A passion for performance
Lindsey McAlister, founder and artistic director, Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation (HKYAF), always knew that she was destined to do something arts-related – even though the school she went to did everything they possibly could to put her off such a direction.
“Theatre is my life, my passion, it consumes every waking hour. When I am not making theatre I am depressed and feel ill,” she says.
Arriving in Hong Kong from Britain as a 20-year-old on a backpacking trip, McAlister immediately fell in love with the city. “Within two hours I had decided to stay in Hong Kong and give up the job waiting for me in Britain. It was the best decision I ever made in my life,” she says.
Not long after settling in Hong Kong, McAlister was struck by how little community art there was for young people, so she decided to create a platform – HKYAF – for youngsters to share their creativity.
“At that time I was very naive, I had little experience in administration. My first attempt at fundraising was a joke. I pulled out my Yellow Pages and started cold-calling companies. Things did not work out so I thought I’d better seek advice. Eventually I was introduced to the head of DHL (Asia), a wonderful entrepreneur named Po Chung. He had founded a group called Business for Art, which gave seeding money to new projects. That got me started,” she says.
HKYAF is about providing high-quality, non-competitive and free arts experience for young people. McAlister firmly believes that, with encouragement, young people can excel. “I remembered my music teacher barking at me to stop singing because it made her ears bleed, and my dance teacher said I danced like a baby elephant, but I persisted down the arts road.
“Looking back, those experiences had a huge impact on what I do today. I never want any young person I work with ever to have to suffer that lack of respect. Everything I do is about empowering young people, giving them self-confidence, self-esteem and encouraging them to be the best they can be,” she says.
Since her school did not offer her any opportunities in theatre, McAlister joined a local youth theatre company – a move that changed her arts career forever.
“The leader of the youth theatre group was a great inspiration to me. As a teenager, she ignited my passion for theatre and the performing arts and told me I could do anything I wanted to do and be anything I wanted to be, which became my mantra. Then I was introduced to Veronica Lewis, a dancer lecturer who fanned my passion’s flame and gave me many opportunities to create performing arts and choreograph shows.”
While many local art organisations suffer from lack of funding, this is not the case at HKYAF because McAlister is an expert fundraiser.
“I really enjoy seeking sponsorship and I have developed a talent for it. HKYAF has never received government money, we work with corporations and foundations that we have co-operated with for many years. Once they work with us they love what we do so much that they can’t leave us. Hong Kong loves art and only stupid, ill-informed people would say it is a cultural desert.”
McAlister loves creating arts projects and believes art can be used to change people’s lives. “I love coming up with cool, sexy, exciting ideas to execute. My team is highly creative and together we come up with ideas that excite the people who fund us and the kids and families who get involved,” she says.
The support of families is a major driving force behind McAlister’s success. “I have a 20-year-old son named Sam who was born around the time that I founded HKYAF so I always joke that Sam and HKYAF are twins. They have had the same love, nurturing and energy devoted to them equally. Sam and my partner Donald are extremely supportive of my work, they come and see everything I create,” she says.