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An open letter about the proposed museums at the West Kowloon Cultural District
29th May 2004

The International Association of Art Critics Hong Kong Chapter wishes to express our conviction that the Hong Kong Government’s current selection and tendering procedures for the museums to be included in the HK$22 billion West Kowloon Cultural District will unnecessarily damage Hong Kong’s cultural future.

Our concerns are based on the following:

1. The agenda for the development of the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) museum cluster is led by the Housing, Planning and Lands Bureau, rather than the government department with responsibility for cultural policy: the Home Affairs Bureau. The project is treated mainly as a real estate development project rather than a cultural project.

2. The four ‘preferred’ museums (ink painting, modern art, design and moving image) suggested by the Housing, Planning and Lands Bureau for the ‘museum cluster’ have been proposed without adequate or considered assessment of the available resources (collection, audience, museum professionals, etc.) in relationship with the future cultural development of Hong Kong.

3. It is an abdication of the Government’s fundamental responsibilities effectively to delegate comprehensive and conclusive proposals for the design, development, administration and operation of museums to property developers, which are unqualified for such work, and merely tendering for a multi-faceted property development.

4. Despite the fact that the Government made specific recommendation on building the four museums, there has been no public statement, from a cultural perspective, of general principles to be applied to the WKCD, nor how it will relate to the rest of Hong Kong’s cultural infrastructure. In addition, there has not been any professionally supported data and argument presented by the government to justify the building four medium-size museums instead of other legitimate types/styles and number of museums that might be included in the museum cluster of the WKCD.

5. It is recognised that developers will, when proposing suggestions for the museum cluster, stay within the government's four ‘preferred’ museums. Consequently, other legitimate types/styles of museum will not be ‘aired’ at this proposal stage.

6. While inviting the public to give five minutes comments at general consultation meetings can be a welcomed public relationship act, it is essential that the government should recognised its limited knowledge and extensively engage professionals in museum management, curatorial and cultural studies during the early stage of planning the museums. The task must not be left to government officials and property developers only.

7. There has not been adequate or considered discussion about how these museums will be administered and operated – in terms of governance, responsibility to the viewing public, artistic and curatorial excellence, collection policy etc.

8. There has been no analysis of the complementary or other roles that the existing museums will play in relationship with the WKCD museum cluster. The promotion of the WKCD in fact diverts attention away from reviewing Hong Kong’s existing publicly-funded museums, neglecting the urgent need for the examination of the role and governance of such museums, despite the fact that there is a commonly shared view among arts professionals, including members of AICA, that the public could get better values for the resources being put into the public museums.

9. We call on the Government to ensure that proposals for the WKCD museum cluster are subject to the following necessary protections:

i. adequate and considered professional discussions and research involving professionals in the arts and cultural field
ii. express consideration of the way in which the WKCD is to interface with other publicly-funded arts provision in Hong Kong
iii. express public statement of principles of design, development, administration and operation of the museums, open to public review and comment, and capable of revision
iv. express commitment to establish an independent review board or other public board for the management of the WKCD

10. We acknowledge the possibility of delay in the completion of the WKCD’s museum element resulting from greater public accountability and a focus on the art rather than the property element of the Development, but believe it is warranted, given the generations-long impact on the heritage of Hong Kong.

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