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.

Thomas Heatherwick and his super-sculptures

Thomas Heatherwick and his art intrigue me.

Years ago, my boss at Swire gave me an interview clip on Heatherwick’s childhood. I find out that Heatherwick, born into a family of artists, harbours a questioning mind since he was a child. He likes to find out new ways of doing things. It’s fascinating how the curious, geeky child who makes strange greeting cards and craft for his mom becomes the man that he is today.

The man behind these ideas

When I was working in Hong Kong, I remember seeing the British artist for the first time, the creative mind behind the £120m Pacific Place Contemporarisation project, a visionary attempt to redesign one of the best malls in Hong Kong. He has a very intense look about him and doesn’t seem to give a damn what the world thinks of him. There he was, artist behind B of the Bang, in a press conference and media tour that promoted his creative work, oblivious to all that publicity surrounding him. He looked as if he was thinking of his next big idea. Nowadays, Pacific Place has a much more dramatic look about it, with the lighter shades, rippling wooden facade of toilets, musical capsule lifts, airy piazzas, a greenhouse Italian restaurant, and a dazzlingly luxurious hotel with a most modest stony facade (For more, click here).

The living coral sculpture he did for Shanghai Expo’s UK Pavilion this year is equally startling. I love the subtle, quivering silhouette of the sculpture (video).

London Mayor Boris Johnson has announced Heatherwick’s design for all Londoners: a new, low-emissions Routemaster bus which, in my opinion, looks like a red cake of soap. The new bus will roam London’s streets from 2012 onwards.

The new Heatherwick bus that looks like a cake of soap

Have a look at his medium- and large-scale projects on his studio if you have the time. They seem to assume a life of their own. (Heatherwick studio)

I am still planning to go to the Beach Cafe in Sussex he designed one warm sunny day.