BUILD­ING BRIDGES

Oliver Giles

Hong Kong Tatler - - Concierge -

lot has changed since 1963, when a Hong Kong­based artist trav­el­ling to New York would have had to be on the move for sev­eral days, hop­ping from Ja­pan to Hawaii to San Fran­cisco be­fore fi­nally land­ing on the East Coast. To­day, it takes just 16 hours to fly from one city to the other to en­gage in the all-im­por­tant cross-pol­li­na­tion that feeds cre­ativ­ity. “But the idea of cre­at­ing bridges through cul­tural ex­change is as rel­e­vant as it ever was,” says Hans Michael Jeb­sen. “That mis­sion was rel­e­vant when John D Rock­e­feller III founded the Asian Cul­tural Coun­cil [ACC] in 1963 and it’s just as rel­e­vant to­day.”

Hans Michael is the chair­man of the Asian Cul­tural Coun­cil (HK) Foun­da­tion, the lo­cal chap­ter of the New York-based ACC, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that awards grants to artists and schol­ars from Asia look­ing to study or work in the Us—and vice versa—as well as grants to Asia-based artists look­ing to work else­where in the re­gion. The ACC has awarded more than 6,000 fel­low­ships since it was es­tab­lished, roughly 600 of which have been granted to cre­atives from Hong Kong, Ma­cau and Main­land China since the Hong Kong of­fice was es­tab­lished 30 years ago.

The ACC isn’t fo­cused on a sin­gle dis­ci­pline; it has awarded fel­low­ships to re­cip­i­ents as di­verse as dancer Shen Wei, film di­rec­tor Chen Kaige and Asia Art Ar­chive founder Claire Hsu-vu­chot. “Di­ver­sity is strength—i think that’s a very fun­da­men­tal be­lief that we all share at the ACC,” ex­plains Hans Michael. Marissa Fung-shaw, a board mem­ber of the Hong Kong chap­ter, adds: “When you have cul­tural ex­change, then the more art forms you have, the bet­ter it is for the dif­fer­ent artists—ev­ery­one can learn from each other.”

A lot can be learned, the ACC be­lieves, through vis­it­ing new places. “Travel can re­ally be life-chang­ing for th­ese peo­ple,” says Marissa. “It can re­ally pro­pel their work for­ward and change how they con­tribute to so­ci­ety. In the early years of the ACC, it was re­ally largely Asians go­ing to the USA and Amer­i­cans com­ing to Asia. But what we’ve also de­vel­oped is in­tra-asia grants. A lot of Asian artists now are cu­ri­ous about their own neigh­bours.”

Some of the cre­atives the ACC has sup­ported over the years have gone on to be­come in­ter­na­tional stars—con­tem­po­rary artists Takashi Mu­rakami and Cai Guo-qiang both re­ceived fel­low­ships early in their ca­reers—but there are thou­sands of oth­ers who work be­hind the scenes, mak­ing waves out­side the spot­light. “Eve Tam, chief cu­ra­tor of the Hong Kong Mu­seum of Art, re­ceived an ACC grant in 2005,” says Tasha Lal­vani, co-chair of the lo­cal chap­ter’s fundrais­ing com­mit­tee. “She went abroad, she got all this knowl­edge and she came back to Hong Kong. It’s not like ACC grantees go away and be­come fa­mous and stay in Amer­ica. I re­ally think most of them have this pas­sion and de­sire to pro­mote art and cul­ture in their own coun­tries—and that makes the whole Asia re­gion much richer.”

Cre­atives’ in­volve­ment with the ACC rarely ends af­ter their trip is com­pleted. Some ap­ply for fur­ther grants, while oth­ers re­main part of the ACC alumni com­mu­nity, of­fer­ing ad­vice and friend­ship to artists around the re­gion. “All of us at the ACC are so lucky be­cause when we travel in Asia, we can meet grantees and they be­come our guides,” Marissa ex­plains. “We go to their stu­dios or we go and have tea or a meal in their house, then we meet their friends and lis­ten to how the arts—whether it’s ar­chi­tec­ture or ar­chae­ol­ogy—is de­vel­op­ing in their coun­try. Our grantees re­ally help us dive deeper into the arts ecosys­tem.”

Pa­trons sim­i­larly find their com­mit­ment to the ACC can last decades. Tasha first got in­volved nearly 20 years ago, Hans Michael

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