Artists are unhappy about a sudden 20 per cent rent increase for studio space at a Shek Kip Mei arts centre, but the managers say the rise is necessary to keep the venture afloat.
The Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre informed tenants at a management meeting last Wednesday that all occupants of the factory turned artist incubator would have to pay a new elevated rate of HK$7.80 per square foot - up from HK$6.50 per sq ft for many - once their contracts come due.
'[A rent raise] is necessary for the whole centre to continue to run,' said Lillian Hau Cheuk-ki, the centre's executive director. 'We are a self-financed charity, which means that we do not get government subsidies.'
Although the centre had warned tenants last year they would have to pay HK$7.50 per sq ft starting this year, the back-to-back rent rises took many by surprise. Four out of five tenants were still paying the lower rate, which has been in place since the building was renovated in 2008 to provide low-cost workspaces to more than 130 artists and help promote the arts in Hong Kong.
About 30 occupants signed a letter after Wednesday's meeting asking management for an explanation.
'I am not against increasing the rent if it's necessary,' said tenant Mac Mak Keung-wai of the A&M Art Workshop. 'I just feel that this is a commercially driven decision and that it strays from the original vision of the centre.'
Hau contended the rent rise was necessary to cover inflation and the onset of the new minimum wage law. She said the centre could face a deficit of HK$700,000 next year if tenant fees were not increased.
The centre ended the previous fiscal year in June with a surplus of HK$100,000 after running a HK$1 million deficit in 2009-10.
Mac, however, criticised what he said was a lack of consultation on the management's part.
The centre, he said, was set up to give artists the space and time they need to focus on creative works and support the city's artistic community without having to worry about high rents. He said the centre had taken a 'more commercial' direction lately.
Monthly rent increase, in Hong Kong dollars, that a Creative Arts Centre tenant would see on a 300 square foot unit, for a total of HK$2,340