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All the world's a stage for art talent
Published on Friday, 30 Sep 2011
Tisa Ho
Executive director
The Hong Kong Arts Festival Society
Photo: Samantha Sin
Margaret Yang
Chief executive
Hong Kong Sinfonietta

Not only is Tisa Ho Hong Kong's first successful female arts administrator, she also currently reigns as the best in the business. The executive director of the Hong Kong Arts Festival Society took the plunge in the 1970s when she enrolled for a degree in arts administration at London's City University. After a brief apprenticeship at the Hong Kong Arts Centre, Ho was lured into an identical venture in Singapore.

She soon became the moving spirit behind the arts scene in the Lion City and snapped up the post of general manager of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, a position she held from 1991 to 1999. She was, therefore, too rich a prize to miss when the top job at the Hong Kong Arts Festival fell vacant four years ago.

Time-management is Ho's mantra - something the movers and shakers behind the West Kowloon Cultural District might do well to emulate.

The days of art-for-art's sake, Ho says emphatically, are over and gone. "We are in an age when the needs of both the artists and the audience must be understood and balanced. How? By bringing the two together for their mutual benefit - the crucial challenge arts administrators must face and address today," Ho says.

Her own career experience from Hong Kong to Singapore, and then back to Hong Kong has one valid explanation and lesson - globalisation. Interestingly, globalisation is taking place in all spheres of life, arts administration included. "That means talent can come from any part of the world. At the same time, locally-trained talent can also seek work anywhere that opportunity beckons, generating a genuine international network and connection," Ho adds.

That, in short, will help to champion professionalism and excellence in the practice of arts administration through a constant process of improvement, training and development.

Another success story in the realm of arts administrators belongs to Margaret Yang, chief executive of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta. Graduating with a music degree in 1970, Yang flitted briefly between several performing groups, including the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, before she realised there were more opportunities for her in music management than in musical performance. Yang discovered that contracts drawn up for artists and performers were often grossly exploitative. It induced her to study a law degree, and she qualified as a solicitor. Working for a successful law firm in Hong Kong, Yang was surprised to be offered the post of managing the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, a fledgling orchestra.

Yang found this a challenge she could not resist. The resulting progress has seen the Sinfonietta emerge as Hong Kong's second major orchestra after the Hong Kong Philharmonic. This found its due reward when Yang won in 2009 the first Clore Scholarship - the musical equivalent of the Rhodes Scholarship - for advanced training in arts management skills. In the process, Yang had the opportunity to have free and frank exchanges with the elite forces of Britain's arts and cultural establishment.

The experience, she says, greatly encouraged the diversity and depth of her thinking, prompting her "to learn from other cultures and experience the ability to get things done better."

A third role model as arts administrator is Ko Tin-lung, a former actor, playwright and artistic director of Chung Ying Theatre Company. Winner of numerous awards and citations, Ko has held key positions in the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (ADC), particularly its strategy committee. This body recently drew up its "incubator scheme" to improve employment opportunities for fresh performing arts graduates and nurture talent for the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) Authority.

As per Ko's proposal, students get a job right after their graduation from the Academy for Performing Arts. "Thus the arts groups found they could increase their manpower without having to pay extra for one year as the ADC agreed to bear the cost under its drama internship scheme," he says, adding that the internship has 14 places and all interns must give up their internships to the next batch of new graduates after one year.

"During the period the interns were on the job, they had to do their best to shine. If they did, people would hire them full time on a regular contract. The programme will also be sustainable with successive generations of graduates year after year," Ko says, adding that the scheme will probably need five years before any results are seen.