Nine Hong Kong arts groups in plea to government for increased funding

Publicly funded bodies say culture is important to growth and Hong Kong lags behind others

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 January, 2014, 4:59am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 January, 2014, 9:31am

Nine publicly funded major performing arts groups are calling for the government to increase the overall arts and cultural budget from less than 1 per cent of the total government expenditure to 2 per cent - the same goal as South Korea.

In a letter to Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah seen by the Post, the nine arts groups alleged that the government had not allocated additional resources for culture in real terms for more than a decade and demanded the government review the status quo.

"Developing arts is an investment for our society rather than a welfare service," they wrote.

"Since the local economy is restructuring into an intellectual economy, the government has the responsibility to re-examine the existing allocation of public spending to take advantage of such an opportunity."

Government statistics show that although arts and culture expenditure rose from HK$2.64 billion in 2008/09 to HK$3.3 billion in 2013/14, the percentage of total expenditure fell over the past three years.

In 2010/11 it stood at 1.2 per cent, then fell to 0.98 per cent in 2011/12. It was 1.01 per cent in 2012/13 and in 2013/14, it is expected to account for only 0.93 per cent.

However, other Asian countries and regions are spending more. According to Korean media, Park Geun-hye's government vowed to increase South Korea's annual arts and cultural budget to 2 per cent by 2017. And last year Taiwan saw a 3 per cent increase in its cultural budget to NT$16.1 billion (HK$4.15 billion), according to Taiwan's Ministry of Culture.

The nine groups - the Chung Ying Theatre Company, the City Contemporary Dance Company, the Hong Kong Ballet, the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, the Hong Kong Dance Company, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Society, the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, the Hong Kong Sinfonietta and theatre company Zuni Icosahedron - also need to increase staff wages.

Chung Ying Theatre Company's general manager Dominic Cheung said theatre groups could not build capacity because the pay scale was so much lower than jobs at the West Kowloon Cultural District and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department as well as the education and commercial sector.

The Home Affairs Bureau said the total subvention for the nine groups in 2013/14 was HK$304 million - a 40 per cent increase from HK$219 million in 2007/08.

Of the HK$3.3 billion arts and cultural budget in 2013/14, the government spent HK$947.4 million, or 29 per cent, on public programming for performing arts venues. The Arts Development Council (ADC) received HK$95.8 million, accounting for 3 per cent, the smallest share.

"The ADC receives only 3 per cent, but it supports 80 per cent of the most active arts groups in Hong Kong," Mathias Woo, executive director of Zuni Icosahedron said.