Swire Group

Where's our HK$2m, artist asks mega fund

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 June, 2011, 12:00am


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Attracting more than 50,000 Hongkongers to an art show in Quarry Bay is no mean feat, but it wasn't good enough for the government. Its Mega Events Fund has reneged on a commitment to financially support the exhibition to the tune of HK$2 million, according to its organiser.

Simon Birch (pictured), through the Birch Foundation, organised a multimedia installation called Hope & Glory: A Conceptual Circus in April and May last year at Taikoo Place and applied for government support through the fund.

A month before the free show opened, the Briton, who has been based in the city for more than a decade, received a formal commitment from the fund of HK$2 million.

The show featured works by Hong Kong and mainland artists.

However, last month, Birch was told by an assessment committee chaired by Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung that he would receive only HK$1.3 million. Birch says the reasons given for the decision were insufficient.

The HK$100 million fund was set up in May 2009 to help local non-profit-making organisations host arts, cultural and sporting events to 'further promote Hong Kong as the events capital of Asia'.

Earlier this month, the South China Morning Post reported that almost half of the fund's HK$100 million had yet to be used, with less than 10 months left before the fund is wound up.

A spokeswoman for the Birch Foundation said the organisation regretted applying for the funding, as Birch was now personally in the red by at least HK$700,000 after pouring his own money into the project in order to fulfil fund requirements, in the hope that he could recoup some of it.

The show cost HK$4.6 million to produce, but it could have been done for less than HK$3 million. 'We are disappointed with the [fund's] lack of support and its failure to meet its commitment,' the spokeswoman said.

'[It] was an extraordinary show ... in the number of people who attended and the publicity it generated.' She said the onerous terms of the funding agreement were a disincentive to fostering positive public-private partnerships in Hong Kong, especially in the arts field.

A spokeswoman for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said the funding was reduced because the foundation failed to submit reports and audited accounts on time, and also failed to feature appropriate branding during the event.

She said the foundation had also 'failed to develop tourist packages with the Hong Kong Tourism Board and travel agents as required, failed to maintain and dispose [of] the inventory bought by public funds properly' and 'was unable to provide clear proof' of visitor numbers.

The foundation rejected the claims, saying that the last-minute approval for funding, just weeks before the show started, meant a lot of the requirements had to be implemented retrospectively. The fund rejected the foundation's first audit report and so a second one had to be conducted, which caused a delay in the final submission, the foundation's spokeswoman said.

On visitor numbers, the foundation provided the fund with daily attendance records verified by the venue's landlord, Swire Properties.

The fund has also been criticised by sports bodies including the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, which claimed the eligibility requirements were too stringent.

The bureau spokeswoman confirmed that a full review of the fund's structure would start shortly and that to 'ensure fairness, we have no intention of relaxing the current criteria for the time being'.

The fund assesses each application based on factors including economic benefit, publicity, its scale, the capability and track record of the organisers, the feasibility of the proposal and a sensible budget.

The fund has mainly supported major sports events.

Nine applications were received in the fifth round of funding, which closed in April, with successful applicants to be named next month.