Arts hub not a cure-all, boss warns

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 October, 2011, 12:00am


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The new head of the West Kowloon arts hub may have a blueprint for the giant development, but he warns that the project will not solve all the problems of the local arts scene.

'West Kowloon is not a god [and] neither am I,' arts hub chief executive Michael Lynch told the South China Morning Post, 10 weeks into his job. 'I don't think West Kowloon can solve every problem that exists in Hong Kong, for either the arts community or the arts organisations.'

Lynch points to the art-market boom, rocketing construction costs and Hong Kong's lack of an overall policy on culture as key issues that could hold back the project.

The final design for the West Kowloon Cultural District was unveiled late last month. Now Lynch's priorities are building his team and driving a marketing and branding campaign, having completed his first task - meeting artists and politicians to help him grasp the situation in the city.

'I have had 175 meetings [so far],' Lynch, 60, said.

Lynch, an Australian, knows all about the complicated transition from plans to performances from his time at London's Southbank Centre and the Sydney Opera House. He hopes to be putting on outdoor performances and exhibitions by the time the Town Planning Board approves the development plan and the arts hub team takes control of part of the site by the end of the year.

One problem is that the booming Hong Kong and mainland art market is siphoning off talent he would like to employ. 'The boom in the Chinese art world has put a premium on the sort of people that you would want to work in a museum like this,' he said.

Soaring prices for contemporary artworks are also making it tough to build the arts hub's own collection. Lynch cited last week's Sotheby's sale of Zhang Xiaogang's painting Bloodline: Big Family No1, which brought more than HK$65 million - almost three times the price when it was sold in 2008. 'That's a real issue for an organisation wanting to focus on contemporary works around the region.'

Even so, a design competition for the flagship art museum, M+ will go ahead next year. The 43,000 square metre contemporary art museum is set to open in 2017. 'I know people are anxious [about the completion date],' he said. 'In Hong Kong terms it might be slow, but in world-art terms, that's pretty fast.'

M+ is among the key facilities whose completion has been postponed to 2017, two years later than the Home Affairs Bureau promised Legco when seeking a HK$21.6 billion one-off endowment in 2008.

Lynch's budget is facing stiff challenges. For one, construction costs have gone up by 60 per cent, and an extra HK$4 billion will be needed from the government and private funding sources for green initiatives.

The city's leaders had hoped that the arts hub would lead Hong Kong's arts development but Lynch says not everything depends on West Kowloon. The arts hub will, he says, join the debate on culture, co-ordinating with existing venue operators, promoters and even ticketing operators.

'What we can do is to participate in discussion on the cultural future of Hong Kong ... but [people] can't assume West Kowloon solves every problem,' he said.

For example, the future of arts education would not depend on the arts hub, but on educators and policymakers, said Lynch, whose wife Chrissy Sharp, a renowned arts administrator, joins him in Hong Kong next month.