Shenzhen 'trailing Hong Kong as arts centre'

Fair held in city proves it has yet to fulfil its ambition to become cultural hub, observers say

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 May, 2014, 3:47am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 May, 2014, 4:56pm

A national cultural exhibition ends today in Shenzhen, but analysts and observers say the event has a long way to go before it can rival the Art Basel fair held over the past few days in Hong Kong.

A total of 2,263 exhibitors attended the China International Cultural Industries Fair in the Guangdong city.

The focal point of the five-day event was Shenzhen's convention and exhibition centre, with events also held at 54 other venues.

It is the 10th year Shenzhen has hosted the fair and it forms part of the city's efforts to brand itself as a cultural hub in the south of the mainland.

But industry experts said the city still appeared to be far from realising this ambition.

"I went to Art Basel [yesterday] and felt so excited and inspired by the world-class artworks there," said Zhang Xiaobai, a director at a company exhibiting at the Shenzhen fair.

"You can find the latest art trends and developments there. The ideas and materials that artists from around the world use in their works are so fresh and diverse. When you go to Art Basel, you feel like the whole world is in front of you.

"In comparison, I think Shenzhen's cultural industries fair is very commercial and the quality of the artworks and skills shown in the art here are not high."

Delegations from municipal governments in Guangdong and around the country took part in the fair and offered free booths to companies in their areas working in the cultural sector, occupying about half the main exhibition hall. Organisers estimate about 160 billion yuan (HK$200 billion) in deals will be made at the fair and the number of exhibitors this year rose by 145 compared with 2013.

But Percy Fung, founder and managing director of the Hong Kong-based film and video company Digital Magic, said the fair lacked focus and the quality of some of the products on show was lacking.

"As far as I know, we are the only Hong Kong company setting up a booth at the main venue at the fair," he said.

"I was invited by the Shenzhen government, but have found few valuable clients who need 3D technical services here.

"You can see the promotional video of a mainland online game producer next to my booth.

"Their costs are much cheaper than Hong Kong companies, but the Hong Kong and overseas markets will not accept such low quality," said Fung.

The fair's main usefulness was to build up contacts with governments officials, he said.

The cultural sector has been listed as the fourth-most important area of Shenzhen's economy after high-technology companies, logistics and finance industries.

The cultural sector accounted for 9.3 per cent of the Shenzhen special economic zone's economy last year, producing about 134 billion yuan in goods and services.

However, Shenzhen was far from being the mainland's cultural hub, according to Guo Wanda , the vice-president of the Shenzhen-based China Development Institute, a municipal think tank.

"We must admit Shenzhen has spent a lot to build up its cultural industry, including setting up dozens of cultural industrial parks for animation, jewellery and women's dress design and production," she said.

"But it has a lack of world-class designers and artists.

"It's fairer to call it China's production hub of culture-related products.

"Besides, the definition and scope of Shenzhen's cultural sector [given by the authorities] might be too wide.

"Books, toys, software, tourism, the internet and new media, anything can be counted as cultural products.

"We can't help but question the data suggesting fast growth in the sector is probably a result of incorrect assessments of GDP as the trades of many companies in Shenzhen might be counted as both cultural and high-tech industries," said Guo.