The art of top-tier orchestration

Robert Arculli spent six years at the helm of the HKEx board. Now he's putting those skills to work in his role as HK Arts Festival chairman

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 6:44am

Hong Kong Arts Festival chairman and former chairman of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEx) Ronald Arculli says there are many similarities between managing the city's largest arts event and Asia's biggest stock exchange operator.

Both jobs involve good management in terms of fundraising and budgeting, and both play important roles in Hong Kong's determination to remain an international financial centre.

The annual arts festival, which celebrates its 41st anniversary this year, officially opened on Thursday. This year its HK$105 million budget covers 147 shows, ranging from opera and ballet to concerts and plays. There are 107 additional arts events held, too. Feature acts include One Man Two Guvnors, the American Ballet Theatre performing Romeo and Juliet, as well as La Traviata put on by the San Carlo Theatre from Naples.

The main difference between the arts festival and HKEx is that the latter is a listed company for profit, while the festival is not for profit and funded by the government, corporate sponsorship and tickets sales.

Arculli, who spent six years as the chairman of HKEx, was elected in September by executive members of the Hong Kong Arts Festival to head the organiser of the annual arts event, replacing Charles Lee Yeh-kwong. Like Arculli, Lee is also a former HKEx chairman.

During his HKEx chairmanship, Arculli stressed the importance of attracting international companies to choose Hong Kong for their initial public offerings.

At the end of last year, 147 international companies were listed in the city, representing 19 per cent of the market's capitalisation. Arculli shared how he used his experience to help manage the festival.


Why did you accept the job as festival chairman?

I personally have always loved arts performances. I have been a member of the executive committee for six years. I not only attend Hong Kong performances but I have also travelled to Austria every year for the past two decades to enjoy performances at the celebrated Salzburg Festival.

I love music and Western opera the most. When I had the chance to take this role as the chairman of the HK Arts Festival, I accepted it as I believe it is my honour to do so.


How do you compare the two jobs at HKEx and the arts festival?

There are some similarities and differences. Of course, the turnover of HKEx is much bigger as it involves multibillion-dollar initial public offerings or daily stock transactions. The Hong Kong Arts Festival has a much smaller budget.

But then, both have a good international reputation. Many international firms like to list in Hong Kong while many international artists like to perform here, too. Many international arts performers praise the standard of the Hong Kong Arts Festival.


When you were HKEx chairman, you brought in a lot of international firms to list in the city. Will you adopt the same global focus for the festival?

Yes. When I was chairman of the HKEx, I took brokers and bankers to visit Russia, Italy, Britain and the United States to lobby the many international companies to list in Hong Kong. Likewise, my current role involves bringing international artists to come to perform here.

Hong Kong is an international city so we have a lot of international tastes in our annual arts event.

Going back to the beginning of the festival, we had already started the tradition of bringing artists from around the world to the city. I would like to make sure performances have a good balance of East and West. There should be a good mix of Western opera, Chinese opera, Western and Asian dance, and classical and contemporary performances.


Do you have a goal for the festival's development?

I wish that in the next five years the Hong Kong Arts Festival can reach the standard of London and New York.

Hong Kong has caught up with London and New York in terms of initial public offerings and the number of banks and financial services operating here. However, we still lag behind in terms of our entertainment and creative industry.

London and New York have quality shows every night of the year. Many mainland cities also have caught up in recent years to have many arts performances. If we want tourists to stay longer in Hong Kong, or to visit here more frequently, we need to be more like London and New York. This is important for Hong Kong as an international financial centre.

We also want to see our artists and performers able to go overseas to other markets.

Another target is to encourage more young people to enjoy the arts or to work in the creative industry.


Can the festival break even this year?

We expect tickets sales will raise HK$42 million. Government funding totals HK$33 million while the Hong Kong Jockey Club paid HK$13 million. We have also raised HK$17 million from corporate and individual sponsorship. Now we have 40 per cent from ticket sales, which is high in terms of international standards. The other markets rely on 20 per cent from ticket sales and are supported by government and corporate sponsorship.


Companies have been under pressure to lay off people to cut costs because of the economic uncertainties of recent years. Has this affected corporate sponsorship?

Some companies such as HSBC and Exxon Mobil have been sponsors since the 1970s. We also now have Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Credit Suisse, HKR International, and Wing Lung Bank.

They have been very supportive even in the face of the financial crisis.