Street performers evicted from Mong Kok and Times Square are ‘welcome’ at West Kowloon Cultural District’s Freespace – as long as they are good
District authority’s chief executive Duncan Pescod says major new arts centre will open in April and be ‘the place to be’ for licensed performers
A key part of Hong Kong’s major new arts centre is set to open next April, and street performers will be welcome “everywhere” – as long as they are any good.
Freespace, in the centre of the West Kowloon Cultural District’s art park, which has been opening in phases since earlier this year, is described as a place where the public can see innovative work across all genres.
The building includes a live music venue and a black-box theatre that can seat up to 450 people or accommodate 900 standing, the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority said.
The authority said street artists would be able to perform around the venue, after getting a licence. The licences will cost HK$100 (US$13) per year and performers will have to audition to get one. More than 400 people have already registered with the scheme, and play at different parts of the district.
“I tell you, in the future, this is going to be the place to be,” said the authority’s chief executive Duncan Pescod.
The city’s street artists have of late struggled for places to perform, after the Mong Kok pedestrian zone – a 500-metre stretch of Sai Yeung Choi Street South – was shut down in July, because of complaints over noise and obstruction.
Another well-known busking spot at the open piazza of Times Square in Causeway Bay is also at risk, as the mall has sought multiple court injunctions against unapproved street performance in the area.
“Free-floor inevitably breaks down. That’s what happened in Mong Kok because there are no rules and then it gets worse,” Pescod said.
Affected street performers would be welcome at the district, he said, but the performance would needed to be high-quality.
Pescod rejected concerns the site was remote for street performers. He said it was built around various transport facilities such as Austin and Kowloon MTR stations and the Western Harbour Tunnel, adding that the authority planned to build a bridge linking to the International Commerce Centre.
“We’ve got the express rail [to mainland China] right at our door. How can that not be the centre of the world?” he said.
But local buskers cast doubt on the size of audience they could attract.
Rex Lui Yuet-tin, who often performs at Times Square, said a licensing scheme would be good because it would ensure performance quality.
He was less positive about the district’s footfall. He said the site’s location was not convenient, and that he hoped the authority would step up facilities by providing shuttle buses at the MTR stations.
He said he would still need to look into the scheme, because buskers like to perform freely instead of having a lot of rules.
“Playing music at a very low volume would lose the taste of it,” the 55-year-old said.
Another busker, Kelvin Leung Kai-fung, shared similar concerns, but said he thought the site could help street performers. The 22-year-old said the site would be appealing to him if large business events and carnivals were hosted there to draw crowds.
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan, deputy chairwoman of the Legislative Council subcommittee that monitors the cultural district project, said the authority may have been over-optimistic.
“It may not be that easy to bring a flow of visitors to the site,” she said, adding that not many people had recently visited the district.
“The high-speed rail itself does not have enough passenger flow, and how can it rely on the rail?”
She said the authority should step up transport facilities and use its experience hosting events in the district to make the site more vibrant.
Chan added that the audition requirement of the scheme should not be too strict.