An arts and culture policy requires direction and vision, and usually, money. We seem to have a fair amount of the latter, but less of the former. The government has said it wants Hong Kong to become an international cultural centre and has earmarked billions of dollars to achieve that aim. This provides facilities and funds artistic ventures, but ignores a basic principle: culture cannot simply be bought. This lack of understanding is evident in the difficulties being faced by major arts and cultural groups. They complain about overly bureaucratic regulation and being treated like commercial ventures. Most of all, they contend there is little support for their efforts. Heavy subsidies would seem to prove otherwise, but that is not what is meant by a lack of backing. Groups like the Hong Kong Philharmonic Society are grateful for the funding; without it, they would struggle to survive. What the orchestra's chief conductor, Edo de Waart, and other prominent arts community figures gripe about is a perceived lack of government empathy for the arts. He rightly wonders why there seems to be indifference when almost HK$22 billion is being put towards constructing international-standard venues at the West Kowloon arts district. De Waart, who has decided to quit the orchestra in 2012, is confused why his efforts to build a more muscular ensemble have been rebuffed. He recently told this newspaper he had never felt that authorities were behind his endeavours. Funding cuts in 2002 have never been restored and he believed pressure from management to rein in costs had stifled creativity. Artistic differences abound in such a field, but there is no doubt about the vast improvements made under his baton. Certainly, the complaints by so well known a conductor do not enhance Hong Kong's reputation as a haven for the arts. Perhaps that is why arts groups have difficulty attracting people of international stature or with overseas connections. Such expertise is obviously needed if the Home Affairs Bureau's policy to make Hong Kong an 'international cultural metropolis' is to become reality. The stated aim is to 'create an environment which is conducive to the freedom of artistic expression and creation, and the wider participation in cultural activities'. It takes more than subsidies and a grandiose arts project to make this happen - there also has to be top-level conviction, determination and dedication. The Philharmonic Society and another of our leading arts and cultural groups, the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society, are looking for new administrative heads. Both organisations are important to our city and the government's policy. Authorities have to ensure that the right conditions and benefits are on offer so that the best managers can be attracted. Hong Kong's image is firmly grounded in it being a place for finance and shopping. The West Kowloon project alone will not add arts and culture to that; we also need to build on the artistic and cultural endeavours we already have. A government policy stating aims is just a first step; we need vision, clear directions and sustained commitment as well.