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Artists can drive economy

Published on Friday, 25 Mar 2011
Artistic talent on display at lifestyle-centric small shops in Heung Yip Road in Wong Chuk Hang.
Photo: Dickson Lee
John Williams
John Paul Rowan
Chan Wing-wah
Nickie Green

To pursue an artistic career in Hong Kong is no longer a romantic dream. The government has been striving to develop cultural and creative industries as one of the six pillars for economic growth, while companies regard art as a fashionable medium to promote customer goodwill.

"With the advent of the West Kowloon Cultural District, we can foresee growing importance for development of the arts and creative industries in Hong Kong, and more employment opportunities for practitioners," says John Williams, dean of the school of theatre and entertainment arts at Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.

The establishment of Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Hong Kong in 2009 helps demonstrate the trend. "The creative industry is essential for the long-term sustainable development of Hong Kong," says John Paul Rowan, SCAD Hong Kong vice-president. "We see that talents in design, animation, game design, motion media design, advertising and photography are in growing demand."

Professor Chan Wing-wah, head of the centre for creative and performing arts at the University of Hong Kong's School of Professional and Continuing Education, has a similar view. The demand for its postgraduate programmes, including creative industries management, museum studies and integrated arts, has increased.

"I believe that art management professionals will be able not only to fulfil the markets in Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland, but also provide services to places such as Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore," Chan says.

The intensifying demand for art-related education reflects the prospective landscape of Hong Kong's creative industries and underlines institutions' need to recruit academics and apply appropriate human resources practices.

"To recruit teaching staff is not always easy as the supply is limited. We only look for experts with a solid academic background and outstanding experience, and some are required to have a good international network, for art nowadays has become a global issue," Chan says.

Regarding managing and motivating creative staff, Chan says: "To understand the personality and temperament of each member is crucial. It is exactly their unique character and temperament that make them artists. I don't manage them, but rather I serve and support them by understanding what they need. This is to me a subject of the art of managing artistic talent.

"We are dealing with subjects where there's no black and white. As an art teacher myself, I never say no to students. My approach is to inspire students to find solutions and encourage them to think of a method that enables them to turn the impossible into the possible."

Art students and teachers always want something that could enrich life's experiences. Taking this into account, SCAD Hong Kong offers special incentives to its academics. "Apart from benefits, such as comprehensive health, medical, dental and vision plans for employees, all full-time staff and their spouses, or same-sex domestic partners, are eligible to take one class per quarter tuition-free after 90 days of full-time employment," says Nickie Green, director of human resources.

The university also encourages professors to continue professional development through seminars, fellowships, conferences, symposiums and in-house training workshops.

"We offer quarterly educator forums in which professors collaborate across disciplines and discuss best practices in subjects such as classroom management, student motivation and active learning," Green says.

Self-enrichment is crucial to practitioners in the creative industries, just as networking is pivotal to business employees. "While making many efforts to help our staff undertake research through practice and upgrade qualifications while on the job, we create a professional environment so that they will be able to maintain their connectivity in the industry," Williams says.


Design Vacuum

A report shows that Hong Kong's creative industry lacks ky data about its development and trends

Hong Kong's creative industry should continue to flourish in the coming years, yet little information exists about its human capital, a recent study reveals.

According to "A Study on the Framework of Hong Kong Design Index", a research project conducted by Hong Kong Design Centre with an aim to develop a quantitative measurement framework for examining the design sector and its trends, the number of design students in tertiary education recorded a remarkable increase from 2006 to 2009, indicating a significant increase in the labour force in coming years.

In the 2008-2009 academic year, nearly 10,000 students were enrolled in design programmes, up from 5,800 in 2006-2007. Subdegree programmes recorded an increase of more than 110 per cent.

From 2006 to 2009, employment within the field also recorded a steady increase, seeing 6.7 per cent average annual growth, due to the boom of property, banking and finance, retail, business marketing and online businesses that require creative and design-related skills, the report suggests.

The employment figures, however, are an underestimate, as are other findings related to the industry, the study states.

The main reason is that the definition of the design industry, as adopted by the Census and Statistics Department, is too narrow, meaning that in-house design services in other businesses and manufacturing sectors are not covered. For example, design personnel working in information technology companies and retail businesses would be out of the picture under the conventional definition.

Liou Wei-gong, an assistant professor in the department of sociology at Soochow University in Taiwan and an expert in cultural studies in the region, says establishing quantitative measurement frameworks for the design industry is crucial to cosmopolitan cities such as Hong Kong.

"We all know creativity is of great importance to a city, but what the industry has achieved, how big it is and where it is heading are questions to be answered by sophisticated findings," Liou says.

While Hong Kong is a cultural desert to many, Liou thinks otherwise. "To determine what is unique in a city and then cultivate it is the key. I think some aspects of Hong Kong's pop culture, such as movies, are quite strong and special. Beside, toys from Hong Kong - figurine toys in particular - have been very popular in Taiwan over many years. They are perhaps the right way for Hong Kong to go," Liou says.


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