Artistic impressions

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 September, 2011, 12:00am


I must be getting soft in my old age. 'Let's give our system a chance,' I've been telling frustrated members of the arts community lately about arts administration in this city. 'Don't forget that Hong Kong is only 14 years old and it'll take some time before the old mentality changes.' You see, in the colonial days, the arts were not encouraged. Most schools still treat it as an 'interest' subject, even though I'm seeing more teenagers in museums and theatres, which is a step forward.

But Hong Kong is still an international financial centre and culture firmly takes a back seat. Just look at the two departments in charge of the sector: the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (which puts leisure before culture) and the Home Affairs Bureau (which is also responsible for things such as hotel fire safety standards).

Crucial decisions on arts development, including funding, are made at the bureau level and, therefore, mostly by senior civil servants, or so-called AOs (administrative officers) deployed to different departments throughout their career. They are bureaucrats rather than specialists in the areas they oversee. So basically, in theory at least, those dictating our cultural policies have very little idea about what culture or a cultural scene is.

To be fair, I have met a number of bureau AOs who are fast learners and work hard to understand what they are dealing with. The problem is that after three years (sometimes even less), they are re-assigned, sometimes in the middle of formulating a policy. The result is not only a lack of consistency but also no one person responsible for decisions.

And yes, to this day the government is still mulling over whether this city should have more than one professional orchestra. What kind of question is that? A city should have as many arts companies as it can afford and, with West Kowloon Cultural District on the horizon, Hong Kong should have more of them to cultivate an audience.

Hong Kong is no New York or London - my study is probably more of an arts hub that the city is right now - but I'm optimistic that we will get there one day.