A senior partner of the multinational law firm King & Wood Mallesons, Ronald Arculli is chairman of the FWD Group and vice-chairman of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority.
Over the past two decades, the Hong Kong community has started appreciating arts and culture in a whole new way.
Modern-day families have embraced the idea that art, music and theatre are as important as any other aspect of city life. A career in the arts would have been frowned upon 20 years ago. Now people look at the sector in a more serious manner. That speaks volumes about the changes within society, and how traditional systems have evolved. The shift has propelled our cultural scene to grow in unprecedented ways.
Both the government and private sector used to have limited involvement in our cultural development. Things couldn’t be more different now, and that’s a great thing.
Back in the day, allocating private or public resources to the arts wasn’t at all a priority. That’s changed enormously over the past 15 years. The government has really committed to helping the sector. Companies have started investing in it, too, as part of their corporate identity. This stems from the shifts at the community level, but also from the realisation that if we want to catch up to London and New York, we have to offer more than shopping malls and fine meals.
The West Kowloon Cultural District will be one of the most important legacies of modern Hong Kong.
Forty hectares of prime waterfront land dedicated to visual culture and the performing arts. It’s one of the most ambitious projects I have been involved with, and a game changer for Hong Kong as an international cultural hub. I never thought we would get this far when we first conceived the idea for it in 1998. Almost 20 years on, we’re nearing completion. It’s an outstanding achievement.
Conservation efforts have become part of our cultural identity.
The preservation of the former Central Police Station on Hollywood Road is the most recent example. We are creating our very own “scene” by using the existing urban framework, which is something quite novel for Hong Kong. We’ve gone from dismissing to re-evaluating.
Hong Kong has the potential to become a culture city.
Just as much as it became a financial hub over the past three decades. The arts and culture sector is increasingly diverse. We have world-class events like Art Basel, youth-centred festivals such as Clockenflap, and, soon, an institution like the Hong Kong Palace Museum [scheduled to open in 2022] displaying artefacts from China’s illustrious history. Not to mention the M+ museum for visual culture. We’re bringing past, present and future together. It will give us a cultural edge, especially in Asia. World-famous museums from the West are expanding to the Middle East and Asia, but Hong Kong doesn’t need that.
We won’t see a Louvre Hong Kong, or a local version of the V&A, as in Shenzhen. We’re making our own institutions and gathering our own collections.
The local art scene began leaving a mark on the international arena only 10 years ago. Today, people are increasingly paying attention to it.
The Hong Kong Arts Festival has had a pivotal role in that. For the past six or seven years, it has commissioned local works, from plays to operas to dance performances, and helped take them outside Hong Kong and onto the world stage. The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and Para Site have also been crucial in nurturing local talent. They were both established pre-handover—1984 and 1996 respectively—and have shaped our cultural direction over the past three decades. If we now have first-class acts, conductors, musicians and artists, it’s because of them.