Academy for Performing Arts to focus on employability and research

Director says working with the cultural sector, bolstering research and producing employable graduates will be at heart of strategic plan

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 5:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 5:00am

The city's only academy for the performing arts is to focus on preparing students for the "real world" of work by teaching them a wide range of disciplines while building partnerships with the cultural sector and bolstering research.

The Academy for Performing Arts also plans to raise HK$10 million for new initiatives over the next five to 10 years, including scholarships and ensemble companies for graduates, director Adrian Walter said.

The academy will celebrate its 30th anniversary next month with the launch of its new strategic plan. It will run alongside a HK$444.8 million expansion.

Walter sets out a vision with key differences to that put forward by a team of consultants in an unpublished report prepared before his arrival last year. Rather than attempting to paint the academy as one of the leading institutions of its kind in Asia, he wants it to strengthen research and graduate employability.

"We have been so consumed in the creative world that we forget about the real world," he said.

The consultants recommended that the academy concentrate on developing its schools of music, theatre and entertainment arts, while positioning itself as a "top-tier institution".

"We don't want to pick on one or two disciplines. We want to sharpen [students'] professional skills and explore different teaching methodologies," Walter said.

He admitted that the number of graduates finding jobs with Hong Kong's leading performing arts groups, especially orchestras, was not high.

"Hong Kong orchestras only have a few vacancies, which are open to international applicants. Be realistic, fresh graduates can't compete with experienced musicians," he said.

Walter hopes to increase student numbers from 800 to about 850. He is planning new programmes in musical theatre - combining acting, singing and performance - and in the instrument he plays professionally: the guitar.

A dance-science lab, part of an expansion of its Wan Chai campus, and a Cantonese opera unit will boost research, Walter added.

He said there was an increasing demand for musical theatre graduates. While Disneyland is the biggest employer of academy graduates, it tends to hire those with technical skills in theatre and entertainment arts, but most of its performers came from the Philippines and had been trained in musical theatre, said Walter.

As for the guitar course, Walter wants to focus not just on classical training but also improvisation and understanding popular music by artists like Lady Gaga.

"You have to be able to play any music," he said, adding that artists today had to think about the visual impact of their performance, a communication skill.

The academy receives some HK$283 million per year from the government, about nine per cent of its arts and culture spending this financial year.

It will explore corporate sponsorship and philanthropy to fund scholarships.

Walter said a sustainable plan would be to raise HK$10 million in seed money and use the interest for scholarships covering tuition fees and living expenses. The extra funding could also support graduate performing arts companies, he said.

Walter said the academy was working closely with West Kowloon Cultural District on education plans and venue usage.

The government approved the academy's expansion in October. The work will be done in three phases, ending in 2017.