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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:12 AM   #521
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Tuesday July 12 2005

On with the job


Baptist University is set to open the city's first visual arts academy, with the aim of giving students career-oriented credentials, writes Clarence Tsui

GIVEN ITS LACK of a track record in art-related education, the Hong Kong Baptist University's decision to open the city's first Academy of Visual Arts in September is a leap into the unknown.

After all, the university has never offered a fine arts degree and can count only a medium-sized, minimally equipped classroom as the core of its art-related facilities. So, decision-makers at the university are playing up the potential of the refurnished buildings of the 3,500sqft former Royal Air Force officers' mess at Kowloon Bay. The site will house the academy until it moves into its on- campus home, a new building it will share with the School of Communication when it's finished in 2008.

'Its high ceilings, spacious rooms, scenic views and surroundings are very suitable for creative work and teaching of visual arts,' says Professor Chung Ling, the university's dean of arts, in a press release celebrating the government agreeing to lease the historic site to the academy.

For the university, which boasts an established Electro-acoustic Music Centre complete with state of the art studios, the academy is a challenging step forward. Offering courses ranging from the traditionally artisan (paintings, ceramics, even glasswork) to cutting-edge entrepreneurial (design for exhibitions and events, digital photo-imaging), the academy is eager to present itself as the embodiment of the varying aspects of contemporary visual arts.

Chung says the university is just following 'a government direction' in providing tertiary-level visual arts training 'in order to nurture more creative talents for the development of creative industries'. These industries include design, packaging, image building and advertising.

For the 40 students (out of 570 applications) who will start classes at the academy in September, the degree in visual arts will be a primer touching on the divergent fundamentals of the field. Students are to be trained in the technical skills of drawing, sculpture and installation art. Chung is confident graduates will be able to navigate the job market with their career- oriented credentials. 'There will be more openings for designers, photographers and especially exhibit designers - galleries and commercial expositions, for example,' she says.

Given how the course framework resembles vocational training as much as art in the more traditional sense, Chung says the academy's curriculum moves beyond the ones offered by fine arts departments at the Chinese University and the University of Hong Kong, which she says are strong in studio arts and art history, respectively.

Her views illustrate how career opportunities are now important - if not paramount - in how university education is shaped. With Hong Kong - and neighbours such as Singapore or Taiwan - eagerly seeking a reinvention after the economic slowdown of the past few years, an entrepreneurial spirit is deemed a necessity for students from all disciplines.

The advent of creative industries has big business potential - as shown in how design, arts and music now make up 8 per cent of Britain's GDP, or how post-industrial cities such as Manchester or Bilbao were rejuvenated with a mix of museums, multi-media events and music.

The way universities are made to account for their budgets has also alerted school administrators to the career opportunities of every subject being offered.

'The programme intends to use fine arts as a foundation, so that students can have a solid training in fine arts while gaining an ability to make a professional career out of it,' says Choi Yan-chi, one of the full-time lecturers at the new academy and chairwoman of the alternative arts collective 1aspace.

A veteran curator and artist in Hong Kong who has braved the public indifference and professional insecurities that benchmarked art practitioners in the 1980s, Choi says the artistic landscape has transformed beyond recognition.

While applied arts have kept many an artist at work in the past, it's now more lucrative. 'How art is created and executed is very different these days - and so is the society that will welcome the students when they eventually graduate,' she says.

Choi points to the wealth of opportunities and prestige being accorded to designers, architects and artists in light of the West Kowloon Cultural District developments and the proliferation of bookshops and studios.

The Baptist University harbours great hopes for the new academy. There are plans to increase the student population to 400 in the next few years. Such ambitions beg the question: Can Hong Kong absorb so many artists?

The key is to look north, according to Professor Matthew Turner, director of the Hong Kong Arts Centre's Art School.

'We don't expect simply to provide graduates who fit local demands and initiatives,' he says. 'I imagine students will end up across China - or indeed in the region: there are biennales and triennales in Guangzhou, Singapore, Beijing, Chongqing, Taipei or Tainchung. It's a large picture.'

The Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 offer another opening. 'The organisers may look for designers and artists to make the Games look better,' says Josephine Jim Sau-ha, the Art School's registrar.

There are, indeed, gaps waiting to be filled. Fields such as arts management - learning how to devise strategies for museums, performing arts companies and even the 'cultural branding' of cities themselves - don't feature at all among the eight University Grants Commission-funded institutions. The Arts Centre's Art School is the only institution that holds academically accredited courses in this field, offering professional certificates for visuals art management and curatorship.

'Several students wanted to give up well-paid professional jobs to become curators, and we're going, 'Oh dear, remember the day job',' says Turner.

Admittedly, most of the students who enrol in this programme are adults, but even students as young as 16 are coming to regard art as a feasible career rather than just a diversion before the hunt for a desk job begins.

'I think the reputation of phrases like 'creative industries' is better for youngsters these days,' says Turner. 'Parents used to say, 'Don't be stupid, you're going to do law, medicine or accounting - something solid'. Now, the language gives them currency in talking to their parents. They can say, 'This is what the government has been talking about, the creative industries, and it's important', and they can use it to their advantage.

'Maybe this is nothing to do with Disneyland or West Kowloon, but it gives them a way to articulate their real aspirations - and I think that's important. We've never had that legitimately sanctioned discourse before.'
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:13 AM   #522
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Thursday July 14 2005

Arts hub monitor plan would give Legco a say


Gary Cheung and Chloe Lai

The government is 'very seriously' considering a proposal to set up a statutory body to oversee the West Kowloon Cultural District project, the chief secretary said yesterday.

Rafael Hui Si-yan said such a move would involve the drafting of a bill, giving the Legislative Council a chance to scrutinise it.

He also said the government would state its position on electoral changes for 2007-08 when the taskforce on constitutional development released its fifth report in the autumn. Having too many options in the report would be 'irresponsible', given the time restraints.

It is the first time that Mr Hui - who is now in charge of the two controversial issues - has spoken about them at length publicly since becoming chief secretary.

He said after a meeting with the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong that 'this idea [of a body] is worth very serious consideration'.

It was the first indication of a Legco role in the plans for a 40-hectare, world-class arts hub in West Kowloon. Legislators last week claimed the government had effectively bypassed them by tailor-making a project that does not require public expenditure.

'No one wants to bypass Legco. If we set up a statutory body, we must go to Legco,' Mr Hui said. 'When the bill goes to Legco, lawmakers have their duty and right [to scrutinise it].' Mr Hui also promised more public involvement and said the government was still analysing views collected during the consultation exercise.

'What is important is the principle that at some stage in the development, there must be external and public participation by sectors that are directly involved.'

On political reform, he said 'the timing is very tight' as the new electoral arrangements had to be ready by next summer for the chief executive election in 2007 and the Legislative Council in 2008.

'I do not rule out the possibility of putting forward more than one package in the report. But I think it's time for the government to spell out a clear proposal and explain its position to the public. Given the time constraints, it would be irresponsible to provide many packages.

'It is our top priority, no doubt about it. But whether we can present something to the public, including the Legislative Council, in September, as of today I cannot definitely say whether we can make it or not.'
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:14 AM   #523
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Monday July 18 2005

Lawmaker sees merits in plan for giant park

Yi Hu

Executive Councillor Bernard Chan yesterday appeared to endorse a radical proposal to turn West Kowloon into a giant park, even though it would mean colossal financial losses for the government.

Speaking on RTHK, Mr Chan, who is also a lawmaker, gave guarded support to a large park on the site, first presented by a group of architects and activists against the government-backed cultural hub proposal. 'My personal opinion is that we need to make more financial sacrifices to give ourselves a better living environment,' he said.

'I want a better environment for myself and for my family. I'm sure most of you would say the same thing. We need to attract young, energetic, creative people to our city. But those sorts of people want a good living environment, and we are not delivering it. Even parts of Shenzhen today are looking nicer than Hong Kong, with wide sidewalks, trees and sitting-out areas.'

But he described as 'radical' the park proposal, made by the citizens' group, Hong Kong Alternatives. The biggest obstacle to expanding green spaces in the project would be 'billions and billions of dollars in revenue'.

