Someone once called Hong Kong a cultural desert but such derisory name-calling has faded with time. The growing economy has meant companies and individuals are more willing to sponsor local arts events, in the name of culture and brand-building.
Hong Kong Arts Festival Society chairman Ronald Arculli, the former chairman of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, has started to twist the arms of senior executives to sponsor next year's events. He expects to receive HK$27.69 million from corporate and individual sponsorships this year, up 6.7 per cent from last year.
The annual arts event, which started to accept bookings last week, will have more than 170 shows ranging from opera, ballets to concerts and plays running from February to March next year. The festival will celebrate its 42nd anniversary next year. Corporate and individual sponsorships play an increasingly important role in the event as they represent about 25 per cent of its budget. The rest is financed by box-office ticket sales and government funding.
Looking at the history of the festival, one easily finds close links between the success of cultural events and economic activities such as stock market turnover.
In 2007, when Hong Kong's stock market turnover and the Hang Seng Index both reached record highs, the sponsorship amount stood at HK$21.64 million, up 26 per cent from 2006.
Then came the global financial crisis. Sponsorships amounted to HK$22.84 million in 2009 before dropping to HK$21.86 million in 2010. It bounced back in 2011 to HK$25.6 million. Overall, sponsorships for the arts festival have increased more than 50 per cent since 2006.
Many executives of listed companies, even if they are arts lovers, find it hard to justify spending lots of money sponsoring arts festivals or other arts events. If companies are having trouble with their bottom line and there is pressure to lay off staff, arts sponsorship is not a high priority.
The economic recovery and the improved stock market sentiment definitely made it easier for Arculli to get sponsors.
Looking at the list of the sponsors, it seems many Western banks are taking a break and are being replaced by mainland lenders.
ICBC (Asia), the Hong Kong arm of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the nation's largest bank, will sponsor the Festival Finale for the first time and has promised to continue this sponsorship for at least two more years. CR Holdings is another mainland firm that has become a sponsor of the festival.
This shows mainland companies have started to follow in the footsteps of Western and Asian firms such as HSBC, Credit Suisse and Sino Group in using arts sponsorship to promote their brand.