Diaries of our new CEO: 144 hours in the Hong Kong arts scene

Graham, CS, and Allan ZemanWhat an extraordinary and fascinating week! I knew from previous visits that Hong Kong has a reputation for incomparable energy, but this was the first time I experienced it "full on"—and for several days non-stop! Wow. I was in town prior to taking up my role as CEO in mid-August in order to begin my familiarisation process, meet new colleagues and friends, start learning about the arts scene and also hopefully find somewhere to live. It was an exhausting week … but more importantly, it was very productive.

My new colleagues are terrific and already working diligently on bringing the West Kowloon Cultural District to life. We are transitioning from several excellent people providing support from the Home Affairs Bureau to our own newly appointed team. Some of us are in place, and some start work over the summer. It's like a startup operation because we’re in temporary offices, with new systems and procedures still to be ironed out. I am asking for everyone's patience as we get settled in; as everyone knows, this is a massive undertaking. The team is fully committed and members are very experienced in their own areas. But the most important thing for now is to build ourselves as a genuinely effective and integrated team. This doesn't happen overnight!

Graham and CSDuring the week I managed to take a first look at the conceptual plans—three entirely distinct approaches that we are analysing before presenting to the public this summer. I met multiple stakeholder groups, Board members, the Consultation Panel and various arts and educational committees. Many of these were intended as a series of informal "meet and greets". Obviously, there is much more engagement and discussion to come ... and I apologise if I missed a few people in the whirlwind of introductions!

I was fortunate that my visit coincided with the opening of the Hong Kong International Art Fair. That was an inspiring event. And I understand it was the most successful one to date. I concentrated (ably guided by Eve Tam, my curator colleague) on visiting some of the galleries featuring work from Hong Kong artists. It was impressive by any standard, and I will certainly be visiting the galleries themselves when I have settled in. One or two modest pieces can expect to be appearing in my office and flat in due course!

My trip also included a quick visit to my friends at the British Council office, who were kind enough to organise a small dinner for me with the Consul General and his wife in order to introduce me to more influential people within the scene.


Graham at APAI very much enjoyed my first visit to the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, not only meeting with senior staff but also a committed group of students who are understandably concerned about the future of the project. I was surprised by the critical shortage of practice space the students have. But I’m confident we’ll address these issues in due course. They’re eager to expand their facilities, and I certainly would love to explore the idea of arts education space. And they’re eager to perform, too! These talented students kindly mounted a short excerpt of a Cantonese opera, which I thought was terrific; it was also timely, as my next meeting was with the Chinese Artists Association to hear about their ambitions for the district.

And then the media! Friday included an extensive briefing for different sections of the press on Friday, alongside my colleague in charge of the Development, Dr M W Chan. It’s important to keep everyone up to date with our progress and thinking. I used the opportunity to stress my absolute commitment to education and learning being as core elements of what the WKCD will become. Indeed there are opportunities for many collaborations and partnerships here—with the Academy, for example, and also the universities, just to give two examples.

Graham at APAFinally, I went with my arts colleagues Louis and Lup Fun to see the City Contemporary Dance Company’s excellent and thought-provoking "Tale of Two Cities". This was the world premiere, and the show is headed for Shanghai very soon. On Saturday, en route to the airport, there was just enough time to catch the first half of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra's entertaining Gershwin night. These are only two examples of what I know will become regular features of my evenings in Hong Kong, attending the plethora of diverse events in the city. 

And that was my week in Hong Kong, which has left me more excited than ever at the prospects of taking on the CEO job. We’re going to make history, I promise you. But first, I hope to find a few hours to sleep on the flight home!