All art is political – maybe more so in Hong Kong than elsewhere

  • With the public footing the bill, is it any wonder that arts centres in the city operate in the red and court controversy?
PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 December, 2018, 8:58pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 December, 2018, 10:23pm

They say all art is political. In Hong Kong, that often takes on a different meaning. Two recent incidents in the local art scene raise questions about the quality of arts management, and whether the government’s subvention in the sector – which involves direct funding, land grants and/or token rents – is working properly.

PMQ, the designs and arts hub in Hollywood Road, Central, has failed to collect rents worth more than HK$10 million from tenants in arrears and written them off as bad debts. Located at the heritage site of the former Police Married Quarters, it is managed by an entity under the non-profit Musketeers Education and Culture Charitable Foundation and pays only an annual HK$1 in symbolic rent to the government.

However, the deal is that it has to share half of any profit with the government’s treasury. So far, it hasn’t made any money. And that seems to form the basis of what sounds like a conspiracy theory, that is, the hub didn’t want to pay the government and so was happy with the “debt write-offs”.

It sounds far-fetched. But that didn’t stop several Democratic Party members, among them lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung, from filing a complaint with the Independent Commission Against Corruption for suspicious accounting practices. It looks more like a case of bad management than actual corruption, compounded by inadequate monitoring by the Development Bureau. You know how those struggling artistic types are when it comes to paying rent.

Instead of going to the ICAC, it would have made much more sense for the Democrats and the Central and Western District Council to pressure the bureau and the foundation to review and revamp PMQ’s management and rent collection practices. But that would make far less sensational news for the Democrats.

Ma Jian lands in Hong Kong as venue reverses decision to cancel talks

Meanwhile, it has been international news throughout last month that dissident author Ma Jian was initially barred from attending a literary festival at Tai Kwun, another arts and heritage centre at the former Central police station.

The decision was subsequently reversed, but not before the local yellow-ribbon media and the foreign press had a field day with the story. Was it political censorship? After all, Bernard Chan, the Executive Council convenor, is chairman of Tai Kwun’s advisory committee. Or just bad management?

Anyway, what author with a new book to sell wouldn’t die for a high-publicity row like that?

Tai Kwun made it all worthwhile for Ma.