Fotanian experience shows what's wrong with our cultural policy

September 19, 2015 08:01
Industrial lofts in Fo Tan have been turned into a community of art studios housing artists and art lovers. However, the future of Fotanian is getting more uncertain. Photo:

For the welfare of community, the Hong Kong government should come up with a good, nurturing and forward-looking cultural policy, instead of its usual approach of promoting art as a tool of entertainment.

Take the Fotanian Arts Promotion Program as an example.

In 2014, Fotanian successfully secured grants from the Home Affairs Bureau (HAB) through the Arts Capacity Development Funding Scheme (ACDFS).

On top of hosting an open studio program, the organizers depended much on the funds to cover their general administration, business registration as well as annual accounting and auditing services in the next two years.

In order to fulfill the long list of objectives set by HAB, it also had to be responsible for audience building and arts education. The already overloaded organization was overwhelmed by extra duties.

Tedious terms are imposed on successful applicants to ensure that every bit of public money is well-spent. However, the scheme was supposed to provide artists with the means to exercise their creativity.

The requirements have done more harm than good to small organizations, in particular.

The Hong Kong government, in its role of promoting local culture, has simply passed on to one of its agencies, the HAB, the responsibility of fostering art and culture.

Evaluation is simplified into mere quantitative measurements. Attendance rates become the only yardstick of success for any program. The nature, content and long-term benefits of a program is never given much weight.

Torturous bureaucratic procedures are also ruining young, inexperienced organizers. Though Fotanian registered as a limited company as required, the HAB would only release the funds in installments via cheques to the organizers after the staging of the event as officials had to conduct on-site visits and verify the financial documents.

Fotanian has no management fund of its own, nor does it have the administrative skills to tackle the harsh terms set by the HAB.

Its directors had to pay the expenses from their own pockets, and the executives, who were unwilling to take the risk, resigned instead.

No one else would like to pick up this hot potato, and the directors defend their tardiness by citing the late payment of their salaries. The way it looks now, Fotanian seems to be heading toward a dead-end.

In recent years, cosmopolitan cities like New York, London and Tokyo have transformed their declining manufacturing industries into more sophisticated ones by focusing on branding and innovative ideas as well as engaging low-cost but high-returns trade.

In Asia, the Korean wave stormed the world with the assistance of South Korean authorities. It has shown how an effective cultural policy can trigger a leap forward in the community's political, economic, cultural and educational life.

Some quarters proposed the establishment of a Culture Bureau to overcome all the shortcomings of the HAB. However, people with vested interests have different plots and schemes on their minds. The plan for such an agency was eventually abandoned.

Local cultural fields such as pop music, visual arts and independent cinema have been withering away for quite a while, yet no practical actions have been taken.

Hong Kong artists are struggling, their voices are unheard and unanswered.

It’s not surprising that Hong Kong society will continue to be chaotic. No one sees the bright side of the future.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 16.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

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The vibrancy of Hong Kong art and culture is manifested in the youth's struggle for democracy. Photo: HKEJ

Hong Kong Economic Journal writer