Hong Kong's arts funding body has been criticised for lacking transparency in its decision to partner with the West Kowloon museum to represent Hong Kong at next year's Venice Biennale without having an open competition. While many applaud the change of direction and having a curator with an international network to take the lead, art critics and some members of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC) have criticised the council for making the decision without proper consultation. A group of nine local artists and curators - including artist Chow Chun-fai and curator Jeff Leung Chin-fung - yesterday launched an online petition. It calls the council a 'black box' and demands that it explain its 'arbitrary change of policy'. The council said last month that it would collaborate with the West Kowloon arts hub's contemporary visual culture museum M+ for the 55th Venice Biennale. M+ executive director Lars Nittve will be the lead curator, and award-winning local artist Lee Kit has been picked to represent the city at its pavilion at what is known as the art world's Olympics next summer. The council has funds of HK$5 million for the event, and the amount will be doubled because M+ is providing another HK$5 million. 'I only learnt about the confirmation when I saw the press release,' said council member Ger Choi Tzs-kwan. She recalled discussions at council meetings but did not realise the decision had been made. Choi said some members were also asking why there had been no consultation or voting during or after meetings. 'In the past, the selection of curatorial proposals was made through open competitions. Thus anyone who is good can stand a chance. And now they scrap this system without consultation or clear explanation,' she said. 'We are using public money and we can't spend it like this.' She also queried whether the choice of Nittve - a veteran curator and founding director of London's Tate Modern gallery, who already has a large global portfolio - would deprive local curators in greater need of global exposure of opportunities. Art critic Oscar Ho Hing-kay said it was good to tap Nittve's international connections to promote Hong Kong art, but he found the council's decision-making process hard to accept. 'This is a very serious problem for the HKADC,' Ho said. 'Does it mean you can get things done by closed-door discussion?' Tsang Tak-ping, one of the curators of last year's effort that presented 'Frog King' Kwok Mang-ho, said appointing a curatorial team was common practice around the world. 'But ... we do not know why the change was made this year,' Tsang said. He said that having well-connected curators was crucial, as artists got more international exposure after the biennale, such as Johnson Chang Tsong-zung, who did the first pavilion at the biennale in 2001, and Tobias Berger, now with M+, in 2009. Tsang was positive about Nittve's appointment, but asked: 'What happens afterwards? How [will the HKADC] commit to grooming local [curatorial] talent?' The HKADC said the collaboration had been adapted from countries like Germany and France based on suggestions from the arts sector on ways to improve strategy. The proposal was discussed at two council meetings in January and March. 'There [was] no objection from the council members on the collaboration ... during the council meetings. Therefore, voting [was] not needed on this decision,' the HKADC said. Two curators will work with Nittve on the project. One will be an M+ curator - probably among four the museum is in the final stage of recruiting. The other will be a junior local curator hired for the project for a year. Art critic John Batten said it was excellent that the M+ team was handling the biennale but that the selection of an artist to represent Hong Kong should be done by consensus.