Creativity is the bedrock of innovation, and as outlined by UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network, creative thinking drives sustainable development and community well being. Innovation is the prescription for growth in the 21st century - an idea that has been firmly embraced in Hong Kong over the past 20 years and which has helped establish its position as an undisputed creative hub of Asia.
Thanks to an integrated approach by various government agencies, creative industries in Hong Kong have been given a platform to flourish. This did not happen overnight, however. The founding research and direction for this began in 2004 when the HKSAR Government made a concerted effort to shape policy, with the aim of ensuring creativity became a vital part of Hong Kong’s cultural fabric.
An iconic representation of this endeavour is M+, Hong Kong’s new museum for visual culture. Due to be completed in 2019, the museum will celebrate design, art and architecture from across Asia and beyond over the past century. It will stand as a key landmark in the West Kowloon Cultural District and is set to rival the Pompidou Centre in Paris and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
M+ - meaning ‘Museum Plus’ - will serve as more than simply a museum, with an aim to encourage dialogue, interaction and partnership within the community through interactive initiatives that will help stimulate new ideas and collaboration.
Another cultural transformation that has occurred is in the South Island Cultural District. Twenty years ago, Wong Chuk Hang and surrounding areas was a place of declining industry. However, with government initiated urban renewal and regeneration, today, it is home to 23 local and international art galleries, studios and non-commercial art spaces. It’s also where local and international street artists paint bright murals on old factory walls. With a new MTR stop close by, cultural enthusiasts, visitors or curious residents have easy access to a hub of creative expression.
Creative expression and thought is embodied throughout the city during Hong Kong Art Week which takes place in March each year and features huge fairs such as Art Basel which started in 2013. This year it attracted nearly 80,000 attendees and showcased 242 galleries, half of which were from the Asia Pacific region. Big art fairs give local artists a platform to launch international careers but also make Hong Kong an ‘art destination’. The city’s huge arenas, efficient transport network and free port make it easy for vendors and collectors, from across the world, to not only display, but also transport their work, whilst driving forward both the global and local art market.
Local artist Kingsley Ng, shared his most recent work at Art Basel in March. His earlier work was supported by government grants, something he’s hugely grateful for. Kingsley notices the difference that commitment makes.
I do see, in the last ten years, there have been a number of initiatives, which are not only about bringing international arts to the city, for example the HK Arts Festival, Monet or the Louvre in Hong Kong, but also about incubating local arts development.- Kingsley Ng, Artist, Hong Kong
Hong Kong is known for repurposing historic and heritage buildings and giving them a new creative identity.
PMQ, the former police married quarters on Central’s Aberdeen Street, has been repurposed into a design hub that provides up-and-coming young talent with an opportunity to display and sell their work. Meanwhile, in the cavernous space of a former cattle quarantine and abattoir, The Cattle Depot Artists Village, provides young artists a place to work and exhibit.
Even Hong Kong’s ubiquitous shopping malls are leveraging technology to enable consumers to engage with art.
Amidst the luxury brands of The Landmark in Central, visitors can scan QR codes alongside artworks and listen to the stories behind the piece allowing the installations to come to life. These art collaborations have marked a shift in thinking – art is more than just something to look at and appreciate, it is also a catalyst for business and the community.
2017 sees The Hong Kong Repertory Theatre celebrate its 40th year since its first production. On the main stage this season, ‘In Times of Turmoil,’ set in Hong Kong and Guangzhou during 1949, is sponsored by a private bank. This production proves the increasing willingness of corporations to back cultural pursuits as a way to reach existing and new customers.
In 2005, the Hong Kong Arts Centre started Public Art HK (PAHK), a partnership that took art to the people in various guises. It continues today with a motto to ‘Infuse Art with the City’.
These examples demonstrate that the strategy to breed and support creativity at all levels of society have become very much part of the city’s psyche and identity.
Taking this one step further, one of the freest flowing expressions of the city’s artistic voice can be found at “Freespace Happening” in the fledgling West Kowloon Cultural District.
Here, residents and visitors have a space to set up a tent in an urban jungle and watch new bands, listen to fortune telling poetry, or participate in modern dance performances with friends and family.
It is undoubtedly a new creative arts quarter, which has so far brought together over 50,000 people, all of whom have a deeper appreciation for the arts and its potential.
As Hong Kong celebrates 20 years since its return to China, its creative strategy continues to flourish on many fronts. All of this is testament to its well thought out policies and infrastructure that both incubate and nurture creative thought and collaboration.