It's been two years since Louis Yu Kwok-lit took up office as the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority's executive director for performing arts, but the 46-year-old arts administrator says the real work has barely begun. Much of the project is about breaking away from 'the government way of doing things', he says, which takes time - and lateral thinking. 'How things are built, how venues are managed, how new relationships with artists are forged ... all these need time to roll out and are not going to happen within the next couple of years,' Yu says. 'I feel the biggest challenge of my job is to invent something [new]. New ways of thinking, new methods to operate as well as new ways to promote and support culture. Hong Kong is very reactionary and the desire to stay with the status quo is very strong, [and] that applies to its cultural development. The existing government model is also overwhelmingly [deep-rooted]. 'Not only are our arts administrators working within this mental framework, artists and audiences also have the same set of expectations and prejudices about what culture should be,' he says. 'For instance, audiences here think HK$200 to HK$300 is very expensive for a local theatre show; if the ticket price is any higher, it's not worth paying for unless the show is from out of town.' The fact that there isn't much reference the West Kowloon team can draw on - the HK$21.6 billion project, which will house 17 arts and cultural venues, is said to be the first of its kind in terms of both scale and ambition - only adds to that challenge. But even before a single hole is dug, there is the question of what to do with the site before the venue's first facilities are scheduled to open in 2015. One South China Morning Post reader recently asked why it would be used to hold Hong Kong Winter Wonderland, a large-scale commercial carnival, in December. 'I would like to ask what on earth this carnival has to do with culture,' the reader asks. 'This land is for Hongkongers and the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority should be using it for the kinds of outdoor concerts and shows that were proposed for the arts hub.' The authority's press office says the organisation is planning events that will 'raise public awareness of the potentials of the temporary site so that they will get used to attending events there; act as incubators for developing and nurturing talents in performing and visual arts ... and most important of all, to achieve a balanced mix of cultural and commercial activities that would make the district a financially sustainable and viable operation going forward'. Events such as the Clockenflap Music and Art Festival as well as collaborations with arts, youth and community groups are also in the pipeline, according to the press office. Yu says the public seems to be more engaged in the city's art and cultural development by way of debates, which makes him feel much more optimistic about the West Kowloon project. 'Hong Kong people look at culture, in the broadest sense, differently. People are proud of buskers these days and parents are more open-minded about letting their children study the arts,' he says. 'I think it may have something to do with the financial crisis ... parents now realise that even professionals - accountants, engineers, lawyers - can lose their jobs so they allow their children to do whatever they want. 'People are also more aware of their heritage and the city's natural history and environment; the public is more empathetic towards culture and things that don't make money. Twenty or 30 years ago, Hong Kong was very much a one-dimensional society. Now, it's more pluralistic.' Born in 1966 into a working-class family, Yu grew up in Kwun Tong at a time when 'the arts' was not considered a proper subject. His parents, like many others of their generation, wanted Yu and his brother to grow up disciplined - and trained with practical skills - and sent them to the Aberdeen Technical School where no arts subjects were taught. 'I'd stealthily read Dream of the Red Chamber under my desk and by Form Three, I'd finished the first volume,' Yu recalls. 'At the time,I really liked arts and culture but couldn't study these subjects. The exams were in subjects like carpentry and electronics.' After graduating from Form Five, most of his classmates went on to study engineering but he applied for computing at the then Hong Kong Polytechnic because 'I didn't want to get my hands dirty'. He didn't want to work in a factory on the mainland either, so he joined the Polytechnic's drama club and film society. 'I wanted to do performing arts. Every summer at the Polytechnic I wouldn't go on holiday but dabbled in playwriting and performed in dramas.' After four years at the Polytechnic, and instead of going into computing, he joined the City Hall as a cultural presentation manager. Realising his true calling was in arts administration, he went on to become Prospects Theatre's first company manager in 1993 before joining the Hong Kong Arts Centre in 1994 as a programme director. He stayed at the centre for more than a decade and subsequently served as its executive director. In 2007, he moved to the Hong Kong Arts Development Council as chief executive and three years later joined the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority. While public attitudes towards the arts are shifting, so is the political landscape, which Yu hopes will lead to some positive changes. The Culture Bureau proposed by new Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is expected to bring the different government departments that have been handling arts and culture under one roof but it also poses the big question of what culture means in a 21st-century context. 'A career in culture no longer means not being able to earn a living. Now we need to ask what culture is in this day and age, and ask what happens if we don't have culture,' Yu says. 'The founding of this bureau will create a new debate, and it definitely will be a debate; it's time for reflection, and a re-start.'