'It's all about money. If it wanted to, the government could give us much more open space in our urban areas,' he said, 'But normally, the government will squeeze as much money out of the developers as possible. So the developers squeeze as much building into the site as possible.'

He said the expansion of green areas should be justifiable, even if it meant higher taxes. But he admitted it would be no easy task to convince the public that more trees and grass were worth all the financial sacrifices.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:15 AM   #524
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Tuesday July 26 2005

East Wing West Wing 4 - West Kowloon Side Story

Kevin Kwong

East Wing West Wing 4 - West Kowloon Side Story

Zuni Icosahedron and Edward Lam Dance Theatre

Lyric Theatre, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts

Reviewed: July 24

When Zuni Icosahedron and Edward Lam Dance Theatre first staged East Wing West Wing in 2003, directors Mathias Woo Yan-wai and Edward Lam Yick-wah said the show wasn't just to poke fun at government and senior officials, but also at ourselves.

A couple of years and three other EWWW productions later, this direction hasn't changed, but the production has become more sophisticated.

West Kowloon Side Story has made better use of multimedia and even boasts a pink Legislative Council chamber. But unlike the other three instalments, which satirised former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa and government policies in general, this one focuses on the West Kowloon Cultural District, with a number of gags on Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen thrown in for good measure.

If you don't know much about this controversial proposal, you might miss out on some of the initial laughs, but you'll soon catch on. For 150 minutes, Woo and Lam kept honing the same message: the government who initiated this project, the property developers who are interested in the project, and the public for whom this project is built all know very little - if anything - about art and culture.

That's why, by the end of the show, you feel the West Kowloon Cultural District project (if not Hong Kong itself) is such a lost cause. If one of the missions of the British colonial government was to make Hong Kong people as dumb and money-minded as possible, it's done its job with aplomb. Woo and Lam see the post-colonial, SAR government as too incompetent, and the population too lazy, to undo this legacy.

The gag in which Cedric Chan Ho-fung sang a medley of 44 Canto-pop songs in one karaoke number - with all tunes sounding similar - shows how much our creative industry, and our taste, have deteriorated (along with our command of English). But at least some of us can still laugh at our own follies, so there's still hope.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:17 AM   #525
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Sunday July 31 2005

Visions in the making of a Tanglewood on the Pearl River Delta


The Canton International Summer Music Academy has filled before its concrete's even set. Alonzo Emery visits the campus

Every summer, young classical music students from around the world descend on Tanglewood in the US and Verbier in Switzerland to hone their skills, play with renowned professionals and have a bit of fun.

The Canton International Summer Music Academy (Cisma) hopes to do the same for Asia. It may take a few years yet. On the eve of Cisma's opening performance, construction workers are still pouring concrete into the concert hall.

'They told us a week ago that we must play an opening concert and many of the performers are just getting off the plane,' says the director of Cisma's chamber-music faculty, Chantal Juillet.

'In the west, we would only play if we were absolutely ready,' she says. 'While I was conducting auditions for Cisma throughout China, some of the students came along after hearing about it, seconds before, in the hallway at school. They grabbed their instruments, walked in and asked to play. There's something very refreshing about this.'

As with similar academies in the west, one of Cisma's selling points is its staff. The academy has engaged Charles Dutoit, who has been a music director with top US orchestras in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Also on staff are Lo King-man, former director of administration at the HKAPA, conductor Long Yu, and musicians from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Geneva Conservatory, the Royal Concert-gebouw Orchestra, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich.

During three weeks of intensive work, Cisma's organisers hope to train 200 students from academies on the mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South-east Asia to become orchestral musicians, Lo says.

'This is very important, because for a long time the tradition in China, both in the mentality of parents and the habit of the conservatories, had been to devote all their energy to training soloists,' Lo says. 'But in fact one good virtuoso soloist may only be found in every 2,000 or 5,000 musicians'.

Juillet agrees. She originally planned to begin training Beijing students in 1989, but moved to Sapporo, where she ran a similar music festival, after the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

'There's a lot of conditioning for solo artists here,' she says. 'But these students should be told right away that there may only be a small handful in China who'll make it and have a solo career.'

Juillet says she hopes Cisma will instil professional realism, and introduce its young musicians to an undiscovered joy. 'My main goal is to give students the pleasure of working with other people, which was my first love,' she says. 'A musician's life is very lonely and you spend a lot of hours working and practising on your own. But now they'll experience the pleasure of gathering with other people and having musical conversations with them.'

Many Cisma students dream of working in chamber ensembles in North America and Europe, but Lo isn't worried about his charges taking their training and running to the west. 'The world should be like that,' he says. 'We shouldn't tie brains to location.'

Yo-yo Ma is Chinese, 'but we don't feel bad about him living in America, or playing in Geneva', Lo says. 'The pride shouldn't be tied to location, but to the fact that you have been able to produce and develop this kind of talent.'

Gary Graffman, president director of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and Cisma's director of the piano faculty, says that although there might be an initial brain drain the tide is beginning to run in the other direction. 'As China continues to prosper, there'll be more schools and concert halls opening,' he says.

'And as more pupils begin to study, they'll find more opportunities in China's own orchestras. One student who graduated from Curtis a few years ago has decided to return to Shanghai with his family.'

While China prepares the cultural hardware in new concert halls from Shenyang to Shenzhen, Lo says that a lot of education is needed to turn these facilities into vital spaces. 'In China, there's an urgent need to create a general music audience,' he says. 'Although China has been developing for the past decade, it still needs to gradually bring culture to everyday people. But it takes time, patience and resources to develop the audience.'

He says the generational mixture of audiences in Hong Kong is encouraging - but the overall numbers are still too low. He says he hopes the West Kowloon Cultural District project - he's a consultant to one of the developers - will help attract local and overseas audiences.

Dai Weisi, 22, who has played the violin since he was five and studied in the US last year, is enthusiastic about Cisma.

'I think the students here have a solid foundation,' he says. 'But what I want to learn from my teachers is different styles and ways of playing.'

Cisma students will showcase their lessons in style tonight, in a graduation performance that will feature an outdoor gala concert and a performance of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, followed, naturally, by a fireworks display.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:18 AM   #526
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Thursday August 4 2005

Share the pie around

C. K. Lau

With the Legislative Council's highly critical report on the project, it is unthinkable that the government would continue to ignore strong opposition to its handling of the billion-dollar West Kowloon cultural district project.

But having gone so far down the route of awarding the project to a single developer, the question confronting officials now is how they can make a U-turn without looking like they are backtracking.

Behind the scenes, officials are understood to be considering ways of addressing public concerns about the single-developer approach without wasting the efforts that all the parties concerned have put in.

As conceived by the project's steering committee, headed by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen when he was chief secretary, the project is to be awarded to a single developer under a 30-year 'build, operate, transfer' deal.

Three consortiums have spent tens of millions of dollars drawing up detailed proposals for using profits from developing residential and commercial properties on the prime waterfront site to fund the construction and operation of arts and entertainment facilities.

The beauty of the 'build, operate, transfer' approach is that the government does not have to spend a single dollar on this grand project, or bear the risk of it going bust.

The trouble is the winning bidder will almost certainly become the biggest property player in town, able to put a stranglehold on not just property-related industries but also cultural industries.

Despite the strong public backlash against the single-developer approach, people who know Mr Tsang deem it unlikely he would retreat from the firm stance he articulated as chief secretary - that the project has to be undertaken by one developer to ensure it will be an integrated whole.

It is worth noting that Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan, in his first public statements on the project since assuming his job last month, said there was no question of 'pulling down the project and starting all over again'.

While Legco has called for a public authority to be set up to handle the project, Mr Hui said 'it cannot be something that is entirely being managed and looked after by the government from the beginning to the end'. He conceded that 'at some stage ... there must be external and public participation by sectors that are directly involved' and that the government would consider 'what form that participation should look like and at what stage that participation should occur'.

Sources familiar with the project believe officials are trying to find ways of 'sharing the pie' so more parties would have a bite, without reneging on the government's previous undertakings.

