Art administrator and exhibition curator in local visual arts scene.
Translator: Lee Hoi-yin Joanna
On Revitalisation and the Integrated Model – In response to the Commentary of Tai Kwun Dance Season by Felix Chan
Some thoughts came up upon reading ‘Tai Kwun Dance Season — The Possibilities of People’s Space’ (the Essay) by Chan Wai-ki Felix and I gladly accept the invitation of the Editorial Team to put them forward in writing. I must confess that my knowledge of the performing arts, including dance, is limited. My involvement in art administration and community building in recent years has predominantly stayed in the visual arts system, for example, an exhibition I curated was presented at Tai Kwun Contemporary in 2018. The discussion of theatre models in Chan’s essay prompts me to further reflect.
As Chan pointed out, Tai Kwun is the result of a revitalisation project of the historic Central Police Station compound, comprising of three declared monuments, namely the former Central Police Station, Central Magistracy, and Victoria Prison. Opened in 2018, while preserving the historical buildings, Tai Kwun ‘aspire[s] to offer the best heritage and arts experiences’. As the saying goes ‘Never set foot in a magistracy’, to become ‘a cultural destination for inspiration, stimulation and enjoyment’, Tai Kwun must, on the one hand, candidly present its former roles in law enforcement, judiciary and disciplinary while, on the other hand, face the challenge of its unpopular history. It must evoke benevolence from the public in order to transform into a landmark of cultural entertainment. Therefore, any analysis of Tai Kwun must go beyond simply regarding it as a performing and art venue and should not be compared to local LCSD venues and overseas national theatres. It is advisable to explore Tai Kwun’s attitude to performing art venues through the lens of the revitalisation and integrated models of historical sites.
Before Tai Kwun’s revitalisation, deTour, a large-scale design event, took place at Victoria Prison in 2010. In the same year, the revitalisation of the former Hollywood Road Police Married Quarters (currently named PMQ) was announced. These incidents appeared to be testing the water of models of creative landmarks. Like Tai Kwun, PMQ is an integrated landmark comprising of restaurants, shops, art venues, and historical sites. Yet their foci differ as PMQ puts its emphasis on business activities generated by different genres of design. Its overall direction has nothing to do with heritage conservation. Its G/F atrium and the multi-purpose hall linking two main blocks are open to hire and hold events of any nature, not limited to art. Most of the public activities are organised by the tenants in the design field.
From the naming of segments to the space dedicated to the display of relics, Tai Kwun is devoted to connecting with the past. While JC Contemporary is under the ‘jurisdiction’ of the contemporary art exhibition and education team, Chan’s essay pointed out that JC Cube is unsatisfactory as a performing venue. Where else can the Performing Arts Team turn to? Chan quoted the team’s leader Eddy Zee in the Essay that performing arts should easily trickle down into people’s lives. For programmes to move out of regular (and unsatisfactory) venues to the Prison Yard, Laundry Steps, F Hall, and Parade Ground can therefore be regarded as the team’s workaround strategy.
By doing so, performances reach out to the non-regulars of theatres: those who follow the crowd to visit the restaurants, heritage sites and exhibitions at Tai Kwun, or (as a guess) nearby residents who commute to Staunton Street and Caine Road via the footbridges. Taking advantage of the location, the ‘basic ratings’ can be guaranteed with a couple of free outdoor performances, be they of the dance, circus or theatre seasons. The vibrant development of community art in recent years has ‘educated’ the public about the diversity of the arts. Besides sculptures or carnivals, art can come in the form of participatory happenings. Exhibitions and artmaking take place in common daily life settings and are presented on the streets instead of dedicated venues. The horizon of art appreciation is expanded, interdisciplinary collaboration encouraged. Community art promotes relationship building manifested as a sense of belonging to a place and affinity to people. To rectify the negative impression people used to have on ‘the magistracy’ and establish a positive sentiment, it is a sound strategy for dance to adopt the contemporary community art approach and move itself out of JC Cube, a conventional performance venue. However, when it comes to execution, the scale and format of performance have to be adjusted considerably and planned long ahead. The planners, creators and performers must work closely over an extended period to produce small-scale, cozy performances. This begins to sound like the ‘German model’ which ‘returns the theatre to the people’.
At the heart of the matter is the complicated make-up of an integrated cultural entertainment landmark. Both the hardware and software must work within the confines of their respective frameworks and regulations, while the backgrounds of stakeholders span a broad spectrum. It would be impartial to focus on any one part or performance season while trying to conduct a holistic review. Limited by word count, I can only put forward preliminary observations from the perspective of an integrated model of heritage site revitalisation. Over time, with more findings and development, the effectiveness of such strategies could be further evaluated.
 ‘Collections of Tom, Debbie and Harry’, 15 September 2018 - 4 January 2019, Tai Kwun Contemporary, accessed 21 March 2021, https://www.taikwun.hk/zh/programme/detail/collections-of-tom-debbie-and-harry/198.
 ‘Our Story’, Tai Kwun, accessed 21 March 2021, https://www.taikwun.hk/zh/taikwun/story.