Hong Kong Arts Festival 2015

Hong Kong arts festival seeks more funding for future growth

Static budgets and a lack of venues are eroding the vibrancy of the city's annual cultural extravaganza, organisers say, asking the city to give more

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 August, 2014, 5:49am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 January, 2015, 3:16pm

Hong Kong will host its largest contingent yet from Russia's Bolshoi opera and ballet and a string of artistic big names in its 2015 edition, but organisers hope to do more - if the government will increase funding.

Tisa Ho, the Hong Kong Arts Festival's executive director, said the festival society was in discussion with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) on the next five-year funding plan. She hopes government funding will be increased by 20 per cent, to about HK$40 million a year, to cover half of the festival's expenditures.

The government's HK$33 million funding last year accounted for some 30 per cent of last year's total festival budget, while 40 per cent came from the box office and the remainder from other sources, including donations.

The festival's budget stayed at around HK$100 million a year from 2010/11 to 2014/15. Ho said the level of funding had been eroded by inflation over the years and the festival could only do less if that stayed level.

In addition to bringing more top acts to Hong Kong, the city could help groom artistic talents by investing in more local productions and taking them abroad. "We hope the funders look at this as an investment in Hong Kong," Ho said.

However, Damian Cheng, a director of the International Association of Theatre Critics (Hong Kong) has doubts. "Will a 20 per cent increase in government funding buy an artistic vision or a 20 per cent [increase at the] box office?" he asked.

The festival's box office rose 6.3 per cent to HK$44.6 million in 2012/2013 from 2011/2012, which rose 8.9 per cent from 2010/2011.

The 2014 festival sold 108,000 tickets, 94 per cent of the total, by the time it closed.

Cheng said that while box-office success helped pad the festival's accounts, it brought another dilemma: "Programming becomes market-oriented in order to sell tickets."

But Ho disagreed. She said bringing top international titles would not just inspire Hong Kong artists but also train local audiences to become more informed about homegrown arts.

Cheng said the festival imported acclaimed performers from overseas and these shows - which account for around 70 to 75 per cent of the total number of shows over the past five years - attracted audiences and corporate sponsors.

"If there's more public funding, will it ease the festival's financial burden so that the festival can experiment with new programmes?" asked Cheng.

Over the past three years, sponsorships have remained flat, at about HK$16 million - around 15 per cent of the festival's income. But when the financial crisis hit, money from corporations dwindled, Ho said.

Chinglish, a play by David Henry Hwang, and MOMIX Dance Theatre's Botanica were well received when they opened in New York in 2011 and were then staged at the Hong Kong festival in 2013.

The tradition of importing shows continues next year. All 365 members from the Bolshoi opera and ballet will stage three titles in Hong Kong: the opera The Tsar's Bride and two ballet performances, The Flames of Paris and festival finale Jewels.

Award-winning French actress Isabelle Huppert will return to Hong Kong in comedy Les Fausses Confidences (False Admissions). Belgium's Ontroerend Goed and The Border Project from Australia will stage Fight Night, a political theatre show that explores the secrets behind democracy.

The 2015 festival will feature the premiere of local play The Amahs and chamber opera Datong , which it both commissioned and produced.

Ho said that a lack of venues also restricted the expansion of the festival. One way to promote local works, she said, was to stage long-running shows and re-runs.

But with only 14 government performing arts venues shared among all members of the arts sector and the larger community, getting dates is difficult.

Construction delays at the MTR's express rail link mean some venues West Kowloon Cultural District, which were to sit atop the terminal, have been delayed. Funding for those venues hasn't been secured past 2020.

The LCSD said the new wing of the Cantonese opera-oriented Ko Shan Theatre with a 600-seat auditorium would open in late October.

A spokesman said the department was planning for a Cross District Community Cultural Centre in Ngau Tau Kok.

The venue will consist of an auditorium of 1,200 seats, a 550-seat theatre and three studios accommodating 120 to 250 seats.

The government will seek funding from Legco in early 2015 and it is hoped construction work will commence in the middle of next year and completed in late 2019.

The Hong Kong Arts Festival will run from February 27 to March 29, 2015.