Monday, 7 December 2015

Cultural exchange boosts connectivity

Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah

Hong Kong is located in the heart of Asia and is well positioned to play our part in facilitating cultural exchange at a regional and global level. Our city is characterised by stark contrast and diversity. Here, you can appreciate architecture from skyscrapers to historical temples; transportation from efficient underground metro systems to trams with more than 100 years of history; and delicacies from local dim sum to special cuisines from the far-off corners of the world.

 

One may easily associate Hong Kong with "an international financial trading centre" or "a hustle and bustle city", and may still perceive that Hong Kong people are too business-oriented or practical to talk about art and culture. This might be the case in the past but things are changing rapidly in recent years, and changing in a positive way in our art scene. This is evident by the burgeoning number of big and small private galleries in our CBDs or even in some alleys in the less well-known parts of Hong Kong.

 

We also see ever expanding arts fairs in terms of number and scale, which have become important fixtures in the arts calendar regionally and globally. Hong Kong is now one of the world's largest art auction markets and our cultural exchange with other parts of the world is also growing in terms of width and depth.

 

We firmly believe that, through cultural exchange and co-operation, we will be able to understand and appreciate each other's culture better and our friendships and connectivity will be strengthened. The forum this year is also very timely as our Central Government is taking forward the Belt & Road initiative.

 

Expanding connectivity

This grand and visionary initiative will expand connectivity, with a view to promoting economic, political and cultural co-operation among 60-plus economies.

 

Through the Belt & Road initiative, we expect to see opportunities in expanding trade, finance and the building of people-to-people bonds on a global scale. Hong Kong, sharing the same language and cultural origins with Mainland China while benefiting from our long-standing connectedness with the rest of the world, still strives for an even broader, deeper, and more cultural co-operation by cultivating connectivity through promoting extensive cultural, academic and personnel exchanges. With our unique advantages, Hong Kong has all it takes to expand friendship and enrich the development of Asian culture and arts among countries along the Belt & Road.

 

The theme of this year's forum, Community-wide Support: the Foundation for Vibrant & Sustainable Cultural Growth, is relevant to our era, which attaches great importance to engagement. Arts and culture should be fostered, administered, and appreciated under a "bottom-up" approach with the suitable catalyst provided by the Government and the eventual participation of the community at large. We believe what is fundamental to forming a solid foundation for vibrant and sustainable cultural growth is the provision of the necessary infrastructure to cater for a bigger demand within the community.  

 

Cultural investment 

The West Kowloon Cultural District is our long-term investment in this regard to meet the long-term infrastructure and development needs of Hong Kong's arts and culture. The 40-hectare site fronting our iconic Victoria Harbour is beginning to take shape gradually. Starting from 2017, performing arts venues of different types and scales will open in phases.

 

Meanwhile, the site is currently utilised for short term cultural programmes which bring arts and culture to the community. At the West Kowloon Cultural District, we see growing popularity among the younger generation and families with small children for a relaxing outing at the harbourfront to enjoy the outdoor performances and public forums.

 

The Cultural District will soon offer perfect venues for the local arts scene and sizeable open space for the public to enjoy. We need more community support to further our vision for arts development in Hong Kong.

 

Nurturing talent 

We are also aware of the need to nurture the growth of our cultural groups and encourage community participation. To promote district-based arts, the Government has carried out the Community Arts Subvention Scheme, which provides annual subsidies to each district-based arts association.

 

We have also various subsidies for art groups of varying size and stages of development. Recurrent subventions are regularly disbursed to fuel Hong Kong's nine flagship performing arts groups, as well as through the Hong Kong Art Development Council to small and medium arts groups. 

 

While Hong Kong has evolved into a modern metropolis, we are blessed with a rich intangible cultural heritage. The Government has been supporting community organisations in holding events that preserve and promote our local cultural heritage.

 

Just a few months ago, the Hong Kong Culture Festival was successfully held, which offered a wide range of intangible cultural heritage activities including martial arts, lion dance, Hakka unicorn dance, Cantonese opera and Taoist music. The festival aims to raise public interest in and awareness of our culture and traditions.

 

Many intangible cultural heritage activities often involve the respective communities, which help to pass on the knowledge and skills required for organising the events to the next generation.

 

By now, many of the intangible cultural heritage events are not only celebrated by the local community groups but also the wider public. Notably, the Cheung Chau Jiao Festival and Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance are widely promoted by the Tourism Board and attract high attendance by tourists.

 

New funding modes

 

The theme of this year's forum also reminds me of a famous quote, "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much". Cultural developments require substantial resources. It is therefore a constant challenge for us to figure out different modes to finance the arts and culture.

 

We have earmarked $300 million for launching a new Art Development Matching Grants Pilot Scheme. Under this scheme, private donations and sponsorships secured by eligible local arts organisations will be matched with our grants on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Subject to funding approval, we plan to announce the details of the Pilot Scheme early next year.

 

Finding common ground

 

We believe that arts and culture should be allowed to grow organically for it to be truly vibrant and sustainable. Arts and culture can shape a distinctive temperament for individual cities and countries. At the same time, arts and culture are the cornerstones of humanity and also allow us to better understand and respect each other and find new common ground. 

 

Today I am very happy to have shared with you the measures the Hong Kong Government has been doing to mobilise the collective efforts of different sectors in the community for the continuous growth of arts and culture. I am trying to throw out a minnow to catch a whale and am looking forward to hearing the experience of all participating delegations.  

 

Before I pass on to other distinguished delegations to share their insights on the topics, please allow me to briefly introduce the two establishments which our guests will be visiting this afternoon during the cultural programme - the Asia Society Hong Kong Center, and the Hong Kong Maritime Museum. Both of them are very relevant to the theme of this forum.

 

The Asia Society Hong Kong Center was established in 1990 by a group of Hong Kong community leaders and financed entirely with local funding through membership dues, fundraising events, and contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations. Through careful conservation, restoration and adaptive re-use, this heritage site at the heart of our CBD was transformed from a former explosives magazine site into a cultural, artistic and intellectual hub in Hong Kong three years ago. It now offers a broad variety of programmes in the form of lectures, performances, film screenings and exhibitions to the community. It is a real-life example of how the private sector can contribute to the promotion of arts and culture.

 

The other venue our guests will be visiting is the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, which showcases Hong Kong's maritime heritage and historical development. The Museum is one of the examples of private-public partnership on the provision of a cultural facility. It was established with funding by the Hong Kong shipping community and the Government has provided financial support. I hope you all enjoy visiting these two places later today.

 

The Asia Cultural Co-operation Forum today provides us with an invaluable opportunity and platform to exchange ideas and share views in furtherance of the partnership among various sectors of the community for the development of culture and arts. I would like to extend my gratitude to all of you in advance for sharing your valuable experience, and may I wish you all a rewarding discussion in today's forum. And to our honourable ministers and distinguished representatives, I wish you all a joyful and fruitful stay in this cultural metropolis.

 

Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah gave these remarks at the Asia Cultural Co-operation Forum 2015 - Asian Cultural Ministers' Panel Discussion on December 7.

 

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