Arts council urged to revamp prize jury rules

Council urged to revamp jury nomination rules after conflict-of-interest row clouds art prize

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 April, 2013, 10:50am

The controversy over Hong Kong's first art criticism prize refuses to die down, as veteran critics are now demanding an overhaul in the process of electing representatives to the Arts Development Council, which organised the award.

Observers have said the choice of this year's Critic's Prize winner, Yazhou Zhoukan journalist Jia Xuanning, smacked of conflict of interest, as it was reported that two panel judges - Perry Lam and Yau Lop-poon - work for the same magazine. Yau is the editor-in-chief of Yazhou Zhoukan (which translates to "Asia Weekly"), while Lam is a columnist for the weekly publication.

A recent poll conducted during a forum by the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC) found that more than half of the 39 critics in attendance wanted Lam to step down as chairman of ADC's Arts Criticism Group.

Lam was appointed to the post without contest after the council's voting exercise in 2010 yielded no contenders for arts criticism representative. Many believe a confusing nomination system discouraged stakeholders in the arts world from participating.

The Critic's Prize was launched last year, but raised the artists' ire when judges from print media and the academe were chosen.

Lam could not be reached for comment, but previously insisted no favouritism was involved, saying the jury conducted blind judging where "all entries … were not identified by name".

But Yu Yeuk-Mui, a member of ADC's Literary Arts Group who attended the forum, was unconvinced. "It still leaves a lot of questions, such as the validity of the panel. Quite a number of them are actually unfamiliar with the arts industry or inactive in writing arts criticism," Yu says.

Cheung Ping-kuen, chairman of the local chapter of the IATC, says both the council and Lam should be held responsible for the Critic's Prize fiasco, which started in February when Jia was handed the prize.

"[The council] did not take up its duties to fix the long-standing loophole in the voter registration system that had allowed Lam to be appointed by the government," Cheung says.

He has called for an overhaul of the nomination system, including expanding the pool of voters, especially because the arts community has become more interested in weighing in on the council's decisions than in the past.

There are 10 so-called "art-form groups" in the ADC: dance, drama, film and media arts, music, visual arts, arts administration, literature, arts criticism, arts education and traditional Chinese theatre.

Each group - whose responsibilities include formulating policies to promote the arts in the city - is chaired by a representative elected by members of the respective field. These elections take place every three years.

Since the 2010 vote, the Home Affairs Bureau has been studying ways to improve its nomination system and is now trying to encourage members of the art world to register. Applications for participation in this year's nomination exercise, scheduled for September, will close this Thursday.

But some critics fear that voting will be confined to a select few, owing to what they see as stringent and inflexible nomination criteria.