Talking Art: Stephen Cheung

exhibitionWhen Professor Stephen Cheung appears on TV, it has to be about either the economy or the stock market, probably not art. Claiming himself as a cultural blind, the Chairman of the Consultation Panel of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority fell in love with art because of his French girl friend. The French lady became his wife, and along with arts, became an indispensible part of his life.

Q: When was your first encounter of art?

A: I have always been a number guy. I studied science in secondary school, majored in mathematics in university and picked statistics for my PhD in France. The closest thing to art was playing the shepherd’s flute in my secondary school. As a teenager, I once went to a Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra concert with a free ticket but I didn’t appreciate it at all. I actually like reading, when I was a student in Paris, I used to buy the simplified Chinese novels of Lu Xun, Ba Jin and Lao She in the book stores of France.

Q: What made you change?

A: I met my wife, who was a porcelain art student when I was studying in France. She took me to the Louvre to see Mona Lisa for the first time – but I just wanted to leave! As time went by, I gradually learn to appreciate arts under her persistent guidance and influence. That is why I believe we should nurture Hong Kong young people’s interest in arts and culture at an early age. This has now become an indispensible part in our lives. We go to concert, opera, musical or drama almost every other week. We are a regular visitor of the annual Hong Kong Arts Festival. These experiences do not only broaden our horizons, but also spice up our lives. 

Q: Have you watched any good shows recently?

A: I watched the “The 108 Heroes of the Liang Shan”, a creative Beijing opera combining pop songs and acrobatism, at the Academy of Performing Arts early this year. The house was full and I was really happy to see a lot of young faces among the audience. I think traditional art must be innovated to be introduced to the younger generation so that it can be passed on.

Q: Is there any programme youd like to watch again?

A: If there is a chance, I’d love to watch the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra perform “Liang Zhu” again.

Q: Will you include some arts and cultural activities when travelling overseas?

A: Musical is a must every time I visit London. The audience would grab a beer and sing along, it’s just like a big party with lots of fun. I envisage there will be theatres like the West End in the future WKCD, attracting both locals and tourists from the Pearl River Delta to come over and watch all kinds of musicals. Classics like the Phantom of the Opera and the Les Miserables with a history of over 25 years in London can be run here.

Q: Did you influence your son in an artistic sense?

A: He used to play the violin up to level 8 and was once a member of the secondary school orchestra before he stopped playing after going to the university. He did enjoy watching musicals with us when he was studying in London.

exhibitionQ: Ever slept in a show?

A: My wife and I attended a ballet show back in 1984 when I was rushing for my thesis and examinations without much sleep. I was so tired that I fell asleep knowing the tickets were very expensive for students like us. It won’t happen now as we only choose those we like to see. We won’t waste time and stay through the performance if it doesn’t seem right.

Q: Some say arts and culture are for the rich. What do you say?

A: I believe cultural activities can pull people together. Street artists are very common overseas. In the June French Music Festival, the French just grab a guitar or flute and start singing and dancing and the police won’t interfere. Outside the Pompidou Centre people are always performing too. It is a lot of fun! I hope WKCD can also make arts and culture available to everyone and the government should incorporate arts appreciation in the education system, nurturing people’s interests in art at an early age.

Q: As the Chairman of the Consultation Panel, you must have heard a lot of comments about WKCD in the previous public engagement exercises. Do you think Hong Kong people long for a cultural district?

A: They absolutely do - with a very high expectation, which is understandable, because the project has been dragging on for a decade. Some second-tier cities in the Mainland have already built their cultural facilities while we are still in the consultation stage. Also, a lot of people expressed in the public engagement exercise that arts and culture should be incorporated into the education system so as to nurture a group of audience with arts appreciation ability.

Q: What do you expect from the stage 3 public engagement exercise in September?

A: For the generations to come, I sincerely hope that Hong Kong people will continue to participate and explore the future cultural direction by taking both the cultural hardware and software forward. The WKCD belongs to the people of Hong Kong, I truly believe that the project will succeed with all your support.



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