Local performers need nurture, arts veterans say

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 January, 2012, 12:00am


Arts veterans say lack of government support to take their efforts to a higher level is inhibiting the growth of local performance groups.

Speaking amid concerns that a lack of home-grown talent could blight development of the West Kowloon arts hub, they say local arts groups should gradually shed their welfare status. But before that can happen, those set up with government help need support to go private and overcome such obstacles as big firms' reluctance to sponsor performing arts, and government reluctance to view the arts as an industry.

'[Government funding] helps the growth of young arts groups, but we need to move forward and elevate [our arts scene] to a new level,' veteran theatre director Frederic Mao Chun-fai said.

Mao said there were a lot of home-grown productions but the city did not nurture these or promote them to become shows that could represent Hong Kong.

He cited difficulties faced in arranging a rerun of his own show, The Liaisons, which toured Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen after opening in Hong Kong in 2010.

First there was a venue problem, as government venues can be secured only for limited periods, meaning they cannot stage longer runs to recoup production costs. 'But we can't sell tickets at expensive prices ... audiences are used to cheap tickets because most of them are funded by the government,' he said.

Government efforts to support the arts are channelled through the Home Affairs Bureau.

But Maurice Lee Wai-man, a member of the bureau's advisory committee on arts development, said there should be more efforts involving other agencies such as the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau through CreateHK.

'Drama is seen as arts and culture, not an industry, and thus the Home Affairs Bureau is the only mechanism supporting the arts. CreateHK only supports money-making projects,' he said.

Lee, a former vice-chairman of the Arts Development Council who has been supporting the rerun of The Liaisons, said companies did not want to put money in as they doubted the promotional effects.

'So we had to find individuals affluent enough to support us. But as anyone can imagine, it's not easy.'

The initial production of The Liaisons, a new twist on the Cantonese opera classic The Legend of the Purple Hairpin, was backed by the Hong Kong Arts Festival, now in its 40th anniversary year.

Executive director Tisa Ho said that with a HK$110 million annual budget, a third of it from the government, the festival had been investing in local productions for three years.

'We hope to produce something in the festival that has the possibility of a life afterwards,' said Ho. 'But sponsorships are always difficult unless you have a long track record.'

The Liaisons will be staging a rerun of eight shows at the Academy for Performing Arts from today until January 14, except Monday.