Outgoing Hong Kong arts hub chief Michael Lynch bemoans bureaucracy and attitude of some local artists

Outgoing arts hub chief bemoans bureaucracy and attitude of local artists

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 August, 2015, 5:05am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 August, 2015, 1:33pm

Acrimony over Hong Kong's quest to build a world-class arts hub in West Kowloon has continued with the latest person to bow out as chief executive of the project accusing the city of losing its can-do spirit. 

Departing West Kowloon Cultural District supremo Michael Lynch has also fired a parting shot at the "hissing, moaning and griping" of some local artists and said delays and cost overruns on the project were "not entirely under our control".

He also bemoaned the number of times he had to appear before the Legislative Council.

Speaking on Friday, his last day in office, Lynch, 65, said he was preparing for a holiday in Rome after a horrendous year on a personal level: three relatives died and his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.

As well as reflecting frankly on the difficulties of his four years in Hong Kong, Lynch also spoke of his pride in putting together a strong management team and a concrete plan to roll out major elements of the arts hub between 2017 and 2019.

"I said when I came that I understood why everyone was so sceptical, cynical … about this project, because it's just been around for too long. The thing we had to do was to show some progress," he said.

But the scepticism continues. The project, first announced in 1998, is suffering delays and budget overruns.

Just last month, lawmakers approved an extra HK$3.7 billion for construction. In May, the opening of the M+ museum of visual culture was pushed back again to late 2019, two years behind the original schedule.

"The whole thing could have happened two, three, or even eight years ago, but that hasn't entirely been under our control," Lynch said.

Work on the adjacent high-speed-rail terminus was one problem. Work should have finished this year, but successive delays have held up construction of the cultural facilities, he added.

Lynch likened negativity surrounding the cultural district to a "barometer of discontent" in the city affected by issues such as political reform and housing. His team had to "put up with a lot of crap" from the press, Lynch said.

"In the first year that I did Legco, we had 42 art deputations who, effectively, just hissed at us and griped and moaned, led by Mathias Woo [Yan-wai] and the other more discordant voices who I thought we'd never be able to totally quieten," he said.

But Woo, co-artistic director and executive director of Zuni Icosahedron and a former consultant to the arts hub, disagreed.

"Actually, Hong Kong's cultural sector has given up on West Kowloon … The government doesn't listen," he said.