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  • Aug 23, 2014
  • Updated: 1:39pm
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 June, 2014, 12:29am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 June, 2014, 12:29am

Ungrateful arts leaders owe public an apology over West Kowloon project

Mix public funding with the arts in this town and what you get is a fixation with costly, fancy buildings, mostly of the windowless sort

The government's non-committal attitude towards building the third phase of the West Kowloon Cultural District is not just an insult to the arts community but also a betrayal of its aspiration to build a world-class arts hub, industry leaders say.

SCMP, May 31

Note that bit about "industry leaders". We got us a construction industry, a food industry, a banking industry and, to round things off, we got us an arts industry. It has no annual production targets but otherwise it's a bird of a feather with the rest.

The difference, of course is that the arts industry is by far the most money obsessed of them all and I say this with career experience of the investment industry.

The arts industry chant never ceases: "Gimme more money." I have never met a fund manager that compulsive.

Note the arrogance, too. These people want HK$23 billion from us for a basement in West Kowloon, more than the entire budget for the project just six years ago, and it's "an insult to the arts community" that we might have second thoughts about this staggering sum and not just hand over the money on demand.

Have you ever heard as much as a ghost of a hint of a "thank you" from these people for reserving West Kowloon for the arts? With them it's just back every time to the same strident, tedious chant - "Gimme more money".

The burden will inevitably fall, as does all public spending, on the shoulders of the working poor

I suppose it had to be expected. Mix public funding with the arts in this town and what you get is a fixation with costly, fancy buildings, mostly of the windowless angular sort that call to mind the words "severe" and "cold".

You also get a stoking of the fires of civic hubris. Note that bit about "aspiration to build a world-class arts hub." In your eye, Shanghai - we've got the highest ratio in Asia of square metres of cultural display floor area per square kilometre of developed urban land. Who's No1 now, huh?

And what is to go into these hub buildings? Good question but a secondary one to the bureaucrats. We'll put art in them, you know, intellectual stuff like, bits and pieces of culture things to show that we're still one up on Singapore and let's hear no more talk about how we have again put the cart before the horse.

Judging by the contents of the concrete culture bunkers that already litter the shoreline of the harbour, what you will see is the mummified remnants of yesterday's ideas, considered timeless by arts bureaucrats who have never been in touch with their world and whose small stock of creativity is entirely taken up with chanting "Gimme more money".

You certainly won't see Hong Kong's artists. Their studios are to be found in old industrial buildings in places like Chai Wan and Tsuen Wan. Artists are out of place in art museums. Most of them don't even have evening wear, you know.

Nor do they need these buildings to showcase their offerings. They communicate with their fellows and their followers on their laptops and iPads over the web. They live in the 21st century. The arts industry is still stuck in the 19th century.

But I think the saddest thing about pouring yet more tens of billions into this insatiable arts maw is that the burden of it will inevitably fall, as does all public spending, on the shoulders of the working poor.

It will make the lives of these millions of people just that little bit harder and force them to devote just that little bit more of their creative ability to staying alive, leaving them just that little bit less of it to join in the cultural expressions of their society.

The huge expense of the West Kowloon arts project will thus do as much to constrain development of the arts in Hong Kong as it will to encourage the arts. What a sad irony.

And, frankly, it riles me to hear these arts industrialists then complain of insult. Just who is insulting whom here? If I were the chief secretary I wouldn't give them another cent until they make a full apology to Hong Kong's public for their whingeing, ungrateful ways.

jake.vanderkamp@scmp.com

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HK-Explorer
They should build an artists village and open it to the public. That would be much cooler. People could walk into studios and see painters paint and people designing clothing etc... I would love that and I am sure that if artists could get subsidized rents they would be willing to open their studios to the public. It would also make them better known. Imagine seeing bands practice and trying out new music types.
Also dance studios doing practicing could have viewing areas. That would be much cheaper and allot more engaging and really build the joy of arts culture.
HK needs to think outside the box of expensive buildings filled with nothing that remain empty.
I am pretty sure if they came up with an artists village it would be the envy of the world as a local and international tourist attraction. Great opportunity.
HK-Explorer
They need to stop this project, step back and say does this still make sense. They should look at how to change it to be less of a burden on tax payers and look at how best it can be implemented to be an advantage to most people in Hong Kong. Right now they are just meeting a minority of peoples needs and not those of HK. Too many special interests involved in this.
johnyuan
A day later I still have no inkling who is arts leaders – grateful or ungrateful who JvdK is referring to. I haven’t heard from them of any response or asking anything in the public of the KWCD. May be I missed all the backdoor maneuverings.
.
But true leaders go beyond self-interest. They should be educating as well as advocating public for support.
JvdK’s caption is a suspect of his true intention? But I believe calling a spade a spade -- an art dealer is an art dealer.
happycamper
The West Kowloon arts hub project is a great example of how HK likes to handle its problems--by throwing money at them (and often consequently down the drain). HK will NEVER be an arts hub, no matter how much money is spent on buildings, etc. That's all hardware. The software just is not there. People in HK care about money above all, and the necessary audience to support the arts does not exist. Or are people foolish enough to believe that this wonderful arts hub (if it is ever completed) will thrive on the patronage of tourists?
mdap
WKCD is an embarrassment of riches! It is unacceptable for Carrie Lam to blithely state that the government will continue to fund this project; she needs to be reminded that it is not her money; she proved when she was Secretary for Development that she was firmly in the hands of certain families who managed to demolish listed buildings; clearly the continued saga at WKCD continues her ignorance of the facts and her acceptance that ultimately WKCD will be a property developers windfall. The government, and sadly this will need CY himself to actually make a decision (so let's not hold our breath), should shut down this project and accept that spending what will ultimately be closer to $100bln of our money on a non essential vanity project, is wrong. If John Tsang is so prudent with our finances he refuses to build hospitals and old age care facilities, items desperately needed, then how can he sanction this white elephant. It is time to send Michael Lynch, the hapless CEO back to Australia and place the almost 1,000 other civil servants creaming an easy life of the WKCD administrative side, back to other jobs!
asiaseen
It's just like the recent Art Basel ballyhoo, it's not about art, it's all about money.
mdap
So the 16 Hong Kong artists who were represented at various galleries at Art Basel, not to mention the almost 70 journalist students who were given an opportunity to compete for a three month secondment to a leading Berlin culture paper to gain international experience, totally funded by the private sector - that was all about money! There are those in HK seeking to advance art and culture - Art Basel plays it part. Before you make comments based purely on jealousy, try making one based on some facts !
johnyuan
To mdap,
.
It is all about money at the end.
.
General public attendence is not important. The deep-pocketed mainlanders are being targeted. All other activities are just window dressings.
.
Let art dealers, foreign and local prosper riding on the new found money. Art critics who are worth of salt hardly can be found in a culturally deficient Hong Kong to response to the international events here. Let us recognize our strength and arts are not one.
How About
Very perceptive and well done Jake!
.
Artists everywhere adapt, once critical mass and population is achieved we may end up with a hub. Other than the obvious artsy museums and theatres all paid for by the Treasury, let's press the WKCD to tell us what is the model they plan to encourage artists take-up, will it be rent-free, say? If your LLC has an 'art' in it, will it be tax-exempt? What's to stop the new hub becoming a Central v2.0 at half price, or Cyberport residences? Let the market determine the tenancies? If the rentals is say $180 psf in 2019, what kind of artists can afford to move in?
.
rpasea
If I were CS, I would kill the project and instead reserve the WK peninsula for a public park to be enjoyed by the people of HK for free. Unfortunately, Carrie doesn't have the guts to do what is right for the people of HK.

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