The Secret Success of the Summit
How HKAAA manages to get WKCDA as sponsor and its CEO as speaker?

There was indeed something special about this year’s 2011 Cultural Leadership Summit.

Not just because of its record number of participants, which was better than its first year, thanks to this year’s co-organiser, West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA), but also because one of its panel speakers was appointed chief executive of WKCDA just five days before the Summit began on June 1st.

To learn the inside story, we grabbed Philip Soden, Chairman of the Hong Kong Arts Administrators Association for a quick coffee and chat.

exhibitionQ: Did you have a crystal ball to know who will be our CEO?

Soden: (laughs) – actually we put together our wish-list of keynote speakers last November, so it’s just a happy coincidence that the person we chose last year as our opening keynote speaker, was appointed the week before the Summit as the new CEO of WKCDA.

Q: Really? Why did you invite him in the first place?

Soden: Michael was an obvious choice, not only because of his highly relevant experience and background at Southbank and Sydney Opera House, but also because of his familiarity with the West Kowloon project - he has participated in two symposia held here during the last three years, in which the subject of West Kowloon took centre stage. He is also a very interesting speaker with a great sense of humour.

Q: How was his session?

Soden: Michael’s session had the greatest attendance of all the Summit sessions – over 200 delegates turned up (not including media which seemed like another 200 – he is very popular with the press!) What he said was very reassuring, the fundamental starting point being that West Kowloon will not be an elitist palace of high culture for the few, but it will be a place for the entire community to relax and enjoy.  The Authority will place emphasis on arts education and creative development.  Michael hopes that the district will be attractive to people of all ages and from all walks of life, and to quote a memorable line from his speech – “with all due respect to shopping malls, we are not offering a shopping mall experience.”

Q: Tell us your favourite programs of the three-day event?

Soden: My favourite moment of the Summit was showing our international speakers the spectacular view of WKCD and the harbour at sunset from the rooftop bar on 118th floor of ICC.  Apart from that, the presentation by JUT Foundation from Taiwan was a real eye opener – JUT is a cultural foundation set up by a property developer, using their land bank and stock of empty buildings waiting to be re-developed, as creative spaces and arts incubators for one to three years while waiting for construction to start.  I hope Hong Kong developers can also apply their dormant resources to play a bigger part in developing the local arts scene. The cost to them is small, but the benefit to artists and the wider community is great.

exhibitionQ: Who else impressed you?

Soden: Apart from Michael Lynch, our star-studded cast of international speakers included Patrik Schumacher of Zaha Hadid Architects; Adrian Ellis, Executive Director of Jazz at Lincoln Centre; Xu Jian, General Manager of the Forbidden City Concert Hall, Beijing; Rodney Philips, Chief Executive of AEG Ogden, Western Australia; Aaron Lee, Chief Executive Officer of JUT Foundation for Arts and Architecture, Taiwan;  Marcus Davey, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of Roundhouse, London; and Ms Jill Smith, General Manager, Geelong Performing Arts Centre, Melbourne. The Summit was attended by a who’s who of the Hong Kong arts scene - many of our flagship companies CEO’s and senior management, plus leading artists and architects. 

Q: Who should have been there?

Soden: it would have been nice to have more people from the visual arts sector, more board members from HKADC and a few more WKCDA Board and Committee members, but many of them had gone to Venice for the Biennale.  Having said that, the WKCD Authority’s senior management were well represented and their feedback has been very positive.

Q: How was your event different than the first year?

Soden: The quality of discussion was better this year – both in terms of contributions from speakers and participation by delegates.  This is possibly due to a sharper focus in the framing of session topics. Also the theme itself, ‘Arts Spaces that Work and Why’, is sexier than last year’s general sweep of issues facing cultural leaders.

Q: What is your conclusion about the three-day seminar?

Soden: I can say with confidence that it exceeded expectations all around.  The keynotes have given us plenty of food for thought about how to make our future arts spaces exciting and attractive - the case studies presented were truly extraordinary.  

exhibitionQ: What could you have done better?

Soden: Catering – always a problem on a tight budget and in limited space.

Q: Now what’s on next year?

Soden: One idea is to build next year’s theme around Festivals – planning, programming, marketing, managing etc, but we have plenty of time yet to develop this or other concepts.  And if any of your readers have suggestions for next year’s Cultural Leadership Summit theme please let us know through our web site www.hkaaa.org.hk or Facebook page www.facebook.com/hkaaa.