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Art and Commerce, United in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is known as a great commercial center, but could it become a great cultural center?

“Hong Kong has no facilities that come close to the iconic theater districts, opera houses or museums of New York, London, Paris or Tokyo.” To remedy this, the government in Hong Kong has set aside 21.6 billion Hong Kong dollars, or about $2.8 billion, for the creation of the West Kowloon Cultural District.

At least 17 major cultural venues will be constructed for the district. Norman Foster (Foster + Partners) won an international competition to oversee the work. But what will fill these venues? The new contemporary museum, 430,000-square-foot in size, will need to build its collection from scratch. Whereas Lincoln Center was built around major performing arts groups that were already in existence (such as New York City Ballet), who will present on West Kowloon’s new stages? Will this district turn into a mere shopping playground?

Indeed, a substantial portion of the government funding will also go towards shopping, dining, and entertainment facilities, and the new District will be connected to the International Commerce Center skyscraper and a luxury shopping mall. We have witnessed shops in museums (see the Vuitton shop in Takashi Murakami’s 2008 Brooklyn Museum exhibit), but we have not seen museums actually being linked to shopping malls!

The New York Times refers to the proposed District as an “arts-shopping-dining-luxury-hotel extravaganza.” It is an unusual move for state arts funding to be tied to commercial initiatives in this way. “Most art projects in the world basically lose money and require subvention,” Hong Kong’s chief secretary told the New York Times. “We have a financing model in which the retail, dining and entertainment income will be under the management of the authority and help fund the arts side.”

At the end of May, Australian Michael Lynch was named as CEO of the District. “This is the biggest and most complex art project in the world,” he told the Wall Street Journal. Well, it certainly is a colorful project.

Read the article at the New York Times