The arts may be regarded as one of the highest forms of human expression, but the Asian arts community has failed to express itself to a wider audience. That's the view of Danny Yung Ning-tsun, artistic controller of the Centre for the Arts at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). Despite the significant role afforded to the arts in the region, Asia has no real tradition of cultural exchange. That prompted Mr Yung to organise a seminar at HKUST, which aimed to fill the communication void. The seminar on Cultural Exchange in Asia was attended by representatives of community arts groups from Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and China. 'There is an urgent need for Asia's countries to network to exchange ideas, to collaborate on projects and to develop creative energy,' Mr Yung said. Director of the Pappa Tarahumara dance company in Tokyo, Hiroshi Koike, said Japan had developed a preoccupation with Western culture. 'New styles of work face a harsh situation in Japan,' Mr Koike said. 'The tendency for audiences to yearn for things from Europe or the United States makes it very difficult to interest people in Asia and Asian culture.' In China, cultural activities faced the problem of strict government control, Professor Xiong Yuanwei of Shenzhen University, said. Because all performing arts companies were state-owned, contemporary productions usually promoted the establishment and supported government policies. 'The structure of cultural groups in China is top down,' he said. 'The Government funds the companies, gives the orders, and the groups execute. Their function is essentially for propaganda.' Experimental art in China was restricted to informal organisations or academic circles, he said. 'It's interesting because the performing arts in China are in transition,' Professor Xiong said. 'More and more is happening outside the formal government organisations and that will have an impact on the future.' Transition was something familiar to Taiwan, Hsu Yu-chien of Taipei's Pin-fong acting troupe, said. A 1988 ban on community arts and media groups was lifted in 1989 allowing complete, uncensored freedom of expression. Taiwan's arts scene had since developed into a diverse cultural stew, he said. But obstacles still existed. Most notably, a scarcity of venues and the massive costs involved in staging a production. 'Each month my company's operational costs are NT$1.8 million (HK$400,000),' Mr Hsu said. 'We only get a five per cent subsidy from the Government, so the rest must come from ticket sales.' Their challenge was to stimulate public interest in the arts without sacrificing experimental works in favour of the mainstream, he said. Each group attending the seminar faces a similar challenge - one the delegates hope to address at future arts seminars. 'There are many areas of common ground which we hope will help us develop a joint strategy for Asian cultural exchange,' Mr Yung said. The seminars are to take place at least once a year, with the next one scheduled for August in Japan.