Reviews & Articles
擬建藝發局辦公室再顯從上而下的決策 (Top-down Decision-Making for New Arts Office)
at 3:20pm on 19th April 2016
黃竹坑道和高架道路，右方為前香港仔消防處用地。Site of proposed HKADC offices (right) in Wong Chuk Hang. Photo: John Batten.
(Please scroll down for English version.)
Top-down Decision-Making for New Arts Office
In mid-November 2015 a previously unannounced item appeared for discussion at the Legislative Council’s Home Affairs Panel. Discussed was a brief proposal for the development of 28 artist studios, an art gallery and a permanent office at a cost of HK$350 million for the Hong Kong Arts Development Council to be located on the now-vacant land of the former Aberdeen Fire Station in Wong Chuk Hang. This government site will be sold and the successful developer will be required, through land lease and sale conditions, to provide these art facilities and leased back to the Hong Kong Arts Development Council in a newly built commercial building.
This proposal mirrored another recent and controversial Home Affairs Bureau announcement: the construction of a 21-storey youth hostel replacing the vacant school within the Man Mo Temple complex in Sheung Wan. This inappropriate development next to a declared monument even caught the notice of former Antiquities Advisory Board Chairman and current Executive Councillor Bernard Chan, who recently wrote in a newspaper opinion article that a compromise should ensure that the temple is appropriately protected and another site could be considered for a youth hostel.
The Home Affairs Bureau’s proposals for the Hong Kong Arts Development Council appear similarly problematic of top-down decision-making – and deserve wider public discussion. As an independent, statutory body, will these arrangements compromise or restrict the HKADC’s independence and ability to perform its roles? Will it really allow financial and location stability? And, should the HKADC’s new gallery and artist studios be located in relatively remote Wong Chuk Hang alongside some commercial galleries? As any businessperson knows, leasing premises allows great flexibility to expand or become smaller, move locations and does not require tying-up of capital. The HKADC has previously been criticized by the Government Public Auditor for leasing more office space than it needed – this information should have been given in the Home Affairs Panel’s discussion papers to legislators, together with an outline of the pros and cons of providing a “permanent home” for the HKADC and a needs analysis for a gallery and artist studios.
The main role of the HKADC is as a statutory arts funding body. It is not an experienced operator of arts facilities or of self-operated arts programming. The HKADC should continue to outsource these functions. The HKADC currently administers the Shanghai Street Artspace in Yau Ma Tei, but community and arts groups have always undertaken its operation and programming. Hong Kong needs less government-run galleries, not more. Most arts venues and exhibition spaces are operated by the Leisure & Cultural Services Department, whose galleries have restrictive conditions for use. There are few galleries that are flexible and allow art exhibitions to be ‘dirty’ (e.g. the facilities themselves can be made dirty), most government spaces are for clean, non-controversial, picture-hanging styled art displays.
Hong Kong artists have generally chosen studios in privately owned industrial buildings located in Fotan, Kwai Chung, Kwun Tong and San Po Kong. These locations are popular as they are convenient to artists’ families living in the New Territories. Wong Chuk Hang has few artists’ studios, apart from the newly established Genesis studios that the HKADC will itself operate until 2020. Wong Chuk Hang has few small-sized individual industrial units suitable for artists. And a further pressure on the area is the declining stock of lower-priced industrial buildings as Wong Chuk Hang was rezoned as a ‘commercial/office’ district - from previously being only an industrial district - about ten years ago. Now, many of the industrial buildings are being demolished, replaced by hotels and commercial office buildings that can be rented at a higher price.
Wong Chuk Hang currently does have many commercial galleries that have opened in the last 4 years, but these galleries are located in industrial buildings. Galleries located in former industrial buildings are technically illegal as their use as galleries for ‘public entertainment’ requires strict fire, stairway and exit provisions. The opening of the MTR South Island Line later this year will further accelerate Wong Chuk Hang’s evolution from an industrial to commercial area. As the area’s older industrial buildings are demolished, galleries may not necessarily transfer into the area’s commercial premises with their higher rents. The attraction of Wong Chuk Hang at the moment is because of the lower rents available in lower-cost former industrial buildings.
Consequently, the proposed location of the HKADC offices, studios and gallery may see it being isolated as the current crop of galleries are priced out of Wong Chuk Hang. This would be an ironic and unfortunate situation! Indeed, by the time the new building housing the HKADC is completed in 2022, Hong Kong’s organic and always changing arts scene may have moved elsewhere – then, where will the HKADC ‘be’?
There was vigorous questioning in the Legislative Council’s Home Affairs Panel and Public Works Committee, but pro-Government legislators inevitably passed the proposal – it will soon be presented for funding approval.
Originally published in Ming Pao Weekly, 9 April 2016.