Macau-based Hiu Koc Theatre's new home is an oasis. Its venue in an old factory in Hac Sa is nearly 2,200 square feet, big enough to double as a studio theatre accommodating an audience of up to 50. And with a 12th-floor view of the Pearl River, it rivals the warehouse studios of London or New York. 'We've waited 24 years for this,' said Raymond Cheang Kai-sang, artistic director for Hiu Koc. Before paying 510,000 patacas for the place, the company, like most amateur performance groups in Macau, made do with evening residences in empty school halls and community centres. Monthly bills for the place come to about 6,000 patacas. That may sound minimal to Hong Kong arts groups - most tenants in the doomed artists' collective Oil Street, for example, have been shouldering a similar bill - but to an amateur artistic collective in Macau, where salaries are much lower, money is hard to come by. 'Most groups in Macau are amateurs and it is really a tough job,' Cheang said. Macanese artists are in worse straits than Hong Kong counterparts. Government subsidies are minimal: more than 100 cultural groups, from avant-garde dance theatre groups to Chinese calligraphy clubs, vie for a slice of a one-million-pataca pie. Cheang and his colleagues can only look on in envy as companies in the SAR receive tens of thousands of dollars from the Arts Development Council (ADC), while in Macau, artists have to spend months doing street performances to scrape together similar amounts. With resources so scarce, Macanese arts companies have few places to call home. Dance theatre group Comuna de Pedra is one of the fortunate few. For 2,500-pataca rent a month, the group took over a street-level shop in old Macau's centre and turned it into a studio. The only sponsorship Comuna receives is from the government - about 30,000 patacas a year - roughly the same amount that a small Hong Kong theatre group may get from the ADC for a single project. 'We would like to see whether setting up a home base will help us survive,' said Jane Lei Ioi-chon, one of the group's founding members. By organising dance workshops, film screenings and membership schemes, the books have remained balanced since the opening of their Rua de Tomas Vieira home three months ago. The location has also allowed Comuna to bring its work to the masses. When Comuna staged a rehearsal of their upcoming performance Post Tai Peng Tin Kwok - Heaven Is Near for a pack of Hong Kong journalists on Saturday, passers-by stopped to witness the spectacle. Nonetheless, indifference has proved the main enemy of artists like Cheang and Lei. Many veteran Macanese artists agree the Macanese scene now resembles Hong Kong in the early 1980s, when populist entertainment reigned supreme and only a handful of groups flew the flag for intellectual artistic aesthetics. Lei and Cheang harbour few hopes about the post-handover administration. The designated Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Fernando Chui Sai-on, had declined to grant an audience to local artistic groups, Cheang said. There are fears the official may cast cultural affairs aside after taking office. Cheang is now searching for an artists' village. Hiu Koc is putting together a proposal that will see a group of derelict colonial-era buildings on Avenida do Conselheiro Ferreira de Almeida transformed into a complex dedicated to artistic development. Discussion with the outgoing colonial administration has dragged on for a year. Cheang is now playing the arts-tourism card and talking of the complex as a revenue-generating attraction. He is pushing the notion of 'environmental theatre', which will see theatre companies using Macau's many historial places as backdrops for performances: Hiu Koc's next large-scale performance will be Joan Of Arc in front of the St Paul facade next month. 'All we can do is try to broaden the influence of art in the society - this will hopefully provide us with more power to bargain with the government later on,' Cheang said.