important responsibility its authority members will undertake in their term of office. For the success of the cultural district, and for Hong Kong, choosing the right person is foundational.

Trustworthiness, confidence and enthusiasm are imperatives, as are the chosen person's abilities and experience to lead a project of this complexity, to balance relationships between government, business, community, and local and international arts and cultural organisations.

But the determinate coup for the district's definitive realisation and sustainability will be vision and the ability to espouse, articulate and communicate that to stakeholders near and far.

The cultural district is more than a sizeable challenge, although size really does matter in terms of influencing its success. Obviously the way partners work together will have an impact on its success. Yet, perhaps paradoxically, an arms-length relationship between the CEO, the authorities and partners will have a bearing on the district's creative and innovative capacity. There will also need to be clear recognition of the value of a healthy interdependence among all partners, especially among cultural providers.

The formula for success may be far from straightforward. The spectre of numerous partners with varying agendas driven by different corporate structures brought together in the cultural district may be truly frightening when trying to reach a consensus. We might wonder: will it all be worth it? You bet it will be.

Few people, and few projects, have the potential to influence so many lives, not just today but in tomorrow's generations.

Culture, like soft diplomacy, needs at least temperate conditions if it is to be fertile; to be, in the words of Lord Chris Smith, 'something you grow people in'. With so much depending on the development of creative and resourceful people, it is crucial that the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority finds the most resourceful, creative and transformative CEO possible.

The project must succeed not simply in its business plan, visitor numbers, capital growth, property development and iconography, but in terms of its vision and its potential to become an arts and cultural 'living room' open to all.

That requires a huge act of leadership and resources. Of course, the overall 'package' of resources for the cultural centre must make a difference. But it is wrong to assume that will be a sole determining factor. There are cultural districts that have had substantial amounts of pump priming. But they may not be appreciably more advanced than those which have not had such benefits, but are run along interesting lines.

Finding the right CEO in any locale is a bit like panning for gold - time consuming, generally dispiriting, but with the reward of the odd, exceptional shiny vein.

So, here's to the new appointee.

Professor Kevin Thompson is director of The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts