There are about 15 private museums in Hong Kong with themed exhibits such as furniture, toys, trams and antique fans and those showcasing culinary culture and other local traditions, according to a report by Hong Kong Economic Times on Friday.
Professor Oscar Ho, from the Department of Cultural and Religious Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said these private museums contribute a lot in enriching the local cultural scene while playing a complementary role to that pursued by government-funded museums.
Singapore, which is also aiming to become an Asian arts hub, is aggressively promoting its arts and culture industries by providing various incentives such as a 250 percent tax exemption for private museums and matching personal donations for arts and culture.
These ambitious moves have attracted renowned private museums to establish branches in the city state, including Pinacothèque de Paris, which plans to set up a satellite in Singapore next year, its first outside Europe.
But in Hong Kong, private museum are pretty much on their own. The Home Affairs Bureau, for example, will only consider granting subsidies on a case-by-case basis.
With their wealth on the rise, more and more Asian art lovers have opened private museums to show off their personal collections. But in a place like Hong Kong where rents are sky high, the trend has not caught on as much as in the other parts of Asia.
Of course, there are successful cases that Hong Kong can be proud of. One is the Imperial Museum at St. John’s Building in Central, which was founded in February 2013 by renowned connoisseur Paul Kan.
Kan, who is chairman of Champion Technology Group and the Chinese World Cultural Heritage Foundation, is said to have spent HK$20 million (US$2.58 million) to establish the museum, which has a large collection of agarwood art pieces and other antiques.
Tycoon Peter Fung has also spent lavishly to set up the Liang Yi Musuem, named after his two daughters, with a focus on antique furniture from the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Instead of fetching attractive rental income from bar and restaurant operators on his four-storey building on 181-199 Hollywood Road, Fung decided to turn the upper floors into a museum while renting out the ground floor to an antique furniture shop, in a bid to preserve the tradition of the place, which was once synonymous with antiques.
Fung said the rental from the ground floor is the only source of income for the entire operation, although he doesn’t intend to balance out the income with the expenses as the museum is a non-profit institution.
Fung said he is happy that he is doing something to educate the younger generation about Chinese cultural history and traditional furniture in particular.
The museum invites world renowned specialists to Hong Kong every month to discuss aspects of Chinese culture while collaborating with local organizations on special projects.
In mainland China, at least 451 museums opened in 2012 alone, bringing the total number to 3,866. Of this number, 647 are privately run. Fung said the simple reason for the wide disparity is that there are just not enough sites for museums to operate in Hong Kong.
Fung’s museum stands on a 25,000 square foot property, but that can never compare to the 100,000 square foot China Red Sandalwood Museum in Beijing.
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