CULTURE
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West Kowloon Cultural District

West Kowloon Cultural District set to appoint former housing chief as its new head

Duncan Pescod, the third chief in six years, will take over reins from Michael Lynch – along with uncertainties in budget and positioning

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 July, 2015, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 July, 2015, 2:57am

Former housing chief Duncan Pescod was yesterday named the new head of the West Kowloon Cultural District - its third chief executive in six years.

The incoming leader of the mega arts hub may have clinched one of the world's top cultural jobs, but critics say what lies ahead is likely to be a bumpy road to deliver the controversial, over-budget project that has by now taken more than 15 years to build.

The appointment of a retired long-time government official may also defeat the purpose of setting up a statutory body that is supposed to operate at arm's length from the government, according to Oscar Ho Hing-kay, who sat on one of the consultative committees prior to the formation of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority in 2008.

Pescod, as chief operating officer of the authority since October, has been heading its infrastructural development as well as commercial and operational planning.

"West Kowloon is supposed to be operating outside of the civil servant system," Ho said.

"We realised its operation mindset and system and we tried to avoid that, but now it's like bringing the arts hub back to the things we tried to avoid."

Pescod takes over on August 3, succeeding the incumbent Michael Lynch, who resigned in February citing personal reasons.

Lynch, while planning to return to his home in Australia, will remain a special adviser for another year and continue to bring the arts hub under the global spotlight. He joined in 2011 after the first chief, Graham Sheffield, quit five months into the job.

Pescod is expected to utilise his experience in housing and administration to exercise budget control and fulfil the construction needs, while relying on a team of veteran arts administrators and curators - including Lars Nittve, executive director of visual culture museum M+, and Louis Yu Kwok-lit, who leads the performing arts section - to take care of artistic and cultural areas.

Critics believe, however, that Pescod will face challenges.

"It's pathetic that after so long, we still haven't talked about the arts and culture potential [of the arts hub], its global positioning, its identity and how it is related to Hong Kong's cultural possibilities," said Ho, director of Chinese University's cultural management programme.

He said it was the job of the chief executive and the board to outline the cultural vision so the facilities lying on 40 hectares of reclaimed land by Victoria Harbour would be meaningful within the Hong Kong context.

The budget is another issue, with the HK$21.6 billion approved in 2008 having risen to HK$23.5 billion even after including investment returns. That increased sum is still not enough to complete the construction of everything promised in the plan.

The construction delay of a cross-border express railway also puts pressure on the delivery of the arts hub, some of whose facilities sit on top of the terminal.

Art critic John Batten was concerned about how the cultural district could uphold artistic integrity and independence under the new leadership. "It is up to the arts community to keep pressurising the government to allow M+ and the theatres … freedom of expression."

 

TESTS AHEAD

  • Formulate artistic and cultural vision for the district

 

  • Keep finances under control

 

  • Deliver cultural facilities, including the park, Xiqu Centre that showcases Chinese opera, and visual culture museum M+

 

  • Minimise impact brought by the delay of express rail link

 

  • Communicate with the cultural sector, locally and abroad

 

  • Guarantee freedom of artistic expression within the district

 

  • Ensure operation of the arts hub that is not a repetition of the civil servant system