FOR MOST LOCAL independent art curators, it's a jungle out there. 'The environment is very hostile,' says Oscar Ho Hing-kay, one of the veterans in the field. A lack of space, money, know-how and support constantly dog 'free agents' who prefer to show art on their own terms. However, a new generation of curators is rising to these challenges, and their efforts are paying off in a host of current and upcoming projects. Independent curator April Ma Siu-ying aimed high when she collaborated with the Hong Kong America Centre to stage an exhibition of works by 30 local artists at the Fulbright China Research Forum. The event, which runs from tomorrow until Friday, aims to give the forum's scholars a greater understanding of Hong Kong and China, partially through its art and culture. Ma jumped at the chance to introduce the group to local artists, and proposed a three-week exhibition involving prominent local names such as Ho Siu-kee and Lukas Tam Wai-ping. The plan was rejected by one of the biggest privately run art spaces in town, however, because it 'didn't fit their direction'. Undaunted, Ma put together a less ambitious one-day programme to be shown in industrial Chai Wan, which is a long way from the galleries of SoHo. One of Ma's frequent collaborators, artist Carol Lee Mei-kuen, agreed to hold a temporary exhibition in her fifth-floor studio, as did a few other artists studios in the same building, and the 10 Chancery Lane Gallery Annex, run by Katie de Tilly. Curators are finding space for their projects in unexpected places, Ma says. Several have learned the importance of 'thinking outside the white cube'. Curator and art critic Jeff Leung is no stranger to the alternative space, and has hosted shows in his shared studio in Fo Tan (most recently Episode II: Read Differance last December). The most important thing is 'getting resources', he says. 'I won't use the keywords 'money' or 'budget',' Leung says, but he specifies 'tangible resources, like spaces other than a traditional gallery'. Aries Chan Mei-sum, who helped Leung curate the Read Differance show, is planning to go one step further, and hold exhibitions 'at home' in her Causeway Bay flat, which has a roof and view of the Central Library. There's a gap in the arts community that neither museums nor galleries can fill, she says. 'They're very academic,' Chan says. 'The purpose of a museum is to educate the public, but I think some independent curators make it academic too - it's just for the in-circle people, even the curatorial statement is so difficult to read.' She wants her 'domestic' space to be more accessible, as she says the curator's job is to 'decode work into a message that people can understand'. 'I want to make this place remarkable,' she says. The Hong Kong Independent Curators' Association highlights the importance of collaboration in shows. Launched in late 2005, it oversaw the opening of Industry and Silence, its first self-originated show at the Goethe-Institut Gallery, featuring works by Pauline Chan, Luk Tsing-yuen and Chan Mei-hin. Association founding member Valerie Doran says such teamwork has its advantages. 'It would have been more difficult to pull off this show at the level we have, without the various resources our group could provide - free of charge,' she says. The show surprised critics who thought the Goethe-Institut only supported projects related to German culture. Goethe-Institut Hong Kong director Michael Muller-Verweyen, says his organisation is not a 'space giver', but would consider shows that fostered cultural exchange. 'I think it's important to do local shows as a form of cultural exchange ... if we do not show interest in local artists, how do you expect locals to show interest in German art?' says Muller-Verweyen. Unusual spaces have their limitations, however, says Ho, who has taught many of the association's curators. 'It's good to encourage experimentation, but also sad because it means there are no other options,' he says. 'It's equally important to learn to use a proper exhibition space, and to learn the complexity of organisation on a [museum's] grand scale.' Ho is also sceptical about a scheme by Hong Kong museums to invite independent curators to take guest slots, but says the public system 'has to be opened up'. 'The government has no choice but to nurture more curators, or else forget about West Kowloon,' Ho says.