Interview with Ronald Arculli, Chairman of Development Committee , WKCDA

A solicitor by profession, Mr Ronald Arculli serves on the Executive Council of the HKSAR Government and is Chairman of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd. But arts and culture do have a place in his curriculum vitae.  His encounter with arts started in the 1960s and has since been part of his lifetime enjoyment. He is currently a Board member and the Chairman of the Development Committee (DC) for the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority. As Chairman of the DC, Mr Arculli oversees the master planning of the District. Mr Arculli recently spoke about what he expects the WKCD will do for Hong Kong and the Planning process of the biggest and most ambitious arts and cultural project ever undertaken in the territory.

First, a little about your arts background and your initial encounters with arts?
I love both visual and performing arts, but regard myself as a consumer rather than a producer or expert.  When I was a young lawyer, my head of Chamber, Sir Oswald Cheung, introduced me to a local artist, Mr Lui Shou-kwan. It was in the 1960s.  I loved his work and started putting money away—$30 a month, $50 a month—to buy his paintings. I was lucky—he became an internationally famed master in contemporary ink painting.

And then I was involved in the establishment of the Asian Art Archive (AAA), which is the first of its kind in the region to archive the works, material and literature of Asian artists.  The AAA is a leading resource for research into this area of visual arts and indeed has been described by Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of The Tate, London, as a world-class institution.   Through my fellow directors there, I got to know a number of Mainland and non-Mainland artists. They had made their names at the time I met them, but not at $5 million a painting—I’m talking about US dollars!  I am also a Member of the Executive Committee of the Hong Kong Arts Festival Society.

Why does Hong Kong need a place like the WKCD?
International cities, especially financial centres, always have several dimensions of life. Two generally stand out: “work” on the one hand, and “culture and entertainment” on the other.  In Hong Kong we have places to go for pleasure and entertainment, but in our development as a community, arts and culture did not receive enough support nor the acceptance and recognition it needed.  Perhaps this “dawned” on us in the last decade or two for a variety of reasons including the lack of facilities to run a Broadway musical or show for a few months, or lack of facilities for our local performing arts groups.  Therefore, the WKCDA and the WKCD are the result of an extensive bottom-up consultation including arts and cultural groups to ascertain their needs and wishes.

What are your personal aspirations to the WKCD?  What will the project do for Hong Kong?
The project is most important for the people of Hong Kong because for any arts and cultural development to be successful, it must be enjoyed by the locals.  If it is not, why would it attract visitors?

If you look at Hong Kong over the past 10-15 years, in terms of the arts and creative industries, we’ve been underselling ourselves. The Academy for Performing Arts has established itself as a leading institution. We have some wonderful students coming not just from Hong Kong but other parts of the world. We also have quite a big mindset change in parental aspiration for their children.   Parents now accept that children who want to be an artist is as good as being in any other professions.  West Kowloon could serve our youth and hopefully attract other talents.

Over half the WKCD will be public space (i.e. 23 hectares of land).  The Cultural District should not just be a passive park.  Even Victoria Park is not passive.  The WKCD will not just be a venue for holding a concert or art exhibition for those arts and culture lovers.  We want the public to be frequent visitors, going there to enjoy the facilities there or just sitting on the lawn or enjoying the harbour.  That is where the Conceptual Plan consultants come in to come up with a master plan that will make the WKCD a draw not just for those who love arts and culture but also those who just want to enjoy being there.

What is the good thing about engaging three Conceptual Plan consultants?
This is such an important project for Hong Kong—and such a groundbreaking concept with such a prime location—that we wanted to maximize the ideas that would come forward from the conceptual planning point of view. We realised that having more than one design and conceptual thinking from more than one consultant would actually stimulate more discussion and give us the best chances of success. There will be a feature in this planning process, which is not common in other publicly-funded projects.  The three Conceptual Plan consultants know that only one of them would be chosen, but if there were ideas from the other two that we thought could be “incorporated” into the final conceptual plan, we would be free to do so.  We therefore really have the benefit of getting the best.

But there is still concern that the project is just another property development with iconic buildings.
The Conceptual Plan consultants and Project Development consultants are not going to design any building. That’s at a later stage, after the master plan has been approved by the Town Planning Board. We would then commission different architects for different facilities. We would also need to talk about phasing, because you cannot just say “hey presto” and overnight 12 or 15 facilities appear. The key to success is, among other factors, connectivity, transportation, vibrancy … you can’t force-feed that. It has to grow organically.  The WKCD has to be part of our daily lives.

There is also concern about software and audience development. We will tackle that. We will soon go into fairly detailed discussion on the way forward. The Hong Kong Arts Festival, for example, have a Young Friends programme where every year about 6,000-8,000 schoolchildren and young people are introduced to workshops and rehearsals. Through this programme they get very good appreciation and insight into arts and culture. I hope the WKCD can also be part of the software development that is so important.

Can you explain how the people of Hong Kong can express their views to the WKCDA about what they would like the WKCD to be?
The Conceptual Plan consultants went through a vigorous selection process before they were chosen.  In many ways they are highly regarded and recognised leaders and innovators by their peers with extensive experience.  They are fully aware of the public engagement work to be undertaken by the Consultation Panel and what is expected of them in this important process. The Authority will follow the consultation process very closely. The Consultation Panel of the WKCDA will hold meetings which the three Conceptual Plan consultants are required to attend.  They will not just listen to the views of the public and stakeholders, they are expected to play an active role.  Also, the Consultation Panel is actually quite broadly representative, people from all walks of life. We will try our best to capture the essence of it. Now, I’m sure there will be disagreements, but the important thing is to make the Cultural District part of Hong Kong, and part of our daily lives.