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Music's golden calling
Published on Thursday, 24 Nov 2011
Michael MacLeod says that apprenticeships are invaluable to arts administrator roles and bemoans their scarcity in Hong Kong.
Photo: Berton Chang
Hong Kong Sinfonietta CEO Margaret Yang
Photo: Berton Chang

Recently, several jobs have been advertised in the arts administration field. But, while the job descriptions are often similar to equivalent positions within a corporation, slight differences mean that the posts are challenging to fill.

For example, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra's (HKPO) director of development must generate fund-raising income to the tune of about 30 per cent of the orchestra's budget.

"The candidate should be charming, because it's their job to ask for money, have excellent contacts, work well with the fund-raising committee, and lead a team of four," says HKPO chief executive Michael MacLeod.

According to Connie Lam, executive director of the Hong Kong Arts Centre and chairman of the Hong Kong Arts Administrators Association, job requirements are specific. "In art, there is an element of the unknown and it is hard to measure results, making fund-raising difficult."

Lam adds that the marketing person in the arts sector must be passionate about the specific art form to promote it effectively, while finance managers must keep things simple for artists who may not be budgeting experts. Finally, human resources managers need to be more flexible than their corporate counterparts.

Hong Kong's small community of some 800 arts administrators - of which about 70 per cent work for the government - is a shallow talent pool.

"When it comes to department heads, life gets a bit complicated," says MacLeod. "A director of artistic planning needs to negotiate with conductors and soloists from all over the world. This is not something you can teach. You have to work alongside someone who does it, watching and learning," he says. 

Another music group, the Hong Kong Sinfonietta (HKS), is seeking a programme officer who needs to be familiar with classical music and, specifically, orchestral repertoire.

"The officer has ownership of the programme and is there to have a musical discussion with the music director," says HKS chief executive Margaret Yang, who studied music at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and programming in London.

The person will also be in touch with the guest conductors and players, to discuss what they would like to play.

Yang hopes to find someone who has played in an orchestra and who may have helped with programming. She says she is willing to develop the person in the hope he or she can really contribute in two to three years.

"In art administration, the on-the-job experience is more important than school," she says, agreeing with both MacLeod and Lam.