What if the winning consortium is obliged to behave more as a lead developer who is required to farm out different parts of the project to other players in an open and transparent manner, perhaps under the watchful eye of a monitoring body with representatives from relevant sectors?

That is a tall order, and creating a framework that could satisfy all the vested interests will not be easy. Making such an arrangement work would certainly require a lot of patience and understanding from all concerned.

In the current political and social climate, it will also be a challenge to convince the community this approach will best serve the public interests. But short of starting all over again, which would require a huge climbdown for Mr Tsang, that might be a plausible option.

C. K. Lau is the Post's executive editor, policy
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:18 AM   #527
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Thursday August 4 2005

The best laid plans?

Christine Loh

The Legislative Council's report on the West Kowloon cultural district, published last month, provides a worrying look at how the government makes big decisions.

At the highest level of power, decisions were made based on whim rather than thorough research. The government then used its executive machinery to ram things through.

The report shows how the 'executive-led' government emasculated the Executive Council.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and ministers simply did not bother involving Exco, in any substantial way, in one of Hong Kong's largest projects. Let's hope that this is not the foundation on which Mr Tsang plans to build good governance in the future.

He said he will revamp Exco. In doing so, will Mr Tsang try to create a real cabinet or just appoint a few more people for window dressing and keep power in his own hands?

Article 54 of the Basic Law says Exco is there to 'assist' the chief executive in decision-making. Article 56 requires the chief executive to 'consult' Exco 'before making important policy decisions'. He is not bound by Exco's majority opinion; all he has to do when he disagrees is 'put the specific reasons on record' and carry on.

These provisions mirror the constitutional position during colonialism. Does this colonial practice, from a time when the public could not demand political accountability, promote good governance in Hong Kong today? The West Kowloon hub shows it cannot.

In 1998 then chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, said he wanted to see a large performance venue in West Kowloon to boost the city's image as Asia's entertainment capital. The idea was based on a feasibility study commissioned by the Hong Kong Tourist Association.

A year later, Exco approved a review of the usage of the West Kowloon reclamation, which had been slated for a park and communal space, with a small portion for commercial development.

Legco could not quite figure out what sequence of events led to a much-enlarged project using a single developer. But Mr Tung created a ministerial steering committee in September 2002 led by Mr Tsang, who was chief secretary, to 'plan and guide the implementation'.

Presumably it was the steering committee that devised the single-developer model to use property to finance cultural facilities, by giving the chosen developer a contract for both venue construction and 30 years of events management.

The original tourism study and a later planning report both stressed the need to first outline an arts and cultural policy, instead of just assessing venues. Legco found no such study was made, nor even a detailed study of how the venue should be developed.

Exco did not discuss West Kowloon from the time it endorsed the review of site usage in 1999 until June 2003 when many of the decisions had already been made by the steering committee. Legco's inquiry found officials could not even really say whether Exco was 'briefed' or 'consulted' in mid-2003.

Apart from being asked to approve the steering committee's screening of proposals received last November, Exco was not involved in any major decisions regarding the project.

Legco's report also found various irregularities in the disposition of land and approval of zoning plans, indicating the steering committee was not even able to fully adhere to required procedures. Clearly the methods used to 'plan and guide the implementation' of the project left much be desired.

How will Mr Tsang free himself from the mess? He can distance himself by putting Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan in charge, but Hong Kong wants to see not only how Mr Tsang will deal with West Kowloon but also whether he knows how to build a cabinet culture that promotes good governance for the future.

Christine Loh Kung-wai is chief executive of the think-tank Civic Exchange

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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:20 AM   #528
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Saturday August 6 2005

Never-ending story for impresario

A champion of all that's aesthetic, Douglas Gautier is delighted to come full circle and contribute to the cultural life of a city he loves, writes Tim Metcalfe

THOSE WHO CONTINUE to see Hong Kong as a 'cultural desert' and a place dedicated only to the pursuit of wealth could not be further off the mark, says Douglas Gautier. He must know. As executive director of the Hong Kong Arts Festival, he is probably the most prolific impresario in town.

Continuing an annual tradition that began 34 years ago, Mr Gautier recently presented 53 performing arts companies that staged 123 performances at one of the most prestigious festivals in the Asia-Pacific region.

Hong Kong's rich creative tradition, he reminds sceptics, extends from the Philharmonic Orchestra and Hong Kong Ballet to the Academy for Performing Arts, City Contemporary Dance Company, assorted theatre companies, the Arts Centre and countless prominent visual artists, not to mention film, pop music, multimedia, television, advertising, alternative arts and Chinese opera.

The fact that Hong Kong is soon to develop a world-class cultural venue in West Kowloon - embracing at least four museums, four performance venues, art schools, galleries and studios, all under a giant transparent canopy - speaks volumes.

Labelling Hong Kong as a cultural limbo was 'an insult to the many people I have known here over the years who have devoted their professional lives to the arts', Mr Gautier said. 'People who make those kinds of comment don't know Hong Kong.'

The 53-year-old Australian has emerged as a champion of the Hong Kong arts scene in the four years since he took up his appointment with the festival. This year was one of the biggest ever, with more than 100,000 tickets sold, more than half the performances sold out, and audience attendance averaging 87 per cent.

Having recovered from the mammoth task of organising and attending every show of the last festival, he is already busy charting next year's event, commissioning new works, selecting performances and building up a list of sponsors.

The festival is a never-ending story with an impressive pedigree, and Mr Gautier could not be happier. 'It really is tremendously rewarding,' he said.

Certainly more rewarding than Mr Gautier's last career move, as partner in a misguided venture to launch a 24-hour travel-retail television channel called Alive - an ironically inappropriate name, given that it survived only one year.

'It was perhaps ahead of its time,' Mr Gautier explained. 'Similar channels now run extremely successfully elsewhere, in Britain and Taiwan. Our timing wasn't right. We just ran out of money. Launched now, it would do fine. When I look back, though, it was a hell of an achievement to get it up and running in just four months. But it was an interesting experience, and I learnt a lot.'

Mr Gautier embarked on the TV venture after a high-profile stint as No 2 at the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB), which he joined in 1997, just after the handover. It was a time when Hong Kong's reign as tourism's 'flavour of the month' was abruptly halted, and the economy slumped with the so-called Asian meltdown.

'It was a tough time,' he said. 'Tourism traffic just stopped.'

His job was to rethink and rebrand Hong Kong as a destination, with innovations such as the 'City of Life' campaign.

'It was a seminal period in terms of re-evaluating Hong Kong's position as a major destination, and I like to think it is now bearing fruit,' he said.

Before the HKTB job, Mr Gautier spent close to a decade in the media spotlight, first behind Hutchison's launch of Metro radio, and then at Star TV, Hong Kong's first satellite channel, where he was in charge of marketing and distribution.

Star TV was bought by News Corporation, and anyone in the media knows what happens when Rupert Murdoch takes over a new venture - heads roll.

'A lot of people went,' Mr Gautier said. Fortunately, he was not among them. 'Perhaps it didn't hurt that I come from Adelaide,' he said. Adelaide, of course, is where the Murdoch media empire all began. Mr Gautier not only kept his job but was promoted, taking over corporate affairs.

It was a ticket to getting his name in the newspapers nearly every day. On the eve of taking over Star, Mr Murdoch made a celebrated speech announcing that satellite television represented a 'threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere'.

'You can imagine the consternation that resulted in this part of the world,' Mr Gautier said. 'The comment was aimed at Eastern Europe but it took a great deal of swift footwork to explain the context to certain governments in Asia.'

At one stage, Beijing threatened to ban satellite dishes altogether. Star TV soon withdrew the BBC from its northern 'footprint' broadcasting to China and Hong Kong, although Mr Gautier insists that this was 'primarily a commercial decision'.

'Frankly, not a lot of people were watching it in the north,' he said. Obviously, enough were watching to enrage Beijing over the BBC's coverage of Tiananmen Square.

Other countries also struggled to come to terms with satellite television. Negotiations for the India licence were bound by a Telegraph Act dating back to 1895. Deals for badminton coverage with countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia were a 'fascinating public relations exercise', Mr Gautier said.

