FASHION COMES and goes, and in Hong Kong, where celebrity performers are generally referred to as 'artists', culture looks set to be big business this year. In a town where the population is reared on television soaps and Canto-pop, the sudden rush of enthusiasm from property consortiums and the public for all things artsy, brought on by the government's desire to transform the West Kowloon site into a future arts hub, is both encouraging and worrying. The catalyst for this newfound faith in culture - prime waterfront land - represents a lot more than real estate profits and total retail space. We are mapping out our future, and West Kowloon has to be built now, so we are told. Imagine the benefits: the Norman Foster-designed sky canopy soaring above world-class museums; millions of tourists marvelling at the architectural feat and, finally, our appreciative offspring reaping the benefits of our spiritual wisdom. So far, much of the discussion about the site has centred around the economic viability of the canopy, what museums to build and how many luxury apartments should be permitted. Interest groups tell us we must have a specialist museum housing ink paintings. Chinese opera advocates say they must have a theatre devoted to the craft. And Anita Mui's mother wants a museum to commemorate her daughter's contribution to the arts. But let us not be naive that our arts and culture are at stake here. Hong Kong has its orchestras and ballets, drama groups and Chinese operas, festivals and exhibitions. If the West Kowloon hub ends up a fizzer, these will still be around. Just as the project's materialisation may not necessarily see the arts flourish or improve, its absence will not see them die either. What the project speaks of is Hong Kong's need for more attractions to attract the tourist dollar. Potential business deals of all kinds are waiting to be struck. But it seems likely that those who are supposedly the drivers of culture - the artists - will be the among the last to benefit. SWith the government's patchy record of arts advocacy over the past decades, and Hong Kong's biggest property consortiums previously showing little or no interest in the arts previously, one can hardly blame the arts sector for being up in arms. With Hong Kong's rapidly changing political climate, it is difficult to predict the eventual outcome of the West Kowloon project. But one thing is sure, it takes more than transplanting large sculptures or importing international museum brand names to justify the site's existence. It is a sad reality that the new year brings little to shout about in the local arts scene. The many arts festivals in Hong Kong have either run out of steam (and sponsorship money) or have resorted to presenting lacklustre formulaic programmes. These festivals may attract audiences wanting to stock up on their annual dose of culture, but their impact on, and relevance to, the artistic community is minimal. On the visual arts front, Art Port, the international exhibition organised by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, which was supposed to bring overseas curators and professionals to Hong Kong in December, was cancelled. There was no official explanation. One baffling exhibition, 'Building Hong Kong Redwhiteblue', at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum until April 18, uses the tri-coloured polyethylene material commonly seen as storage carriers for inspiration. The 20 works are supposed to communicate the positive spirit of Hong Kong. It takes more than a leap of faith to visualise downmarket plastic sheeting as a metaphor for the strong work ethic of the 1960s/70s Hong Kong generation. The accompanying text says the sheeting evokes memories of grandparents and old Hong Kong, a claim that is out of sync with a material that made its first appearance in the city during the 1980s. Let us hope 2005 brings us better offerings.