West kowloon arts hub in Hong Kong part 1

m plus Hong KongGraham Sheffield, former artistic chief of Barbican Centre in London has decided to quit his role as CEO of Hong Kong’s HK$21.6 billion (£1.8 billion) West Kowloon arts hub project after five months. He has resigned due to health reasons, although many think that there must be more that triggered his abrupt decision to leave. The Wall Street Journal blog highlights that this follows the government’s decision to abandon Norman Foster’s canopy design for the arts project, while the Hong Kong Standard‘s article pinpoints Sheffield’s unfamiliarity with the local arts scene and his willingness to market the city’s arts hub on the world stage.

With the urgency to complete the 40-hectare cultural district before 2015, the Hong Kong government is now on an immediate global hunt for a new arts director. Words have gone round that Stephan Spurr, GM/director of Swire Properties with substantial arts background especially in theatre education and artistic direction, is tipped to be one of the candidates.

Mastermind behind the thriving Island East district in Hong Kong, a distinct strip of land where art and commerce meets, Spurr has demonstrated much creativity in transforming the landscapes in this skyscraper city. Born in Japan, educated in the UK and Canada, and having worked in Hong Kong’s competitive property development sector for several decades, he has international vision and is strongly supportive of arts development, especially theatre. Over the last few years, he was the volunteer artistic director for Shakespeare4All, directing plays and inspiring local schoolchildren to master Shakespearean drama/literature. He was also involved in advising the strategy of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, which has seen considerable expansion in recent years and attracted many new patrons on board. (Read more from SCMP‘s article)

Hong Kong is a heavily built-up city, and the project land area reserved for the arts hub is a rare piece of land for new architecture, property developments and museums. With a first high speed rail soon to be built across this region, it is a great location that will soon be connected directly with the Beijing capital. Many interests are involved. Many. In my opinion, this factor calls for leaders with vision as well as diplomacy.

We are yet to discover what top-notch candidates may register their interest in this artistic director role, and the jury’s still out as to how far this arts hub project will transform the arts scene in Hong Kong or even Greater China. Yet one thing is for certain: it is time for Hong Kong to address the need for a workforce of diverse talent, to create opportunities to fuel the long term growth and development of the city’s arts and culture. It is high time to cut back bureaucracy that will poison arts development and the retention of human capital.

Much work needs to be done.

Busking: music for free

Before the train doors slid shut, two young people hopped on to the train, and the girl, dressed in short-sleeves and long boots on a gloomy winter day, broke the silence in the cabin:

“Hi everyone, we’re a newly formed band and we are passionate about music. We are traveling around singing and making music and trying to get as many people listen to our songs as we can. We are now going to sing to you a few songs and we hope you will like our stuff. As we are still starting out — you can see that our guitar is in a sorrowful state — we’re in need of money to get ourselves on track with better equipments, so any change that you can spare is welcomed! Here goes our song,” the girl introduced themselves, then pulled out a drum, and the duo started playing.


Their self-promotion on the tube is touching to see: fueled by passion, the young duo are working hard towards their dreams. They are starting out and have little to back them up in their music careers bar their resourcefulness, and they are bold and self-assured when reaching out to their potential audience.  There is a lot of competition in the music industry, and London is never short of young and talented musicians, but they are willing to try. I once heard of a friend who says, if you keep on trying and failing, there is very little chance that you will not succeed.

Set up in 2003, London Underground’s busking scheme gives talented musicians an opportunity to obtain a licence to perform in metro stations. Other than commuters giving money to these musicians in support of their artistic career, the scheme has attracted various big-name sponsors.  Today there are over 400 buskers playing on the London Underground, offering free, original music to 3 million commuters in the city. While some continue to see buskers as doing it for the donations, there are many who genuinely appreciate the chance to listen to original music as they travel to and from work, and the scheme has made it easier for discovering local talents. I have listened to many of their songs.

Small and beautiful. Small is beautiful. There is a world for small independent artists in every city.