But in Asia, the satellite TV era 'changed broadcasting overnight'.

'It was a steep learning curve for both broadcasters and governments,' he said, noting that Hong Kong was fortunate to have Sir Roger Lobo and then Norman Leung as chairmen of the Licensing Authority at the time. 'They had an international approach. They realised the whole map had to change.'

After such testing times in the media limelight, Mr Gautier is clearly enjoying himself in the more congenial arena of the arts. Yet, as chance would have it, that is exactly where he started. On graduating from university, Mr Gautier went straight into the theatre. Winning a scholarship for further studies abroad, he covered the arts at the BBC in Bristol and the US public broadcasting service.

The experience earned him a job at BBC Radio London, where he presented a nightly music and arts show called 'Look Stop Listen', which is how he wound up in Hong Kong. In the late 1970s, he was seconded to Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), initially as a music and arts producer and subsequently as head of Radio Four.

'That was when I first became involved in the Hong Kong Arts Festival,' directing operas and serving on the festival programme committee.

His initial career in the arts ended after a brief stint as head of concert music at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. This was followed by the posts with Hutchison.

Back in the thick of Hong Kong culture, he has come full circle.

'It's where I began my career, and I'm very happy to be back,' he said. 'I'm working with a lot of great people who really care about the festival and Hong Kong arts.'

Mr Gautier's achievements in the last arts festival include the celebrated new work Amber, a huge hit that was performed by the Chinese National Theatre Company, and The Nightingale, which was presented in Cantonese, is being performed in English in London, and will be touring the mainland in Mandarin. 'We present shows that are sometimes controversial but have a point of view and can make a difference.'

Some of those same descriptive words could be used to describe Mr Gautier's own career.

Making that move

How to change careers Decide what you really want from a job.

How to plan Evaluate how your skills can transfer to other roles or sectors.

How to make sure it works out well Learn from and find positives from work situations. The more you put in, the more you get out.

Good advice Hong Kong invariably rewards hard work and creativity. It also offers diverse job opportunities, so with a little deliberation and determination, career change is usually possible.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:21 AM   #529
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Wednesday August 10 2005

kevin sinclair's hong kong


Kevin Sinclair

The new $8.3 billion Kowloon Southern Link (KSL) railway will in 2009 whisk tourists and commuters from Yau Ma Tei to Tsim Sha Tsui East. The 3.8km underground route will complete the steel bond between the last station on the West Rail Line, Nam Cheong, and the KCRC's East Rail at Tsim Sha Tsui East.

Astonishingly, there are plans for only one station on this line. It will be in northern Canton Road on the site of the present Canton Road government offices.

To the amazement and anger of many in the retail, tourism and hotel industries, a station planned to serve the buzzing southern end of Canton Road and the Star Ferry-Ocean Terminal area has been scrapped.

The Link is a very desirable and logical piece of infrastructure. But logic has flown out the window when it comes to deciding about the Canton Road station, the need for which is obvious.

The Kowloon West station will be a rail gateway to the proposed West Kowloon cultural hub, in whatever guise that project eventually emerges. But it's a lengthy trek from the tourism node around Star Ferry.

West Kowloon Station will be a few hundred metres from the Hong Kong-China City ferry terminal.

This is no problem for Secretary for Environment, Transport and Works Sarah Liao Sau-tung. She argues there is really no need for the rejected station, which would have been built under Harbour City. People can walk from the planned West Kowloon station to the China Hong Kong City ferry in about four minutes, she claims.

She adds blithely that when KCRC extends its underground walkway from Tsim Sha Tsui East to the existing Beijing Road pedestrian underpass, people will be able to walk from the KCR station to Star Ferry in 'about seven to 10 minutes'.

Oh, really? Is this why we spend billions of dollars on public transport infrastructure, so taxpayers and tourists can trudge through dull underground passages or negotiate broken pavements breathing smog-choked air?

As a senior government minister, of course, Dr Liao has a government limousine and a government driver. What about the rest of us?

To test her assertion, I last week packed a bag weighing 20kg. I got a taxi to the West Kowloon Station site and trekked to China Hong Kong City pier.

If Dr Liao can do this in four minutes, then I suggest we scrap all athletics training and enter her immediately in the Hong Kong Olympics team for 2008 because she is a champ. When I struggled into the terminal I was a sweating, swearing, ill-tempered mess; it took me eight minutes.

That Kowloon West station is needed, no question about it. But it is vital to also have another station at the southern end of Canton Road. The chairman of the KCRC, Michael Tien Puk-sun, and the chairman of Wharf Group, Peter Woo Kwong-ching, are at loggerheads.

To summarise a very long, bitter and complicated wrangle, both men would like to see a Canton Road station, but neither wants to pay for it.

A stop at the busy thoroughfare was in the original design, but when KCRC asked Wharf to cough up a large percentage of the cash to build it, and to demolish a couple of buildings in the process, Mr Woo declined. Then the railway chief announced that there would be no station.

This presented former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa with a magnificent opportunity to show he was a forceful and decisive leader; he should have called the two men into his office, knocked their heads together and said: 'There will be a Canton Road station. Work it out!'

This didn't happen. His successor, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, likewise seems content to let construction proceed without ordering a station at the key location.

Like many people, I am baffled by the decision. Is there no way common sense can prevail in the dispute between Wharf, KCRC and the government? Surely men and women of goodwill and intelligence (and all individuals involved are sophisticated and extremely well educated) can come to some reasonable and fair agreement that will serve the public good.

It's bizarre that a new rail link will run under the very heartland of our tourism industry without a station giving people access to the teeming street life above their heads.

As a realistic comparison, imagine the MTR emerging from the harbour and having a station only at Central, passing below Admiralty without a stop. Unimaginable? Yes. And so is the current Kowloon Link proposal.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:21 AM   #530
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Thursday August 11 2005

Pull up some grass at waterfront park


Felix Chan

For the first time in decades, the public will be able to sit on grass while marvelling at Central's skyline from across Victoria Harbour.

Construction of a $9.5 million waterfront park at the West Kowloon Cultural District site is nearly complete. But the park, slated to open this month, will only last until 2007, when work on the huge project is due to begin.

Sitting on top of the Western Harbour Crossing, the park features a 400-metre wooden promenade, the longest of its kind in Hong Kong, and a large grass area suitable for picnics. Food kiosks are also planned, as well as a play area for children.

The entrance to the park is at the western end of Austin Road West and directly opposite Union Square.

From there, visitors will be able to walk or drive down a 1km road with a small car park at the end, passing the West Kowloon Heliport along the way.

The road runs parallel to a bicycle track and will be lit at night by street lamps covered in a special fabric that can be drawn on. Members of the public will be invited to make their own designs.

At present, the nearest public transit points to the park are either the bus terminus at Wui Cheung Road or the Kowloon MTR station, which is about 1km from the start of the road.

However, there are plans to allow public buses and minibuses to stop outside the park's entrance.

The Architectural Services Department says that, since the park will only last until the start of work on the West Kowloon Cultural District - now slated for April 2007 - construction costs have been kept as low as possible through various means.

These include laying the promenade with inexpensive wood and using objects discarded from other parks, such as benches.

When the project was presented to the Harbourfront Enhancement Committee's subcommittee on the Harbour Plan Review in June, it drew praise from its members for its environmental protection and public involvement.

Other than the heliport and a proposed private golf putting green, most of the land in the West Kowloon Cultural District is held by the government.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:22 AM   #531
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Thursday August 11 2005

Don't jump the gun

Christine Loh

Let's hope what 'sources' have been saying to the media is untrue. Recent reports say a modified plan for the West Kowloon cultural district will be put to the Legislative Council next month because the government cannot wait any longer.

The cultural hub project is important because it gives the public ringside seats with the Tsang administration, to assess whether it will practise better governance than its predecessor did. Besides, it is one of Hong Kong's largest development projects, and deserves close attention to ensure that plans are indeed in the public interest.

So far, it is hard to disagree with Legco's conclusion that decision-making at the highest levels of the project has been 'most disturbing'. It would appear that Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was involved in all the key decisions.

