Hong Kong's museums, under fire for problems ranging from outdated displays to bad cafe food, are set for an upgrade as they face looming competition from the West Kowloon Cultural District.
Government plans outlined yesterday after a two-year study will begin with a facelift for the Museum of Art in Tsim Sha Tsui to make it more visible and accessible.
'We feel there's a need to improve the image of public museums and bring a better experience for visitors,' said Betty Fung Ching Suk-yee, director of leisure and cultural services.
'Each museum should have its own corporate business plan and branding strategies for the next five years.'
The proposals follow five rounds of meetings by panels covering museums of art, history and science.
But questions remain over how the museums, especially two devoted to arts and culture, will cope with competition from the future arts hub and its flagship museum, M+.
Fung said the government was aware there would be some overlap between her department's museums and M+. For example, both the heritage museum in Sha Tin and M+ would feature water-ink paintings and Cantonese opera culture.
'While M+ will put the focus on contemporary visual art, the Museum of Art will house works from different periods, including those from ancient China,' Fung said.
'There will be some competition, but they will be complementary to each other.'
The Museum of Art near the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui will be the first to have a major renovation.
'People often have no idea where it is because it is hidden behind the Space Museum, and they mistake the building as part of the Cultural Centre. Our plan is to make it more visible and accessible,' Fung said.
Salisbury Garden will be converted into a public art space with the lobby, souvenir shop and restaurant moved to the ground floor, with a more prominent entrance added.
The exterior, now clad with the same tiles as the Cultural Centre, will be re-designed to make it stand out.
Fung added that the public museums had an established network to borrow collections and receive donations and would not spend large sums of money to acquire works.
There have been a string of complaints against the service of Leisure and Cultural Services Department museums from the public and art critics in recent years, including poor-quality food in the museum cafes to outdated exhibitions and the lack of a clear strategy.
The government decided in 2009 not to adopt its advisers' recommendations to set up a statutory board to take over management of public museums and overhaul policy.
Other initiatives announced yesterday included a one-stop website with information of all the 18 public museums with tips for tourists; a tender to recruit new operators to provide better services, products and interior design for the museum shops and restaurants; and children's galleries at the Science Museum.