#HKCLS14- Post Event Thoughts



By: Meaghan McGurgan

The past two days I've been buried deep in the world of arts admin for Hong Kong. It's a very stressful job, not nearly as fun as being creative and I realized that these arts administrators in HK need a lot more credit than they are given. The Hong Kong Cultural Leadership Summit was a very informative event that centered around one topic: The branding of Hong Kong through the arts. This automatically put a lot of the artists on edge at the conference because branding and the arts don't necessarily go hand in hand in their eyes. For me, the purpose of the conference's theme was to talk about how we can brand Hong Kong as an art hub. People travel here for fashion, travel, food and even baby formula... How can we increase arts tourism in HK from the pitiful 1% in 2013 to the higher levels of 10% that Singapore has and 12% that Japan has?

But, just by being an artist, you can't simply ignore this concept of "branding"; it's basically another word for "identity". Polonius says in Hamlet "To thine own self be true." This is my favorite branding quote. You must be true to yourself as an artist. You must be true to your audience. You must reflect your message and answer their desires for as little money as possible. In a world of social media marketing, youtube commercials, guerilla marketing from graffiti artists and flashmobs, we cannot ignore the concept of finding new and inventive ways of branding our companies.

My favorite speaker of the entire event was Michael Fock from The Culture Yard in Denmark. He was a wonderful speaker who talked about inventive city planning and festival design. He talked about how to place yourself as the artist during the concept of your festival's design. He had these amazing charts that were created to help your teams think about your work in new ways and reach as many potential audience members as possible. My favorite quote of the event came from him:


"Do not put yourself in the center of the event. You are not the center. As an artist you serve the people."

Michael Fock

We must remember as artists that it's our job to be a conduit for a larger message. That message can make our audience think or it can simply entertain. We cannot focus on just ourselves during the creative process or it's a disservice to the people who spend their hard earned money on tickets to see our events.

The debate at the end of the conference was another highlight. The topic of the debate was: The house agrees that the art scene in Hong Kong will be predominantly led by local artists by 2020.

This is a very important topic for me. I'm very close to getting my PR card and consider myself a Hong Kong artist but often times my work and the work of other expatriate artists is undervalued by the government and the ADC simply because we're not considered local enough. Simon Birch, a very predominant visual artist was passionately arguing against the motion but I think he actually ended up winning it for the "yes" side. We need artists like Simon Birch in charge of major arts projects in HK,over a person who is directly imported from New York or Singapore, who has no knowledge of our art scene or the struggles we've been facing for years. I want wonderful local artists like Julia Mok, Ysabelle Cheung, Tom Tiding and Noel Pong given the recognition for their hard work they deserve and the power to change things that we all know are not working. People have a preconception that Hong Kong art isn't as good as art from abroad. Hong Kong society perpetuates this stereotype by continuing to give jobs to people from abroad, spending millions of dollars to import shows from European artists and continually supporting international touring theatrical productions over ones by local artists. We live in a city where our museum of art has only 14 pieces from local artists and venue prices of galleries and theatres constantly constrict the local artists' ability to pay their bills.

We need a change.  I don't believe this change will be brought about by bringing in a bunch of big dogs from NYC or the UK. I think this change will have to come from within. We need the rent prices dealt with and the bureaucratic red tape broken down. I also think that the cliques within the art community of Hong Kong are a huge problem. We need to start working together. Hong Kong's melting pot is the defining feature that differentiates us from Mainland China, Singapore and Taiwan. The Chinese, English, German and French art communities need to work together. As long as we are so firmly separated, progress will always be stifled. Let's put our egos aside and work together on a grassroots movement to make Hong Kong the art hub it deserves to be!

To play the opposite, there were some things about the conference that I didn't like and feel could be improved for next year. Two hot button topics were the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority and the Arts Development Council. We had the WKCDA available for a showcase and a moderation of the debate but they weren't there to answer any questions the artists had about the project. The Arts Development Council was also nowhere to be seen. These people should have been there to answer questions we had.

Another thing I feel the conference lacked was a social media presence. We had to submit questions to the panel via SMS. It felt like voting for American Idol in 2001. Some people's questions never went through and the SMS questions were often passed over by questions from the floor. A social media platform for questions would not only engage the people in the room but also the community of Hong Kong outside the event. It was a conference about branding that didn't discuss social media marketing and had no social media presence. The irony was not lost on me.

I would recommend more English artists to attend the conference next year. I already know a ton about the Hong Kong art scene and I learned a lot. I made important contacts and have an impressive business card haul that would have taken me months to get ahold of otherwise. Now, I personally know people at the Jockey Club, the British Council, the West Kowloon Cultural District, the Hong Kong Dance Company and more... So when I have questions or favors to ask, I can call someone up that I'm facebook friends with.


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