The legislature's extensive first report on the project, published last month, noted that due process was not followed and that there was a series of vacuums in the planning and implementation of the multibillion-dollar project.

Legco is due to provide another report in December, focusing on the mode of development, financial and management arrangements, and more details on the large canopy that will cover part of the area.

But 'sources' reportedly said the government could not wait for that report before drafting new plans, because it owed the public a substantial report after months of consultation. That 'public consultation' has essentially been to ask people visiting displays by the project's three potential developers what they thought about the models presented.

The public has not been given the kind of detail that Legco alone is able to drag out of the government. As such, Legco's second report is critical to the public's understanding of the project. Without more information, how is the public to judge any modified proposal that the government may put forward next month? How is the public to assess any modified financing and management proposals?

Academics published a report in May last year using a 1.8 plot ratio, 8 per cent interest and May 2004 property prices to estimate that the winning developer could make a 20 per cent return on $25.1 billion in development costs, and put an $11.4 billion profit into a trust fund for the arts. All three developers put in much higher plot ratios, which means the profit potential may well be much higher.

Investment bank CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets described the West Kowloon cultural district as 'extremely lucrative' based on available information and various assumptions. The report looked at 'enhancement to share values' of the developers' consortia members.

In the case of the Cheung Kong-Sun Hung Kai Properties consortium, based on its proposed 3.28 plot ratio, the share enhancements would be 7.4 per cent and 7.5 per cent respectively. With shares at the time the report was published standing at $84.64 and $80.38, it would mean an enhancement of $6.23 and $6.01 respectively.

If we multiplied an increase of $6.01 per share for one of the above developers by the 2.4 billion shares it had outstanding at the time, it would amount to $14.4 billion. That is a huge sum by any measure.

The issue is not whether these sums are accurate or not because no one knows - except the government - what the developers' financial proposals for the project were. The issue is that huge sums are involved, with enormous profit potentials.

So the real question is whether a public project should be designed in a way that allows for huge potential profits. Let's hope the government will hold off until we have Legco's second report.

Christine Loh Kung-wai is chief executive of the think-tank Civic Exchange

[email protected]
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:23 AM   #532
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Monday August 15 2005

The odd one out

Interview by Chloe Lai

It is really odd to be in a place that used to be run by the British: seeing people driving on the left-hand side, and many other little things that greatly resemble those I'm used to in Britain. It's also fascinating to see how two worlds meet - the might and power of China and the legacy left by the British.

Hong Kong has its own heritage and unique charter; it is a cosmopolitan city that works in a different way from the rest of China. It also has magnificent geography. It is much easier to build tall buildings on flat terrain, yet Hong Kong has so many tall buildings constructed on mountains, the most inhospitable pieces of land.

Another extraordinary thing about Hong Kong is female entrepreneurship. Every time I am here, I meet entrepreneurs, and almost all are women. I really like their confidence. In Britain, when I deal with entrepreneurs, almost all are men.

It is also exciting to walk around the streets. For example, Wan Chai is such a mixed place; people with great wealth live close to those with very little money. They walk around the same streets, happy to eat in a noodle bar, where a meal costs just a few dollars. They are straightforward and share the same sort of worries. I really like this lack of pretension.

I am also excited by the West Kowloon cultural district. It is exciting to see a whole city thinking and talking about one project. I know there is much controversy about it, but in a way this is good. It makes people think about strategic planning.

Certainly, the glass-canopy concept is ambitious. In Europe, there is a trend of moving away from the ambitious. Politicians are forever breaking down projects into smaller proposals, to please everybody. But this way, nothing bold is going to happen; you can't make everyone happy. The world's best structures were built by being brave. This may not be very fashionable, but I would encourage a sensitive yet bold approach.

I have visited the government exhibition and seen the three proposals for West Kowloon. It is also interesting to see the alternatives. I have never before seen organisations [like Swire Properties] propose something that goes against the grain. I don't know of any developer in Britain that would attempt it; it is suicidal in a way.

In the mainland, I came across a sign that said: 'This is a rebuilt version of the Summer Palace, which was destroyed by the British.' It is worrying to see many mainland cities working on projects that just duplicate things built in the US and Europe. I can feel this tendency to copy other cities beginning to appear in Hong Kong.

Yet it is important for Hong Kong to remain a unique city, an oddity in China. It is not just buildings that need to be special; cities need to be special, too. It is a cliche to say that people go to every city to see the art galleries and main library. Today, it is too easy for cities to end up being similar. That is why I am so interested in Southorn Playground. I haven't come across a truly 'great' playground anywhere, and I want Southorn to be the first extraordinary one.

In business, I believe the smartest clients are the ones who commission designers to come up with something they have never done before.

For me, the most unattractive feature of Hong Kong is its weather. It is so hot that it gets in the way of my enjoyment of the city. Perhaps I should walk around naked. But then, I have yet to see anyone doing it, so on second thoughts, maybe I'd better not try it.

Designer Thomas Heatherwick is masterminding a proposal to redesign Southorn Playground
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:24 AM   #533
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Monday August 15 2005

Ray of sunshine

Cantonese opera fans and performers have seen the focus of their passion saved by a rare touch of largesse from a Hong Kong landlord, writes Elaine Wu

IT COULD HAVE been a typical Hong Kong story: vintage theatre standing in a prime location is closed to make way for more lucrative ventures. But the saga of Sunbeam Theatre, an institution in Cantonese opera circles, took a turn worthy of any traditional melodrama.

Just a couple of weeks before its curtains were scheduled to fall for the last time, theatre manager Yip Man-tak was ready to hand over the keys to the North Point premises when he learned the venue had been given a stay of execution. Property owner Toyo Mall would renew Sunbeam's lease for another four years at the same rent.

The news came as a surprise to everyone - including the theatre operators, United Arts Entertainment.

Months of negotiations had failed to persuade Toyo Mall against doubling the rent when Sunbeam's lease came up for renewal on August 31. The operators could ill afford the increase and had stopped booking opera performances beyond the end of the month. Toyo was already planning to convert the premises into retail space.

And then timely intervention from former nightclub tycoon Wong Kow helped change the mind of Toyo's executive director Francis Law. As a family friend - and a former standing committee member of the Guangdong People's Political Consultative Conference - he advised Law to throw Sunbeam a lifeline. It would be a contribution to society and the local art scene, he said.

'I told him to do it because his family is so rich,' says Wong, whose wife is a keen amateur opera singer. 'They have more than $1 billion. They can afford it.'

A low-key businessman, Law - whose father Lo Siu-tong made his fortune acquiring old buildings for redevelopment - had avoided comment on the fate of the Sunbeam. But, in a handwritten letter to Wong, he thanked him for his advice.

Wong wasn't the only prominent personality to come to the Sunbeam's aid. Among the earliest campaigners was Yuen Siu-fai, a Cantonese Opera Advisory Committee member and stage veteran who lobbied government officials and chivvied opera stalwarts into action. He also recruited television actress and opera singer Liza Wang Ming-chuen to throw her weight behind the cause. A Hong Kong delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, she wrote to the Toyo boss to make the case for saving the Sunbeam, and followed up with a phone call.

It persuaded Law to attend a crucial meeting on August 8 that brought together not only the Sunbeam's operator and opera representatives, but also government officials to try to find a solution to the theatre's woes.

For more than a decade, the Sunbeam has been the only venue in Hong Kong dedicated to Chinese opera. While some troupes came from the mainland, most were homegrown performances with local professionals. Opera fans regularly commuted from as far away as Yuen Long to watch the more than 250 shows staged at the North Point theatre each year.

Had it closed, the opera troupes would have had to hire government venues, and deal with the many hurdles that would entail. Not only do the public spaces require more cash upfront, they are often difficult to book, with various performances competing for limited time slots. Many groups feared they might have had to hang up their costumes for good.

To everyone's relief, Law told the gathered representatives that the Sunbeam could remain at its North Point premises for the existing rent of $208,000 a month until 2009. Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho Chi-ping and Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, as the legislator representing the sports and culture constituency, were present to witness it.

