Hong Kong deserves a better Arts Development Council
This Saturday will see 29 candidates representing 10 arts interests congregating at the Mong Kok Complex to present their platforms for October's Hong Kong Arts Development Council (ADC) members nomination exercise. This is probably going to be one of the debates full of sparks as this year's event is seemingly the most exciting in a decade.
Held once every three years, this year's ADC nomination exercise seems exciting not only because of the star power – award-winning actor Anthony Wong Chau-sang and two other candidates challenge Chung Ying Theatre Company artistic director Ko Tin-lung's bid to remain in the position in the drama sector; TV show host and commentator Max Wong Wai-lun rivals Lo Wai-luk in the arts criticism sector; and Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra's vocal chief executive Michael Macleod races current ADC music representative, soprano Barbara Fei, and two other candidates. It's exciting because finally, it seems that this nomination exercise is being taken seriously.
Past statistics show that in 2004, six out of the 10 arts interests – arts administration, arts criticism, arts education, dance, drama, film arts, literary arts, music, visual arts and Chinese opera (xiqu) – won the race without competition as there were only one candidate in six sectors. Situation improved a little in 2007 as the number of “automatic winner” went down to four. In 2010, Ko in the drama sector was the only who won the race without any challenge, but there were no one competing in the arts criticism sector.
The number of registered voters also went up: 7,071 registered as voters to choose their arts representatives in the council in 2010, and this year the number has gone up to 8,512 after voters registration criteria were relaxed earlier this year. And most important of all, all 10 arts interests have more than one candidate competing, which means no one should be winning the race automatically this time.
But does it mean things have improved for the ADC?
Of all the cultural bodies and committees handling public funding, the ADC is the only entity containing democratic elements that exists during the post-colonial era. Ironically, during the last 10 years of the colonial regime, there was an attempt to realise “cultural democracy” by placing certain cultural affairs decisions into the hands of the two fully elected Municipal Councils. But at the dawn of the millennium, the then Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa announced in his 1999 policy address that the two Municipal Councils will be axed by 2000. With two Municipal Councils subsequently being replaced by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, people's rights to cultural affairs decision-making were arbitrarily taken back authorities.
However, of the 27 members in the ADC, only 10 representing different arts interests are generated by voting. The rest of the members are appointed by the government. But even if a candidate has won the race, it doesn't guarantee this candidate membership of the council – it is called a “nomination exercise” because winning candidates are only “for the Chief Executive's consideration of appointment as members of the ADC for the next term”. C-O-N-S-I-D-E-R-A-T-I-O-N! So the voting is to vote for arts interests representatives to be “considered” for appointment. Even if you were armed with a good number of votes from the arts community, you could still be discarded before the appointment. Isn't this a slap on the face of Hong Kong's arts community?
But the most pathetic of all is that, according to Home Affairs Bureau, the amount of public funding earmarked for the ADC during 2013 – 14 on grant schemes and arts projects is only HK$98 million. It is peanuts compared to the fully government appointed Advisory Committee on Arts Development set up just two years ago. For the same period of time, the advisory committee vets a total of HK$337.4 million: HK$290.6 million subvention for the nine major performing arts groups, HK$13.6 million for Contestable Funding Pilot Scheme for the major performing arts groups, HK$30 million for the Arts Capacity Development Funding Scheme, and HK$3.2 million of Arts Development Fund.
Isn't it insane, that the ADC, a statutory body, has much less resources than some appointed committee with no statutory status? What is the logic behind this? Is it because the government simply doesn't trust the arts community's ability in endorsing someone capable of making reasonable cultural decisions? But then, can appointed social elites with questionable cultural credentials make better cultural decisions? Or, “better decisions” mean decisions that favour the government?
Besides, what kind of development has the council been really doing these days apart from handing out piece-meal funding, giving out awards, and partnering with privately-owned industrial building in Wong Chuk Hang to offer discounted artists' studio spaces? What are the initiatives, research or policy recommendations that cultivate and sustain arts development in the long-run have the ADC proposed recently? With an administration team led by someone who is good at passing the microphone to the council's chairman, it probably doesn't help.
Who will win the nomination exercise is still uncertain, and who will be appointed eventually remains a question mark for the coming few months. But what's the most certain is that Hong Kong's arts community deserves better.