My Take

Take the art out of building the West Kowloon cultural hub

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 July, 2015, 12:28am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 July, 2015, 12:28am

Having argued and wrangled over the West Kowloon cultural development for 15 years, most people in Hong Kong are suffering from arts hub fatigue.

From day one, it's been a government project that pretends to be something else. It's supposed to be a world-class artistic showcase, but the bureaucrats and arts people involved never manage to articulate a coherent vision and agenda.

With cost overrun that now raises the price tag to at least HK$23.5 billion, the accountants and bureaucrats have finally taken over. Duncan Pescod, currently the project's chief operating officer, will take over from Michael Lynch as CEO.

Eyebrows were raised. The critics' knives are out. What are his arts credentials, critics ask? What possible artistic vision can he bring to the job?

Well, he has none. And that's precisely why he was picked. The whole costly overseas recruitment exercise was, of course, a charade.

A former housing chief, Pescod had worked at the Lands Department, Tourism Commission, the old Home Affairs and Security branches and the defunct Urban Services Department in a civil-service career spanning 32 years.

You can't get a better civil servant and a safer pair of hands, as far as the government is concerned.

He is so unlike his two predecessors. Graham Sheffield was positively unhinged when he abruptly quit in 2011 after just five months into his job. Oh, the artistic temper!

Lynch, who enjoys a stellar reputation in the international arts world, reportedly clashed repeatedly with Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the chief secretary and chair of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority Board, over budgets.

Lam has put her foot down and made it clear to everyone that there would be no more money for the project.

That also means there will be no more artistic types to run it. Pescod will be Lam's executor, making sure finances are under control and any further cost overrun contained.

That's precisely his expertise. Artistic vision? Forget about it!

His brief is to deliver key facilities like a showcase park, the Xiqu Centre for Chinese operas and the M+ museum reasonably on time and within budget.

I for one think he is an excellent choice.

Just build the damn thing and get it over with.