Ironically, Sunbeam's rescue has stirred some resentment within opera circles over who should get the credit for Law's change of heart. Liza Wang believes it was her phone call, while Chan Kim-sing, chairman of the Chinese Artists Association, says she started the ball rolling by urging Wong Kow to talk to the Toyo Mall boss. Already feeling slighted at not being invited to the meeting with government officials, Chan was allegedly incensed when a troupe organiser later accused her of doing little to save the Sunbeam. At the meeting with officials, Law said newspaper reports had helped him understand how important the Sunbeam was to Chinese opera.

The question now, though, is who will pay for renovating the 33-year-old theatre. The last time it went through a makeover was in 1989, when the balcony level was converted into a cinema.

A major overhaul is somewhat overdue. For years, performers had to put up with water dripping into the theatre. On top of that, they had a rat running across the stage in the middle of a performance - with a cat in hot pursuit. The seats are worn and stained from years of use, the air-conditioning system unstable at best. Replacing the wiring and fire escapes are also on the list of must-dos.

Renovations are estimated to cost $12 million, which would include turning the second-floor cinema into a stage with a few hundred seats for amateur performances. Even if the theatre operator opted to do the minimum necessary, repair work would still add up to between $3 million and $5 million.

But United Arts Entertainment insists it cannot afford to foot the bill and is looking to the community to raise the funds. 'We don't have the money,' says Li Jianmin, the company's general manager. 'We cannot bear the cost because it's an old theatre. We hope the government and related organisations can help.'

But public funds are not forthcoming. 'The government cannot assist with private property renovation,' says Home Affairs Bureau spokeswoman Cynthia Tong Man-kwong. The government will support this 'in every way possible', but it can't use public funds to renovate private property, she says.

Cantonese opera circles, having fought so hard to keep the theatre going, may be a better bet. And there are die-hard fans to call on. 'We will definitely do our best to help,' says Wang. However, the entertainer says she won't start any fundraising campaigns until after the Sunbeam's operators have signed the new lease agreement.

The Sunbeam opened in 1972 with the backing of pro-China businessmen and Xinhua News Agency, the de facto Chinese embassy before the handover. It was established as a showcase for cultural performances from the mainland at a time when many theatres shunned any links to the Communist Party. The theatre was also where pro-China workers and leftist organisations congregated for everything from secondary-school graduations to national day celebrations.

United Arts Entertainment still maintains close ties to the central government liaison office in Hong Kong, although general manager Li declines to elaborate on their current relationship.

The Sunbeam became the hub for Chinese opera in the early 1990s when competitors such as the Lee Theatre and Ko Shing Theatre closed. Officials have been touting Ko Shan Theatre in Hunghom as the next Sunbeam, but the idea hasn't been welcomed by performers and fans. The Ko Shan isn't well served by transport links, and some actors complain that the stage design is ill-suited for Chinese opera, which often requires elaborate props. Many troupes are hoping to secure a permanent base in the proposed West Kowloon Cultural District but no specific deal has been brokered.

For now, their priority is getting the Sunbeam back on its feet, which means raising the $12 million renovation cost. Spread over the four-year duration of the new lease, the makeover would add $8,000 to the $30,000 daily hiring charge troupes pay the theatre.

Given such a pressing need, clashing egos will likely be set aside for now. Despite their differences, the luminaries of opera realise they'll have to unite behind the renovation effort. As Liza Wang puts it, 'Sunbeam will keep us alive.'
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:25 AM   #534
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Friday August 19 2005

Two West Kowloon sites set for auction

Chloe Lai, Foster Wong and Sandy Li

$3.75b offer triggers sale that is expected to set benchmark for cultural hub land

Two adjacent residential sites in West Kowloon worth more than $3.75 billion will be auctioned next month.

The sale on September 27 already represents a number of milestones - the first residential land auction since last October, the first land auction this financial year and the first land sale since the application list system was modified on June 21.

Market observers say it will provide a timely reference for the land value of the 40-hectare West Kowloon Cultural District site as the government prepares to announce plans next month for how to get the controversial project moving.

The Lands Department said the sale of the sites near the Olympic MTR station had been triggered by the same property developer. They are Lot 11167 at the junction of Hoi Wang Road and Hoi Ting Road and Lot 11168 on Hoi Ting Road.

Industry players are optimistic the sale prices of the two will be 30 per cent higher than the developer's proposed prices and provide a stimulus to the property market.

Midland Surveyors associate director Alvin Lam Tsz-pun estimated the government could reap as much as $2.51 billion, or $4,200 per sq ft, for the site at Hoi Ting Road. The proposed price is $2.09 billion.

He estimated the smaller lot at the junction of Hoi Wang Road and Hoi Ting Road at $2.15 billion, or $4,300 per sq ft. The proposed price for this piece of land is $1.66 billion.

The two sites will provide up to 1,500 residential flats to be completed in 2007, likely to sell at $7,000 to $7,300 per sq ft, surveyors said. This compares with current prices in the area of $4,000 to $6,000 per sq ft.

'Response for the land auction is going to be overwhelming, given that it has been 10 months since the last residential site was launched in the market,' Mr Lam said. 'The two sites can be built into a single mass housing estate if they can be successfully bought by one developer.'

Centaline Property Agency chairman Shih Wing-ching said the auction results would serve as a reference for the value of the West Kowloon Cultural District.

'The cultural hub, of course, will be more expensive,' he said.

The proposed prices will be the opening bids of the September auction. The Lands Department declined to comment on whether the proposed prices had reached the government's asking prices or just 80 per cent of them, which is permitted under the modified application system.

Under the changes, a developer that triggers an auction must join the bidding but is not obligated to buy the site if its offer fails to satisfy the government.

Lands officials will estimate the prices hours before the auction and not sell the land until the bidding prices reach or pass the estimates.

Sino Land and Henderson Land, which have residential projects in the neighbourhood, denied they were the auction applicants.

Sun Hung Kai, which is also developing a residential project in the area, and Cheung Kong (Holdings) declined to comment.

The government collected more than $20 billion from the sale of six sites last financial year - far more than its forecast of $4.56 billion and enough to help tip the budget deficit into surplus. In the March budget, it expected $31.9 billion from land premiums this fiscal year.

Vigers Appraisal and Consulting executive director Tony Chan Tung-ngok said the auction proved the modified land application list system was working.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:34 AM   #535
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Saturday September 10 2005

Slavish devotion to canned art ignores the rich mix of local talent


Rex Aguado

CALL IT THE 'wallpapering' of the world: the relentless spread of a style and design ethos variously defined as chic, cosmopolitan, hip, minimalist, international, modern and - increasingly - bland, impersonal and anodyne.

It was supposedly a reaction to the excesses of the 1980s with its Joan Collins power shoulder pads, the Christian Lacroix gowns bejewelled and beaded to an inch of their lives, the bovine greed of the world's Gordon Geckos, the senseless tokenism of post-modernist architecture and design, and the big bad hair of neo-romantic rockers.

Sown from the creative loins of architects Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, Oscar Niemeyer, Le Corbusier and the Bauhaus movement, this 1990s aesthetic movement was also expressed in the works of a new generation of Dutch, Belgian and Italian fashion designers that followed in the wake of Armani, Commes des Garcons, Prada and the early Donna Karan.

In the hotel industry, this movement showed itself in the sleek and uber-chic W Hotel of the Starwood group and a host of boutique hotels all over the world designed to make the global nomads feel at home whether they are in the middle of the Uluru plains in Australia or among the rocks of Africa.

In Asia, the Balinese, Thai and South Asian designs were interpreted and distilled - some say cannibalised - in the form of the resorts and spas of the Aman group, the Banyan chain, the Evason and Chivasom, and Christina Ong's Como properties.

Seeing the latest Mandarin Oriental at the Landmark in Central, especially its ultra-cool and achingly hip MO Bar, one cannot help but wonder if the 'Amanisation' of the hotel industry has turned into another global McDonald's phenomenon, this time in exotic and hi-tech materials, and negative cholesterol.

