The Govt needs to ask itself what the endgame for Arts Tech is

May 25, 2021 06:00
The East Kowloon Cultural Centre (EKCC), marked as a dedicated Arts Tech testbed, is expected to open in 2023. Photo: HK Government

It has been more than six months since the Chief Executive’s Policy Address, when Hong Kong’s first policies on Arts Tech were verbally spelt out by Carrie Lam herself. Earlier this month (May 10 ), the Home Affairs Bureau (HAB) presented before the Legislative Council, the government’s progress on Arts Tech development over this time. To be honest, the updates fall short of our expectations. We wonder if they failed even Carrie Lam’s expectations too.

Last October, the Chief Executive laid the groundwork for Arts Tech by forming a new inter-bureau Arts Tech Task Force tasked to ‘formulate strategies and measures to develop and promote Arts Tech’ – comprising members from HAB, the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau (CEDB), the Innovation and Technology Bureau (ITB) and the Education Bureau (EDB). But six months in, the Task Force still demonstrates no clear vision, no concrete KPIs, and above all, no ambition – remaining relatively vague in what it is trying to do and what it has done. This is disappointing.

Perhaps the main reason why the Government has failed to produce a comprehensive blueprint is that officials have yet to fathom what the endgame is with Arts Tech. What they do not realise is that Arts x Tech is emblematic of a cultural phenomenon. It is the cultural vessel and currency of our times. If done well, it could become a carrier of cultural soft power and a shaper of cultural identity. Hence, project or event-based thinking does not really work here, not when we are executing an exhaustive cultural strategy that aims at growing a city’s soft power while considering, also, economic potential.

The Government must realise, and demonstrate it realizes that Arts Tech – and these days, digital content – is the “language” of our time. It embodies a cultural currency that can be traded and exchanged for soft power. In Hong Kong, we have not yet managed to leverage on this, when concurrently the Mainland just issued a policy document demanding the KPI of incubating and commercializing 20 “leading enterprises in Arts Tech” (領軍企業) and 5 regionally-influential “Arts Tech clusters” by 2025.

Pressure is on. The Task Force can no longer merely assume the role of providing passive “one-stop service” that answers public queries; nor can it consult industry representatives only “where appropriate” (as that defeats the point of an industry-led, government-backed movement). Instead, we expect the Task Force to set standards, define terminologies, sketch roadmaps and strategies, and just lead with so much more ambition and clarity as a champion and incubator of the Arts Tech ecosystem for Hong Kong.

This is why the government needs to be much more than a “matchmaker” – which it claims to be – for the Arts and Tech sectors. Bringing sectors together physically is the first step, but we want to see plans to drive collaborations, monitor progress, and hold accountability on forging cross-disciplinary innovations. We’d much rather see the government do more spoon-feeding in these initial stages to align people’s expectations until they reach a common understanding towards Arts Tech. Noted that definitions of what constitutes as ‘Arts Tech’ and what does not is an iterative process, funding schemes should encourage ‘Arts Tech’ elements to be added as ‘bonus features’ in project proposals, to ensure the focus is still on the art form, and not just for the sake of adding tech.

On other funding-related updates, HAB was swift to introduce a new Arts Tech funding (with HKD 6 million) under the Arts Capacity Development Funding Scheme (ACDFS) which received an encouraging number of proposal applications within these six months, but the same cannot be said for other bureaus such as CEDB, which has been issuing the same (only slightly paraphrased) official response since October. When of course Arts Tech is particularly pertinent to CEDB, the bureau that oversees the city’s creative industries. Films for instance have been among the first embodiments of Arts Tech, and with new technologies and concepts like ‘transmedia’ emerging, CEDB needs to update its funding schemes and mandates accordingly.

Also, EDB’s participation in the Task Force initially raised high hopes. But they have not announced plans to strategise with tertiary and vocational institutes, or with the industry. Not to mention any rationale concerning manpower planning for Arts Tech talents.

So far, the East Kowloon Cultural Centre (EKCC), marked as a dedicated Arts Tech testbed when it opens in 2023, looks the most promising. The workshops, seminars and hands-on test-runs organized in this time were well-curated and much more industry-focused, thanks to partnering technology specialists, who walked audiences through a range of latest stage technologies and explained their application – showing the importance of industry involvement and a good example of public education. Next, EKCC could further facilitate industrial links and talent recruitment. Even better, it could act as a post-graduation destination in partnership with certain educational programmes.

Arts Tech is not, and should not be an empty slogan. Our policymakers should think more deeply about what Arts Tech actually is as an asset, and what it can do and impact. Once they see the endgame, they will realise they are in the position to decide whether Hong Kong can set the trends again. That is why we stay hopeful.

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Helen So: Lead of Arts & Culture, Our Hong Kong Foundation Yolanda Lam: Assistant Researcher, Our Hong Kong Foundation