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Trying to fill a very tall order
Published on Friday, 23 Sep 2011
Spencer de Grey, senior partner and head of design of Foster + Partners, will be overlooking the company’s winning proposed WKCD design.
Photo: K.Y. Cheng
Benny Chia

The West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD), originally slated for completion in 2014, is still very much in the embryonic stage, having suffered one disaster after another in its marathon quest for a chief executive who, thankfully, is now in place.

While one hopes the WKCD experiences better luck with all its infrastructure projects and venues, in the coming months and years, the immediate task it faces is finding a wide pool of skilled staff to keep its operations ticking smoothly.

In short, the WKCD comes with a paradoxical catch. While it may provide the answers to Hong Kong's chronic shortage of performance venues, it also delivers a tall order to fill: the increasing demand for administration talent and cultural software.

"The arts scene here is fragmented by participants embracing quite different philosophies. We accord equal importance to enthusiasm and flair to gain a quick grasp of the value system and business philosophy of the industry," says Louis Yu, former chief executive of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council and currently the performance arts executive director of the WKCD Authority, which is tasked with managing the development of the district.

When finished, the WKCD is envisioned to include a mega performance venue, a grand theatre, a concert hall, a chamber music hall, a xiqu centre comprising a main theatre and a small theatre, two medium-sized theatres, and four blackbox theatres.

A critical review recently of the economic impact of developing the WKCD estimated that around 4,000 positions will have to be filled after the implementation of phase one, namely core arts and cultural facilities. These will include 820 managerial operation or administration positions, including those for venues and management in core infrastructures alone.

The shortage will worsen when only 876 arts administrators will be working or available. These are administrators employed full time by the government or publicly-funded organisations in 2007. These groups can be classified into three sectors: venue providers; programme curator and venue user; and promoter, programmer and co-ordinator.

These three areas will serve as a guideline for assaying the need for human resources training and development in arts administration. At present, around 68 per cent of administration staff are working for the first group, 23 per cent for the second, and the remaining 9 per cent for the third group. The completion of WKCD's phase one will throw up four managerial, 94 professional and 109 administrative assistant vacancies.

But what do arts administrators do exactly? "Every day is a working day for an arts administrator who has to soak up the latest development in the arts scene and maintain ties with other arts groups by attending performances and exhibitions on his or her days off," says Benny Chia, founder and director of the Hong Kong Fringe Club. "The job requires devotion and initiative to keep abreast of a changing arts scene that only an enthusiast can afford."

All in all, WKCD's phase one will bring about some 627 vacancies that far exceeds the workforce of 595 currently engaged by all venue providers - creating a shortage of 29 per cent, 82 per cent, and 337 per cent, respectively, when measured against current employment figures of the three categories.

The one certainty amid the staggered development of WKCD is that it can result in a higher labour turnover, which in turn will further aggravate the manpower shortage, especially when it has been estimated that it will take a newcomer some six or seven years to rise through the ranks.

"For newcomers unfamiliar with the working of the arts industry and in which they try to excel, they need to demonstrate a knack for bonding with those working behind the scenes and identifying their practical needs on the job and which no amount of training could prepare one for," says Agnes Tang, former assistant director for the performing arts at the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. 

With a seeming bounty of job opportunities, Hong Kong's culture vultures can have their pick if they fancy becoming an arts administrator.

NEXT WEEK: Hong Kong's institutions rev up to produce a competent cultural workforce  

 

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