In Hong Kong, plans to turn the Western Kowloon reclamation site into a cultural district is also in danger of 'Disneyfication' as some bidders have proposed a smorgasbord of international culture, such as an outlet of the Guggenheim or the Saatchi global franchise - offerings undifferentiated from those already on show in Las Vegas, New York or London.

Such an outcome would be tragic, as the West Kowloon Cultural District is a rare opportunity for Hong Kong to offer something unique to the world.

Hong Kong should observe the tenets of comparative advantages, taking a leaf from most of the world's critically - if not exactly commercially - successful museums and art centres. This may sound absurd to critics of the Lion City, but the Singapore Art Museum comes to mind.

Talk to most artists and art dealers in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Jakarta and Bali in Indonesia, Manila and Baguio in the Philippines, and it is often said that an artist is considered 'made' if his or her works are collected by the region's pre-eminent repository of Southeast Asian art, which happens to be found in Singapore.

It will be very hard to dislodge Shanghai and Beijing as centres for contemporary Chinese arts, in the same sense that Hong Kong is world-famous for its antique traders on Hollywood Road. And it is probably this arts-merchant image that Hong Kong can build upon as it tries to muscle its way into the global art stage.

Why not play up Hong Kong's highly regarded reputation as a marketplace for artworks? Why not give incentives to art dealers, sellers and collectors - both dabblers and monomaniacs - to turn Hong Kong into the region's premiere arts market?

If Europe has the London antiques fair and the Basel mega-arts salon (and its sister show in Miami), maybe Asia can have the Hong Kong regional arts expo, along the lines of the now defunct ArtAsia, but with more commercial panache?

The private arts sector has actually taken the lead in this area with the highly successful - and literally intoxicating - annual art walk sponsored by a steadfast phalanx of very progressive galleries and arts groups.

For starters, the government can help promote this annual arts pilgrimage to a regional audience to entice Asia's burgeoning nouveau riche.

And taking a leaf from the Venice Biennial, the Basel art fair or the Edinburgh festival, it can seasonally open up government venues at subsidised rent to enable small under-capitalised galleries and young un-capitalised artists to display their wares over a short, specified time.

The government will not be starting from scratch, as the city already has a number of arts events, including the highly regarded, though sometimes uneven, Hong Kong Arts Festival.

But if one applies the diktat of cost analysis and returns on investment, such events and the rare but very expensive visiting art shows from New York's Museum of Modern Art or the Louvre of Paris - though highly admirable - may not be the smartest way of investing tax money to promote the arts.

There may be some wisdom in putting public money in a Monet, but the savviest and most sustainable way of promoting art is probably by relying on the smart money of Asia's newly minted Medicis. Sooner or later, they will need something to cover or replace those super-cool but ultra-cold wallpapers.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:35 AM   #536
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Monday September 12 2005

When the dream becomes a nightmare

Mei Ng

The making of Hong Kong Disneyland is a classic tale of bad governance, a tragic case of environmental trade-offs and a lamentable case of cultural dilution. A lack of transparency during the negotiation stage, lack of accountability and monitoring during construction and, above all, the failure to uphold environmental laws, principles and corporate responsibility have left a legacy of environmental degradation and bureaucratic incompetence.

Fast-tracking a four-month Environmental Impact Assessment to get approval for site selection set a bad precedent. Reclamation and dredging destroyed coastlines, coral, sea walls and fish spawning grounds - not to mention the Tang dynasty antiques found on the seabed of Penny's Bay, which was reclaimed for the park.

A failure to detect 30,000 cubic metres of dioxin in the soil of the disused shipyard used to build Disney's man-made lake landed taxpayers with a $450 million clean-up bill. The shipyard owner, meanwhile, pocketed $1.5 billion for selling off the land, with no liability demanded.

The illegal removal of rocks from the Tung Chung River damaged the natural habitat. The rock remover was penalised, but not the project developer and procurer - namely the contractors, the government and Disney. The refusal to use low-smoke, low-pollution technology for fireworks, to ease air pollution concerns, showed disrespect for public opinion and ignored corporate social responsibility. The government provided concessions for land, investment, low-interest loans, management fees and the souvenir franchise to the Walt Disney Company, making a mockery of its own non-intervention policy - designed to maintain a level playing field for business and investments.

The government, as regulator and an investor, has a clear conflict of interest on the board of the Hong Kong International Theme Park joint venture company.

Should officials alone be appointed to the board? Why have independent monitors, such as legislators, not been appointed? As $2.24 billion of public money was invested in the park, why were board meeting minutes not released? Where was the transparency?

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen owes the public an answer. As financial secretary, he was responsible for the negotiations and planning of the park from 1999. During his election campaign for chief executive, he pledged to enhance governance and transparency. It is time to deliver. Disneyland's opening will hasten local cultural dilution because there is now no money to sustain local historical, cultural and ecological conservation.

It is tragic to witness the disappearance and neglect of ancestral halls, historical buildings, fishing villages, rural communities, wetlands and marine habitats. It is striking that the government is willing to pledge a meagre $5 million for nature conservation projects.

It is lamentable that policymakers, legislators and the media have failed to recognise the real hidden costs of the project.

And it is worrying to witness the trend of replacing historical heritage and cultural legacy with artificial replicas and fantasies. The West Kowloon cultural development is another classic example of this practice.

It is time for our policymakers to get over their obsession with Mickey & Co. Diversity means stability and sustainability. Cultural tourism, eco-tourism and sports tourism offer diversity and global appeal. When will Hong Kong have a sustainable tourism strategy?

Mei Ng Fong Siu-mei is director of Friends of the Earth (HK)
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:36 AM   #537
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Monday September 12 2005

That's typical

An exhibition of everyday life in Wedding Card Street captures the vibrancy of a disappearing community, writes Clarence Tsui

RESIDENTS WERE amazed - and wary - when photographer Tse Pak-chai started snapping pictures of the shops on Wan Chai's Lee Tung Street - commonly known as Wedding Card Street. 'They wondered why I was interested in things that they saw as ordinary, even ugly,' he says.

Tse, however, insists there's cultural and artistic value in everyday items. Frustrated at how urban renewal officials portrayed the lively, if run-down, area as worthless and obsolete, he redoubled his efforts to document its street life.

The results form part of the ambitious exhibition, Street as Museum: Lee Tung Street, at the C.C. Wu Building in Wan Chai. A brainchild of the Community Museum Project collective, it centres on two eight-metre-long photographic collages. Tse's pictures - which cover the ground-level shops - are digitally merged with those of fellow photographer Tse Ming-chong, who spent four weekends on a crane capturing images of the upper storeys of the buildings.

Providing a complete view of the facades on both sides of the street, the collages give the effect of stepping into a time warp. The street is now mostly deserted - 80 per cent of the residents and businesses have relinquished their properties to the Urban Renewal Authority and moved out. But Lee Tung Street's original vibrant atmosphere is recreated in technicolour splendour.

Visitors who look closely will see thriving printing shops, their show windows filled with rows of red wedding invitation cards. There are also small eateries, several hair salons and the odd garage, adding to the bustle of what used to be one of the busiest streets in Wan Chai.

It's important to raise public awareness about Hong Kong's distinct cultural characteristics, says Howard Chan Pui-hoe, who initiated the exhibition with Siu King-chung, a Polytechnic University lecturer. With tourism chiefs touting the city largely in terms of Disneyland, shopping malls and firework displays, Chan wants locals and visitors to realise that the soul of the city lies within the minutiae of its distinctive communities.

In presenting a panoramic vision of the street, the organisers highlight the need to view neighbourhoods such as Lee Tung Street as tightly knit communities rather than a cluster of disparate shops and apartments.

'When I got more immersed into life there I discovered the interweaving relationships that shaped the street - for example, the owners of several printing shops had started their careers together as apprentices under the same mentor,' says Tse. 'Some sizeable, modern businesses are run by descendants of people who ran tiny shops beneath a stairwell.'

Lee Tung Street was a vibrant neighbourhood nurtured by a strong communal spirit, Tse says. 'Neighbours helped each other to the extent that bigger businesses would allow smaller shops to draw electricity and water from their mains for a nominal monthly fee of, say, $30. They even tended each other's businesses.'

