Talk of art hub in Hong Kong is all hype

Cosmin Costinas says the Hong Kong government's pledge to promote the arts and culture is not matched by its inconsistent funding support

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 August, 2013, 3:11pm

Contemporary online art magazine Art Radar recently asked whether Hong Kong was an art hub or whether this was all art hype: in essence, are infrastructural developments in the arts sector keeping pace with commercial forces? Recent funding decisions by the government would seem to reinforce the argument there is more hype than hub.

Para Site, Hong Kong's leading contemporary art space and one of the most active non-profit art centres in Asia, is the latest to fall victim to government funding cuts, despite officials' rhetoric of promoting Hong Kong as Asia's world city and future global art hub.

In June, Para Site was informed by the Home Affairs Bureau that the application for the continuation of our springboard grant had been rejected. Two weeks later, we were told our annual grant from the Arts Development Council had also been rejected. The council had supported Para Site since 1997. The reasons given were ambiguous. In essence, they thought we were too "international".

These decisions came just four weeks after Para Site launched our most successful exhibition yet. Titled "A Journal of the Plague Year. Fear, ghosts, rebels. Sars, Leslie and the Hong Kong story", the show was one of 10 exhibitions staged by us in the past 18 months, alongside a residency programme and 20 other projects featuring over 170 artists and curators from around the world.

The exhibition attracted thousands of people from Hong Kong and beyond and received widespread coverage both regionally and globally, boosting Hong Kong's reputation as a global cultural centre and a great place to live and do business. It's the kind of attention you just can't buy.

The show was also hailed by Hans Ulrich Obrist, one of the world's leading critics and curators, as "one of the best, most interesting and successful group shows that I have seen internationally these years". He added: "Para Site is not only a platform for a new generation of artists in Hong Kong but also a bridge to the international art world and to the future that Hong Kong is projecting."

For 17 years, Para Site has worked to provide an innovative, artist-led space for contemporary art in Hong Kong, thriving on a mix of government grants and private sponsorship.

As Hong Kong's longest-standing art institution, we have nurtured Hong Kong artistic talent by providing them with opportunities to show their work both here and on an international stage. The vast majority of artists of local and international standing have collaborated with Para Site.

The funding cuts mean that, by the end of the summer, Para Site will be without any government support for its programmes. We will rally our supporters and ensure Para Site continues its work serving the arts in Hong Kong, with or without government support.

However, the message that the government committees behind these decisions is sending to the local arts community runs counter to the government's stated public objectives. The arts sector also needs stability to thrive.

Will a short-sighted government kill the goose before it has had a chance to deliver the golden egg - a fully fledged arts hub?

Cosmin Costinas is executive director/curator of Para Site