I feel an immense sense of love and pride when referring to Hong Kong as my home but this is changing. Whilst pleased to see the efforts the city is making to develop the creative industries it’s simply not enough. The massive resources and attention being placed on cultural facilities and redevelopment of places such as West Kowloon, Victoria Dockside and now The Kai Tak Sports Park are very significant but they’re being developed for mass tourism rather than cutting edge culture. Homogenised experiences that look at the past and present rather than the future. In HK original thinking is all too often passed over in support of tired and outdated ideas supporting short term goals like ‘generating footfall’ to drive retail business, much of which is dying anyway. The work of a few individuals or family businesses is undoubtedly well intended and must be respected, but the city is generally failing to deliver a sustainable creative engine to get close to matching any ‘world city’. We need to have some bottle and take some risk.
Tai Kwun is a well designed attractive set of spaces which has delivered some interesting programming, but it too is shrouded in red tape and seems to be protected from private larger style events which would allow it to shine. It also faces similar challenges as PMQ which has time and again suffered from inflexible operations and neighbours complaints after 10pm. The many spaces in industrial areas like Kwun Tong have not been significantly opened up even with many building and spaces not being used. The continued pressure from groups like This Town Needs has born some fruit in that they have space from which to operate, but it’s made very difficult and the now slightly dated headlines of police raids still tarnish a legitimate case for culture in the city. Multibillion dollar developments like Victoria Dockside haven't been designed for performance or culture in mind, brand positioning and communication can only get a project so far, it needs to consider these things very carefully with real insight into what it takes to put on a proper show or program.
Creativity must come from within and be allowed to chart its own course as supposed to being focused on redefining the same outcomes with risk-averse policy. It's a vicious circle when commercial businesses and governments cannot handle taking any ‘risk’. With so much investment and resources going into innovation and technology, we are forgetting the importance of creativity and how it’s often a catalyst for innovation. Risk-taking is absolutely essential as without it you can’t progress; one could think of it as tough love, taking on the burden of risk in order to develop a sustainable cultural ecosystem for the future and a place people aspire to live. The reality is that Hong Kong and some of our neighbours are not developing enough original creative talent and this severely endangers the prospects for the future. Where would we be without the some of the originators from the past? We’re treading water as supposed to broadening the horizons of the young and allowing people to develop a love for the new.
Much of Asia has been surviving in the creative slipstream of the West, it’s often the elephant in the room, but in many ways true. It’s failed to develop the zeal to break out on its own and be a really strong creative force. Successful music entertainment properties, such K Pop and more recently Asian Hip Hop, have become famous around the world but these are arguably distilled versions of the old with a new set of faces. Take the new wave of hip hop, many of these new artists are mimicking US rap, but this feels bogus and contrived. There are of course some great exceptions but local talent is often looking over their shoulder as supposed to looking forward. Young creators shouldn’t feel too scared to fail and encouraged to bank easy audience numbers as supposed to producing something original that paves the way for future generations of artists and creators. Brands should celebrate bold young artists by supporting them rather than homogenised influencers that spend all day taking pictures of themselves.
Is it fair to say that some of the biggest Chinese hip hop artists from the likes of 88Rising are biggest outside of China? Often young Chinese fans but in places like the US where the ecosystem is just very different, in areas where the music scene (in the US and UK) is supported, the creative ecosystem and culture economy is so much stronger.
Hong Kong is a small city and needs to think big in order to keep up. We’ve lost some great businesses focused on creative industries in the last few years, music labels, promoters and designers. Most of these have gone to Singapore. Obviously, there are some fantastic sets of people working tirelessly to develop the cultural landscape here such as Clockenflap, Collective Minds or Freespace, but we don’t make it easy for them. This isn’t so much a political issue as it is a social or economic one. The immense pressure on Hong Kong to fall in line with our neighbours is distracting us from some of the core strengths we have, one of these is our history and global recognition as a fun place. There is a magical ‘barrier to entry’ the city has over our neighbours, we need to ensure the Hong Kong brand continues to grow by taking risks and pushing boundaries.
The city is set up for being the avant-garde jewel of the Greater Bay crown, let’s stop thinking short term and build brand Hong Kong the way it should be, original and special.