Is new Kowloon arts hub chief's practical knowledge enough to quiet sceptics?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 July, 2015, 12:48am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 July, 2015, 12:48am

Given its troubled history, stability at the top of the West Kowloon Cultural District project is arguably as important to the vision of a world-class arts hub as the personal credentials of the chief executive. Australian Michael Lynch, former chief of the Sydney Opera House and the South Bank Centre in London, delivered on both counts for more than four years until his resignation as chief executive for personal reasons.

Lynch has steadied the ship and kept it on course after his predecessor Graham Sheffield, former director of the Barbican Centre in London, quit within months. In that respect he leaves big shoes to fill for retired top civil servant Duncan Pescod, director of housing until April last year, who is Lynch's chosen successor after a global search. With his local background and nine months' experience as the West Kowloon authority's chief operating officer, Pescod should have no illusions about the demanding job he is taking on. If Lynch ever had any they were dispelled at his debut press conference where he had to assure persistent questioners that his age - then 60 - had not wearied him and that he used a cane to combat the effects of polio when he was three. Ironically, he stood down a year after signing a new three-year contract not because of his own health but his wife's, and the need to spend more time with his family.

Pescod's appointment to succeed him has, predictably, prompted criticism of his lack of artistic credentials, given that he is a long-time government official who will head a statutory body that is supposed to operate at arm's length from the administration. Indeed, when announcing he was quitting, Lynch said his successor should have connections with the art world as well as local knowledge and an understanding of the complex politics of the city. Pescod has the last two credentials in abundance. Moreover, as chief operating officer, he has already come to grips with infrastructure and planning issues. Lynch's legacy includes a team of veteran art administrators and curators to help deal with cultural issues.

With endless delays to construction brought about by works on the high-speed rail terminus and rising project costs, the question is whether delivery of the arts hub vision depends more on infrastructure management and political skills than on an arts background. Lynch says Pescod's knowledge of the city and the government's operations will ensure delivery of the project. If so he could confound the sceptics.