Tse argues that long-standing communities such as Lee Tung Street's and the rooftop huts of Tsuen Wan should be refurbished rather than replaced by more anonymous high-rises; not only are they structurally unique, such enclaves contain close-knit social networks, he says.

Siu agrees. The most important thing is to give these communities the recognition they deserve - and ensure their survival, he says. 'Look at how the Tourist Board touts these streets today - they are mentioned in travel literature but only as places for people to buy quirky gifts. It's still about shopping; it's not about the environment of the street itself.'

As its name implies, Street as Museum focuses attention on familiar landscapes and objects that may appear run of the mill. It strives to break down the barriers that separate so-called low-end grassroots items from the high-end, officially endorsed art works displayed in museums.

'When people link community and art, the first thing they think of is to hang murals in public spaces - as if this would elevate communities to a more sophisticated level of art,' says Chan. 'But we believe that what people do in their everyday life is filled with creativity; and is as interesting and valuable as any of the work presented in museums. It's just how you frame the things you see, and how you articulate the meanings behind them.'

That down-to-earth approach is fundamental to the aim of the Community Museum Project to draw attention to what Siu calls 'under-represented histories'.

'It's a way to represent everyday living and values,' he says. 'Just as conventional museums would collect stuff that they deem valuable, we're doing the same - it's just that we don't adhere to the values enshrined in their taste of 'high-art',' he says. 'With a toy exhibition, you could represent toys by highlighting objects which are prestigious and expensive, and therefore see toy-making mainly in terms of its economic value. On the other hand, we can just have ordinary toys and focus on how they were developed - in that way, we are documenting toy history.'

Such views explain the detailed research and explanations that accompany pictures on everyday items such as mailboxes and door buzzers. According to Chan, the change in form reflects the evolution in how properties were owned and managed.

'The oldest were bought by residents themselves, so there's a lack of uniformity,' he says. 'Then came uniform mailboxes and sets of doorbells with buttons for different flats; that's when a structure was formed with the establishment of owners' corporations or the employment of management companies from outside.'

To the Community Museum Project collective, Wan Chai is dotted with cultural and historical landmarks, from the old-style shop-houses on Queen's Road East through the red-light district on Lockhart Road to the cluster of art institutions on Harbour Road.

The group is particularly moved by the communal spirit that permeates Wan Chai. Residents are loyal to their roots, and proud of the history of the district, says Tse.

Dora Wu is a prime example. Her family set up business in the district in 1946. Now a major company, C.C. Wu International occupies the same site on Hennessy Road where it was founded, where the C.C. Wu Building now stands. Wu's links with the district prompted her to establish the A-Link Gallery, which hosts the Street as Museum show. She wants the gallery to be a focus for exhibitions related to the local community.

C.C. Wu isn't 'one of those major property developers' who are sudden converts to art, attracted by the West Kowloon Cultural District development, says Wu, the company's director. 'We just try our best ... As a business based in Wan Chai, we want to have friendly ties with this neighbourhood.

'Just like the arcade downstairs [in the C.C. Wu Building], it provides a walkway between Hennessy Road and Wan Chai Road, and it's open to everybody. The elderly can come in, have a rest and wash their hands in the toilets.'

'I feel it's a moral obligation to be involved in the community; you shouldn't give it up if you're part of this district,' says Wu. 'I just want more friends to come to see the exhibition.'

Street As Museum: Lee Tung Street, A-Link, UG/F, C.C. Wu Building, 302-308 Hennessy Rd, Wan Chai. 11am-8pm daily. Inquiries: 9802 9383
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:37 AM   #538
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Tuesday September 13 2005

Hub bidders snub Legco


Chloe Lai

Bidders for the West Kowloon cultural hub have turned down an invitation to address a Legco subcommittee on the project's development.

The shortlisted bidders rejected an invitation to speak at this afternoon's meeting, saying they would only do so after the government had announced how the controversial project would move forward.

The office of Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan also turned down the subcommittee's invitation.

Subcommittee chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit was disappointed with the government's decision. 'I'm disappointed but not surprised,' he said.

He also told the property developers not to complain if they were unhappy with the Legislative Council's second phase report on the project, which will be released by December.

'The invitation was sent on the basis of fairness in the preparation of the final report. They are giving up the opportunity to have their views included,' he said.

The rejections mean that only members of the arts and cultural community are prepared to share their views with legislators.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:38 AM   #539
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Wednesday September 14 2005

Canopy plan overcomes Legco hurdle

Chloe Lai

Lawmakers drop controversial issue from their study of the culture hub project

A key obstacle the government faced in building the gigantic Lord Foster-designed canopy at the West Kowloon Cultural District has disappeared, with legislators quietly dropping the controversial issue from their study of the project.

The subcommittee on West Kowloon Cultural District development unanimously agreed at a closed-door meeting on September 2 to drop the canopy from its agenda. The revised agenda states it will now focus on the development approach and financial arrangements for the arts hub, the role government and local arts groups will play, and its management structure.

Legislators said they had dropped the issue because of time constraints, but an academic described the decision as a political tradeoff.

A source close to the government said lawmakers from major political parties would be invited to join a new authority governing the site's development.

The canopy, which will cover 55 per cent of the arts hub, was on the agenda when the subcommittee started its work in February.

In April, the subcommittee discussed technical aspects of the canopy and passed a resolution demanding more information from the government. In its first report in July, it said it would further examine the canopy in the second report, due in December.

Legco has no decision-making power over the project but Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has said its opinions would be respected.

Alan Leong Kah-kit, from the Article 45 Concern Group and subcommittee chairman, described the canopy as 'relatively unimportant and not a matter of principle'. Because time was tight for preparing the second-phase report, legislators need to prioritise issues, he said.

But Mr Leong denied the change showed lawmakers had softened their objection to the canopy.

'If the government thinks we're softening our position, they're wrong. It is also possible some members will want to readdress the canopy issue again.'

Another member of the subcommittee, who did not want to be named, said Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, of the Article 45 Concern Group, had proposed dropping the canopy from the study. Ms Ng was not available for comment last night.

The 28-strong subcommittee comprises members from all major political parties, and not all of them oppose the canopy idea. Patrick Lau Sau-shing, from The Alliance, and the Liberal Party's Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee were two of the judges who voted for Lord Foster's concept in the design competition.

City University political science professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said he believed the political parties were 'willing to trade on the canopy' because they wanted seats on the arts hub authority. 'It will certainly ease the pressure the government faces on how the controversial project will move on,' he said.

'When the government first unveiled the arts hub's development plan, the canopy was a major rallying point for opposition. It was as controversial as the single-tender approach. I'm not sure if it [can be deemed] relatively unimportant.'

The canopy is a key reason why Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen insists on the single-developer approach. The government argues it would be impossible to divide the construction and maintenance of the canopy.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:41 AM   #540
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Thursday September 15 2005

Favouritism denied over West Kowloon


Andy Cheng

The government yesterday denied it was in favour of a particular bidder for the controversial West Kowloon cultural project despite the developer being allowed to put up advertising panels at the site.

The Democratic Party questioned the government's fairness after it allowed Sun Hung Kai Properties to erect 50-metre-long advertising panels.

Democratic Party chairman Lee Wing-tat wrote to Director of Lands Patrick Lau Lai-chiu saying the government was suspected of favouring Sun Hung Kai, and asked if the Lands Department would withdraw the developer's right to use the surrounding fences.

A Housing, Planning and Lands Bureau spokesman said Sun Hung Kai had been awarded a short-term tenancy from February this year to December next year. The site, used for a nine-hole golf course, is close to The Arch, the property firm's luxury residential project above Kowloon Station.

Under the contract, the property giant will pay a monthly rent of $258,000 for 48,100 square metres - about 10 per cent of the site designated for the cultural hub project.

Meanwhile, a temporary waterfront promenade at the West Kowloon Cultural District site will open to the public from Saturday night, allowing people to view the moon on the eve of the Mid-Autumn Festival. The 600-metre path and 400-metre promenade will be lined with 70 lanterns.
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