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Arts scene aims to fill void

Published on Thursday, 07 Apr 2011
Hong Kong’s booming arts scene is driving demand for administrators.
Photo: Xinhua

Initiatives such as the West Kowloon Cultural District and a booming arts scene in the region are expected to spur a strong demand for arts administrative talent at different levels, according to academics and practitioners in the field.

Shortage of management professionals - in terms of quantity and quality - has long hindered the development of the local arts scene.

"There has never been such a golden opportunity in Hong Kong's history for arts administrators," says Lynn Yau, CEO of The Absolutely Fabulous Theatre Connection. "The future is very bright, but the need is also very urgent."

"Many arts managers are in this line of work because they are very experienced [in the arts] and have a strong sense of mission. But is that enough?" says Jacky Fung, administrative officer of theatre group The Nonsensemakers.

"On the other hand, would a business manager - albeit his great management skills - know how to make things click for a drama production?"

Fung is taking a part-time master's course in cultural management to hone his approach to administrating an arts organisation. "We need generalists who know a bit of everything in order to manage [artists] and allocate [resources]," he says.

Arts management involves a lot of different disciplines. "We certainly lack professionals in many areas," says Oscar Ho, programme director of Chinese University's master of arts programme in cultural management.

For instance, museum management professionals are found wanting in areas such as registration, collection management, exhibition installation and design, and fundraising. "It is mainly the middle-ranking, technical part that is missing," Ho says.

Philip Soden, chairman of the Hong Kong Arts Administrators Association, says educational institutions in Hong Kong should train talent to replace those leaving Hong Kong for new venues and attractions in Macau, Singapore and the mainland, while preparing for the sharp increase in positions available at the West Kowloon Cultural District.

The University of Hong Kong, City University and the Hong Kong Institute of Education are offering new undergraduate and postgraduate programmes for aspiring arts administrators in the 2011-12 academic year.

Even so, academics say the government's funding mechanism needs to be changed in order to provide more support to smaller arts companies.

The system sponsors mainly projects, such as putting on a show, and rarely supports the regular administration costs.

"This means companies hire arts administrators on a project basis," Ho says.

"When the project is over, the administrator is discharged and needs to wait for another project. We cannot nurture professionals based on employment by projects."

Soden says using public funds is beneficial in the long run. "This is a chicken and egg situation - with better administrative staff, companies will have more time and expertise to seek private sponsorships, so the short-term solution will create the possibility of a long-term outcome."

State of the arts

Competent language skills: It is necessary to be fluent in English and Chinese in order to handle the interchanges between mainland, Hong Kong and overseas artists.

A large dose of common sense: This is more than just a technical job, so you need to react flexibly under pressure and make connections between things across a wide variety of disciplines, from people management (creative artists require careful handling) and ticketing, to fundraising and marketing.

Physical energy: You don’t just work behind a desk calling sponsors or drafting proposals. You will need to think on your feet while working on the production side of things, often on overtime until the end of an evening showbefore getting back to the office early in the morning.

Passion for the arts: All that fuss means nothing unless you love the arts.


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