Want a career in the arts? Lindsey McAlister from Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation offers advice

Her organisation provides free opportunities in the field for aspiring young people

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 November, 2016, 4:03pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 November, 2016, 4:02pm

When Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation (YAF) founder Lindsey McAlister first arrived more than two decades ago on a backpacking trip – she knew she would call this city home and become a player in its arts scene.

After briefly working as an arts teacher and facilitator for the English Schools Foundation, McAlister founded YAF in 1993 with the aim of creating an organisation that provides inclusive artistic opportunities free of charge to young people in the city.

It started off as a two-week festival before expanding to become a foundation providing activities throughout the year in 2006.

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“The moment I put my foot on Hong Kong soil, I just had a sort of flash that I would be here forever,” McAlister said. “I had this idea for a youth arts festival where kids from different backgrounds and cultures would come together and share what they created in an open forum. I really wanted to work with the community.”

Speaking to the South China Morning Post ahead of the foundation’s annual Standard Chartered Arts in the Park Mardi Gras festival, McAlister said she hoped that the local arts scene will continue to flourish and include more social as well as professional opportunities for young people.

“[The festival] is a great opportunity to showcase talents of the wider youth population of Hong Kong,” McAlister said.

“It’s an opportunity to see very high quality work which is made for the community, by the community.”

Hong Kong’s arts scene has become more diverse in the past few decades as the rise of new technologies created new creative opportunities, McAlister said.

The city has also become more accepting of the arts, and parents are beginning to see that participating in creative activities can enhance self-esteem and problem-solving abilities in kids, she added.

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Despite the positives, those in the arts scene still face challenges, for instance, when finding venues for performing and obtaining funding. Booking public venues is particularly difficult because it requires one to be very organised and have fixed dates, which can be tough for an arts organisation, according to McAlister.

“For younger and emerging companies, it’s difficult to get space because you may not know if you’ve got funding coming in the future,” McAlister said.

“I do think more space would be amazing. [The government] should actually think about the reality of giving funding [with] an administrative budget.”

For those interested in pursuing a career in the arts, she recommended that they maintain an open mind to different opportunities. They also have to be prepared for rejection, and have a strong and self-sufficient personality, she said.

“Don’t be too fixated on one particular thing. For example, don’t just want to be an actor, think about how you can use your acting in different ways.”

McAlister recommended pursuing the arts professionally only when there is a strong passion. “You also don’t go into the arts to make money. You do it because you can’t breathe without it.”


The Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation is a charity that provides artistic projects and creative experiences to people aged 5 to 25.

-Established in 1993 by Lindsey McAlister

-Expanded from a festival to a foundation in 2006 offering activities all year round

-Provides activities for about 800,000 people annually

-Hosted about 120 activities and events last year


Hosted by the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation and sponsored by Standard Chartered, the annual festival is one of the city’s largest community arts events showcasing youth arts. Last year saw about 150,000 visitors.

When: November 12 and 13

Where: Victoria Park, Causeway Bay

Theme: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in honour of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death


-Parade with giant puppets

-Roving theatre piece on a wagon that will show up in different venues across the city

-Puppet show with Cantonese-speaking performers

-Art stalls for children to create art