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West Kowloon Cultural District

Hong Kong cultural advocate labels West Kowloon arts hub panel an ‘echo chamber’, says questions remain unanswered

Ada Wong Ying-kay has no regrets about not being invited to renew term

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 February, 2017, 8:03am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 March, 2017, 1:59am

Fundamental questions remain over the purpose and future of the city’s multi-billion-dollar West Kowloon arts hub, according to one outgoing member of its consultation panel.

Ada Wong Ying-kay, an long-time culture and education advocate who served eight years on the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority’s consultation panel, expressed no regrets over not being invited to renew her term, which ended on Tuesday.

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Invitation for renewal was delivered earlier this month to other panel members, and at least one has confirmed to have declined to serve for another year.

“It’s an echo chamber and a homogenised organ set up to voice what the officials want to hear and not otherwise,” Wong said.

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“I won’t say I walked out dejected, as I did achieve something during my term as a panel member,” she added.

Now that we are building a cultural cluster, we need to ask – what future does it hold, what values does it embrace, and how is it to move forward with the citizens?
Ada Wong, cultural advocate

One such victory was securing a more user-friendly open space for the West Kowloon Cultural District, something Wong pushed through after a survey and numerous meetings.

“Public space is very important, especially for our youths, and that’s what I have been lobbying for over the years. The fundamental question remains – who are we building West Kowloon for?” she asked.

Wong said building a cultural hub was a bygone practice and no longer appropriate for modern-day Hong Kong.

“It’s a concept of the 1990s to regenerate a city through culture, such as Bilbao in Spain and Newcastle in England,” Wong, who was board chairman of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra in the mid-1990s, said.

“Now that we are building a cultural cluster, we need to ask – what is its future, what values does it embrace, and how is it to move forward with the citizens?”

More questions are expected to arise as the WKCD authority moves to vest private developers with the rights to develop hotel, office and residential facilities in West Kowloon, under a provision known as an Enhanced Financial Arrangement and spelled out in the government’s policy address last month.

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“I stated my opposition to the new provision at the last panel meeting [on 20 February], which I think would turn the arts hub into a commercial project and the chief executive [into] a co-developer,” Wong said.

“Under that model, land use would gradually give way to commercial development, and the arts would end up a minority. And that would defeat the original purpose of the entire project.”

The WKCD’s estimated operational deficit of HK$500 million per year for the next decade could be met with funds from the Legislative Council, Wong proposed.

“I don’t see why Legco would oppose the funding if a request with all the details was submitted in all sincerity.”

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But more important than funding, she said, was a cultural policy for Hong Kong that would give its people identity and cohesion based on shared beliefs and values.

The same could be said of the controversial Hong Kong Palace Museum project, which was announced in December by then chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to house a collection loaned from Beijing.

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“It needs a spiritual figure to give the idea a form, or [to give] a soul to what [architect] Rocco Yim builds,” she said.

“The project deserves a better way to engage the public to appreciate history and not ridicule it,” she added.