HONG KONG is not the cultural desert it is often assumed to be. Traditional local arts are doing well. Chinese operas are performed regularly. There are Chinese-language theatre groups and Chinese orchestras. For those seeking a more cosmopolitan repertoire, the Fringe Festival, the International Film Festival and the Arts Festival are three annual events that have developed as the territory becomes more outward-looking. There is also the Hong Kong Philharmonic and the Hong Kong Ballet, while the Urban and Regional councils regularly invite performers from overseas. Nevertheless, comparisons with cities of similar size and wealth elsewhere reinforces the impression that these events and institutions are cultural oases in an arid countryside. So the announcement of the Arts Development Council's $1 billion strategic plan to support the creation of new works, promote local artists and fund creative productions is welcome. Local arts deserve the kind of public attention that will help put Hong Kong on the map as a centre of cultural excellence for the region. A few words of caution: the council should not be too conservative or concentrate on prestigious events at the expense of small, innovative companies. It should bear in mind that smaller groups tend to work on one project at a time and cannot easily budget or plan ahead to attract longer-term funding. The more bureaucratic the council, the less the fringe artist will benefit. It must be flexible enough to support artistic integrity and oppose censorship. But the plan is a public recognition of the valuable role of arts. So, too, is the allocation of such a big sum to their support.