Rents could push artists out
You would think Hong Kong has plenty of room for the creative industry. Each year, the Hong Kong Arts Festival brings in well-known artists from all over the world. Local artists are frequently seen performing in venues under the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. And the government has poured a one-off HK$21.6 billion into building the West Kowloon Cultural District.
But one group of artists in Hong Kong are struggling to find a base.
Ocean Leung Yu-tung was forced to leave his studio in an industrial building in Fo Tan, Sha Tin district, this month. He and a few other artists had rented a 1,000-square-foot studio together for four years. 'We used the studio to make music and do our own production,' says the 28-year-old artist, who paints and produces video art. His fellow artists are musicians in a band. 'My neighbouring artist was also asked to leave [by his landlord],' Leung says. 'I found it strange.'
Another artist, Homan Ho Man-chung, has had to cope with rising rent. He used to pay HK$6,000 per month for his 1,200 sq ft workshop studio in the same industrial building. Last year, the rent rose to HK$7,200. Adding utility bills, his monthly expenses on the studio are close to HK$10,000, more than many young artists can afford, though he is staying.
'I need the space to put my heavy equipment, and to work on my life-size products,' says Ho, 27, who produces art of various types.
'Industrial buildings are the most suitable for us, because of their ample space.'
Space is a problem for some 200 artists renting studio flats in industrial buildings in Fo Tan.
And the government's policy to revitalise run-down areas, launched last April, may be making things worse. 'Since the policy, many landlords have raised their rents or terminated our leases,' Ho says.
Leung, Ho and other artists in Fo Tan have formed a group called the Fotanians. They are mostly past or current fine arts students of Chinese University who rented studios in the area because of their affordable rent and proximity. The Fotanians are well-known among the locals. They have an open day each year, when they display their artworks to the public. The event attracts a large, mostly young, crowd to the art studios in Fo Tan.
About two years ago, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen called for the revitalisation of industrial buildings. The idea was to develop the local arts scene while responding to the city's changing economic and social needs.
But some landlords want to convert the old factory buildings into hotels or other more profitable ventures. So the artists feel left out.
'I think the revitalisation policy is actually benefiting the developers,' Leung says. 'The government is irresponsible. On the one hand, it talks about developing the creative industry in Hong Kong. On the other hand, it ignores our survival.
'The West Kowloon cultural hub also needs an audience. We are helping to build the atmosphere and gather an audience for the art scene. And we are the audience, too. There is no long-term plan for Hong Kong's artistic and cultural development.'
Ho adds: 'It will take about 10 years for any artist to establish themselves and become successful. How can we work towards that goal when we don't even have a place to work?'
He has considered moving to the mainland, where things are cheaper.
'If the rent keeps on rising, we will all have to leave and the local art scene here will be gone in less than 10 years,' Ho says. 'There will only be shopping malls and restaurants in Fo Tan.'