Zuni HKBR Conference: think tank

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Hong Kong Belt-Road City-to-City Cultural Exchange Conference 2018 (Asian Strategy): Cultural Think Tanks

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 September, 2018, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 September, 2018, 2:34pm

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“Mathias (Woo) has just mentioned his aspiration for this city-to-city conference to become a sustainable platform. I want to assure you, Danny (Yung) and Mathias, that the HKSAR Government will certainly give you that support in many years to come.” That was the assurance given to Zuni Icosahedron by the Honourable Mrs. Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor (Chief Executive of Hong Kong S.A.R.) in her speech delivered during the opening ceremony for last year’s conference: her administration staunchly supports the group’s efforts to develop a cultural think tank in Hong Kong.

That mission – in respect of the recent establishment of the CE’s Council of Advisers on Innovation & Strategic Development (the “Council”) for mapping out Hong Kong’s future development and strategies for driving innovation – forms the central theme of the annual event’s latest iteration. The Hong Kong Belt-Road City-to-City Cultural Exchange Conference 2018 (Asian Strategy) will be held in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre from October 15th to 20th. To coincide with the work of the Policy Innovation & Co-ordination Office (“PICO”, which is responsible for providing research support to the Council), the Conference focuses on the task and the challenges that come with the launching a think tank in Hong Kong to support cultural exchange among cities located along the Belt and Road region through seminars, workshops, theatre performances and discussions – and culminating in a 2-day conference scheduled for October 19th and 20th.

The prelude to this year’s conference was the “Belt-Road City Cultural Study Trip” (September 2nd to 8th), a programme for nurturing much-needed human resources locally to support the mission. Zuni Icosahedron collaborated with Think City – a Malaysian think tank based in Kuala Lumpur – and arranged young art administrators, cultural practitioners and researchers from Hong Kong and Mainland China to visit Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Participants familiarized themselves with the latest developments in Malaysia’s cultural scene and the working of Think City, studied the country’s cultural institutions and projects, and established networks for future collaboration. In addition, 15 researchers from Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Taipei, Tainan, Kaohsiung, Macau and Hong Kong will carry out their own researches on establishing a cross-cultural think tank. Both groups of participants will share their experience and present their findings in workshops and during the course of the conference.

On partnership of cultural organizations, representatives from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences expressed keen interest to team up with Hong Kong after last year’s conference. “Shanghai has the wherewithal for the mission, and is waiting for our go-ahead,” explained Danny Yung, a founding member and Co-artistic Director of Zuni Icosahedron. “However, we in Hong Kong lack the foundation for collaboration because this issue has been discussed merely on the conceptual level. Hong Kong has yet to produce a long-term masterplan and commit itself to a blueprint for setting up a Belt-Road cultural think tank.” It will also set the path for training young cultural leaders in the region.

As a leading cultural advocate in Hong Kong, Danny deplores the city’s preference for “quick fixes” and “speedy solutions”. In the cultural field, we have been plagued by a lack of vision and long-term planning based on professional research as well as in-depth review and analysis. Instead, our impatient, blind rush to achieve and accomplish has led us to churn out an endless stream of slogans, activities and programmes that have markedly failed to produce a lasting legacy.

This consumer mentality to put a price on culture by “quantifying” the costs and benefits of cultural products and services accounts for the tendency to equate the formulation of cultural policies with “procurement of cultural services” instead of “development of cultural infrastructure”. It also helps explain why local cultural groups have been afflicted with the myopic views and mentality of small-time factory operators: they strive to come up with ever more novel products and services without truly understanding the more important role they can play in the bigger picture.

This is where the conference can make a difference. It began more than two decades ago as an occasion for representatives from four cities in the Greater China Region with the same cultural heritage (Hong Kong, Taipei, Shanghai and Shenzhen) to meet and share their experiences and views on cultural phenomena annually and incessantly. The meetings were held consecutively in each of the four respective cities. With ample experience accumulated and brought forth, Zuni began a brand-new chapter with the Hong Kong Belt-Road City-to-City Cultural Exchange Conference 2018 (Asian Strategy) that will focus on 5 types of institutions with reference to their strengths and weaknesses, their visions and resources as well as their structures and governance:

  1. culture-related government and legislative bodies;
  2. cultural foundations;
  3. universities, research institutes and think tanks;
  4. arts and cultural services providing organizations, and
  5. front line arts organizations.

It is a supra-annual exercise in comparative cultural studies that aims to better understand the impact public policies have on organizations and institutions as well as the way they can shape and influence cultural development. The ultimate goal is to develop a cross-cultural think tank, which is essential to the gestation of holistic visions and will provide guidance to evidence-based policymaking as well as our quest for a citizen-engaged society. Knowledge-based visions will also help produce mandates and blueprints for long-term planning that are important to the formulation of effective public policies.

The Leisure & Cultural Services Department, the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, and the Hong Kong Arts Development Council are the dominant players that have commanded the lion’s share of resources in the local cultural scene. It is Danny’s hope and belief that an independent think tank will facilitate citizen engagement in evidence-based policymaking and will help draw up a blueprint for the city’s long-term cultural development. Now comes the crucial question: how to translate collaboration between our Chief Executive Mrs. Carrie Lam, Danny and Zuni into a concrete way forward for this huge infrastructural development?


Hong Kong Belt-Road City-to-City, Cultural Exchange Conference 2018 (Asian Strategy)

Programme date: October 15th to 20th

Organizer: Zuni Icosahedron

Curators: Danny Yung, Mathias Woo

Conference date: October 19th to 20th (Friday & Saturday)

Venue: Studio Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre

Language: Chinese & English (with simultaneous interpretation)

Programme Inquiries: 2566-9696


Online registration and survey: