Chartering a new course for WKCD: Louis Yu

Louis YuLouis Yu, a Hong Kong born and bred arts administrator, has moved a step forward with his recent appointment as the Performing Arts Policy and Management Services Executive Director of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (the Authority).  Prior to this role, Louis spent 10 years as the Executive Director of the Hong Kong Arts Centre and Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (ADC). He attributes his successful career to a stroke of luck that saw his initial involvement in the industry as an art critic, before gaining extensive experience as an administrator and subsequently taking planning responsibility for the WKCD project as a policy decision-maker. He is fully aware of the challenge ahead and the heavy responsibility and commitment he is expected to shoulder in his new position. But to do himself justice, he is determined to stay the course and move ahead with caution, until his efforts have borne fruit.

On a sunny morning, the new Executive Director enthused over his vision for the WKCD, confident in his assertion that the project will become a new standard-bearer for arts development. The project will take a multi-faceted approach to the arts, drawing upon the diverse experiences of the administrative team to deliver the concept of interactive and participative learning. WKCD will be the perfect venue for the cultivation of local artistic talent, which will in turn support the healthy growth of Hong Kong’s cultural sector.

How will the administrative experience you gained from your involvement in the ADC help your work on the WKCD?
Undoubtedly my three years with the ADC has helped to build my self-confidence and the experience has taught me how to make the most of public-sector resources. I was also fortunate to gain vital exposure to all the aspects of the arts, be it amateur or professional, alternative or even community arts. As an administrator these are key experiences that I bring to the role.  My work has enabled me to keep abreast of industry trends from different art domains, providing me with a good grounding especially in resource allocation. The WKCD represents the largest single undertaking by the HKSAR Government in terms of resource investment in arts and culture. My experience with the ADC has equipped me with the tools to deal with the needs of different stakeholder groups and manage the expectations of the general public about the use of public funds.

Do you have a tentative idea about the way forward for the WKCD’s performing arts activities?

I believe a new course should be chartered for the WKCD. Our traditional idea of art used to be one of passive enjoyment, but there has been a growing emphasis in recent years on audience participation. The public are no longer happy with just buying a ticket and going to a show, they are far more seasoned and look for opportunities to learn through participation. I would think twice about using the term “education” as it suggests a single-track approach. I prefer the term “learning and participation”, because it describes more aptly the diverse and interactive learning and participative experiences of an audience.  In fact, this is already an established trend as more and more performance venues are emerging as places where audiences can participate and learn. We have yet to determine the detailed positioning of the WKCD’s performing arts venues, but personally I would like to see the WKCD emerging as a destination that combines art appreciation with learning and participation, rather than just a place for art consumption.

Louis YuIn response to this dominant trend, how would you develop the necessary hardware and software in such a way that we can better meet the need for cultivating the younger generation?

In terms of planning, we can reserve more space in our facilities for learning and participation. At this moment, such amenities are simply inadequate. Regarding software development, we need to organise more activities, such as workshops and awareness programmes before and after each show. In this way, performing arts will take on greater meaning than just a simple act of consumption.  This may not be a new concept, but I believe that the WKCD will provide an opportunity to put these ideas to work. 


How can the WKCD’s performing arts activities be more effectively integrated with the local community?

The WKCD is a brand new destination and needs to start from scratch to build relations both with its immediate neighbours and wider communities across Hong Kong. I hope that the energy and creativity it will create will act as a catalyst for the arts throughout all sectors of the community. As the WKCD is intended to be more than just a place for art consumption, there will be artist-in-residence programmes for local artists to showcase their talent. I believe the WKCD can serve as a base to profile the very best in local artistic work, delivering exhibitions and shows that can also be brought into other neighbourhoods. 

The WKCD project will not only serve the neighbourhood in which it is located, but the community at large. The WKCD can never replace the cultural role of individual communities, but it will definitely contribute to the buoyant growth of Hong Kong’s art community. The relationship between the WKCD and the local community is one of mutual support and coordination, not one between high and low ranks or between leaders and followers. 

Will the emergence of the WKCD result in a conflict over resource allocation?

We should work in cooperation with other entities involved in the arts, such as the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the ADC, in a natural way. Conflict should never be our concern.   In a sophisticated society, art resources come from many areas and can be seen as reflecting a positive interactive relationship among different parties. It is a reflection of Hong Kong’s maturity that we can provide multiple resources to drive our community arts programmes.

Louis YuWhat kind of support can we expect for performing arts? Any new attempt on this front?

There will be support, but the way it is provided may be different. Everyone knows that the project will feature performance venues of different forms. We may delegate powers to allow different venues to set their own artistic direction. Individual venues may even have their own artistic directors with the authority to determine the utilization of resources for their venues or even go into programme production. Through a variety of artist-in-residence programmes, different cooperative relationships between arts venues and arts groups can be developed.


When planning performing arts activities, how do you strike a balance between local and imported programming?

Overseas and mainland Chinese artists are currently responsible for about 10% of all performances staged in Hong Kong. There will definitely be a higher percentage of imported performances in the future WKCD. By imported programmes we do not mean just English programmes or programmes imported from Europe or the US. The source markets could be more diversified. Programmes could come into Hong Kong from Mainland China or Chinese-speaking communities elsewhere, the rest of Asia and internationally.

Which of the WKCD’s performance venues will figure most prominently?

The Xiqu Centre will be a bright spot. This facility will really set the WKCD apart from all its overseas counterparts as an arts district. It will also be a venue specifically designed for this Chinese art form. I hope it will become an important base for China’s Xiqu development. Questions that we need to consider here are: How should Chinese Xiqu be presented in the 21st century? How can tradition be preserved in the course of continued development? Another important factor is the emerging trend towards experimental Xiqu in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China which will have an impact not just on Xiqu itself, but also other forms of performing art. That the Xiqu Centre is not designated otherwise as a Xiqu Theatre, is due to the fact that it will be positioned as a place for developing this art form, not just a venue for enjoying it. Statistically, Xiqu remains the most widely enjoyed form of performing art in Hong Kong and more and more young people are studying it. In contrast, our Xiqu audienceship is getting older, not younger. Obviously we need to encourage more young people to take up Xiqu performance or production before we can attract younger audiences. This will take time, and the WKCD will be at the heart of this development.