West Kowloon Cultural District

Hong Kong arts hub boss defends appointment of American artistic director

Henry Tang Ying-yen, chairman of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, insists Alison Friedman is the ‘best person’ for the job

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 October, 2017, 9:30pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 October, 2017, 10:29pm

The new chairman of Hong Kong’s West Kowloon arts hub has defended the management’s appointment of an American as its artistic director for performing arts amid criticism from local performers.

Henry Tang Ying-yen, chairman of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, said after a board meeting on Tuesday that Alison Friedman was the “best person” for the job.

“It is my view that we have selected the best person for the job because it is important that if we want to build an international, first-class cultural centre, we must have first-class people,” Tang said after chairing the meeting.

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“Alison is very familiar with the Chinese culture and has lived in Beijing for more than 10 years. She was very successful in Beijing.”

He made the comments after Cantonese opera performers in Hong Kong said they were “extremely disappointed” that the job went to an American.

Liza Wang Ming-chun, chairman of the Chinese Artists Association of Hong Kong, which represents more than 1,000 Cantonese opera performers, said earlier that Friedman did not have any experience with xiqu, or Chinese opera.

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Wang has also said that the authority has a mentality of “putting the arts hub on the international map by hiring foreigners”.

Friedman is the founding director at Ping Pong Productions, a Beijing-based consultancy promoting cultural exchange. She has worked in China for almost two decades.

Having majored in Chinese literature and literary translation at Brown University in the US, she is a fluent Mandarin speaker. She lectures at various universities in China and around the world.

“We found the right person to be the overall artistic director. Under the artistic director, there will be four specialists, four heads – one for dance, one for music, one for drama and one for xiqu. We have already appointed the music, drama and dance heads. The only remaining one is xiqu,” Tang said.

Local talent should be the best direction

But according to Wang, the authority had earlier promised to hire another director to be in charge specifically for xiqu – not just a “specialist” or “head” as Tang suggested on Tuesday.

On this, Tang added: “We always live by what we say. Therefore, we will be appointing someone who is very knowledgeable about xiqu.”

Asked if Wang is a suitable person to be in charge of xiqu, Tang said Wang did not apply for the job.