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Professor Tseng Sun-man

I commend the editorial approach of Hong Kong Dance Overview 2017—focusing on ‘in-depth analysis and thematic exploration’. This leads to critical essays with considerable depth, which could serve as meaningful materials for the dance sector to reflect on and discuss its future development.

Not being an expert in dance, my roles in the past thirty years mainly relate to Hong Kong’s art policies and funding system.  Hence, I am more interested in topics concerning policies, performance evaluation, and funding. Below I share some of my thoughts after reading ‘The Hong Kong Ballet’s Way to Cultural Industries?’ and ‘After the Festival—Insights for Hong Kong’s Dance Sector from the 1st City Contemporary Dance Festival (CCDF)’.

In ‘The Hong Kong Ballet’s Way to Cultural Industries?’, the writer analyses the Company’s financial reports for five consecutive years and comes to the conclusion that the ‘new brand positioning of the Hong Kong Ballet launched in 2015 was but a survival strategy in the face of the assessment mechanism in place since the reform of cultural funding policy in 2007.’

Amongst the reformation was the introduction of a new evaluation system for the nine major performing art groups. The writer argues that the Hong Kong Ballet is trying to make itself more visible instead of ‘getting onto the way of cultural industries’. Whilst I agree with his point of view, I would like to know whether the performance of the Company has improved or not over this period.  

Within the HKSAR Government structure, the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau is responsible for the development of cultural and creative industries. Its operation is isolated from the Home Affairs Bureau which funds the nine major performing art groups. If the writer has interpreted ‘way to cultural industries’ as ‘minimising its dependence on the government’, he has accurately pointed out that there isn’t any requirement in the funding policy for subvented art companies to take the ‘way to cultural industries’. I find this unfortunate, too.

Two topics from the Company’s 2013/14 to 2017/18 financial reports are of particular interest to me:

1. What is the trend of the government’s subvention as a percentage of the overall income?

The government subvention in 2013/14 was $35.77 Million or 58% of total income. In the ‘Message from The Chairman’, it was pointed out that ‘This year, we enjoyed a surplus of HK$8.8 million’, allowing the subvention to cover ‘67% of the total expenditure.’ Since the level of the surplus in 2013/14 is exceptional, it would be more appropriate to start our analysis from 2014/15 when subvention over total income was 66%. The percentage of government subvention dropped gradually to 60% in 2017/18 over a few years, even though the actual amount of subvention has increased from $35.77 Million to $39.38 Million.

2. Has the number of audience members grown during this period?

There wasn’t any audience tally in the 2013/14 Annual Report. In 2014/15, the Company received 45,500 audience members from productions in Hong Kong, 8,380 from overseas performances, 19,812 in educational and outreach activities, adding up to 73,692. In 2017/18, it was 44,504 in local productions, 29,853 in educational activities, 12,749 overseas, total 87,106. The audience has increased by 18% from 2014/15 to 2017/18. This is a healthy increase.

Assuming the above data are accurate[1], they serve as some indicators in reflecting the Company’s improvement in performance over this period:

1. There is a downtrend of government subvention as a percentage of total income from 2014/15 to 2017/18.

2. There was an increase in audience members in the same period.

At different points of time I have played different roles in the evaluation mechanism of the government-subsidised art groups[2]. I thus experienced first-hand the importance of clear and transparent performance measurement mechanisms. This ensures fairness to all stakeholders and is conducive to positive development of the subsidised groups. Since subsidies are public resources, introduction of performance measurement mechanism in evaluation of subvented arts groups is beyond reproach.  If grantees try to ‘make themselves and their achievements more visible’, it is a reflection of them being ‘publicly accountable’. I believe what deserves attention is how the performance indicators were set up and whether they comprise non-quantifiable elements so that they can accurately reflect the performance of art groups.   

Should the readers be interested in the HAB’s performance evaluation of the nine major performing art groups (via the Advisory Committee on Arts Development), here are some suggestions on ‘extended reading’. Research Study on a New Funding Mechanism for Performing Arts Groups in Hong Kong submitted to LegCo in 2012 contains recommendations from an overseas consulting company, commissioned by HAB, on the evaluation mechanism of the nine major performing art groups. The report is available for public access (downloadable from LegCo website). In the report there are a lot of concrete suggestions on ‘art funding evaluation mechanism and criteria’. It is a pity that we do not know to what extent those recommendations have been accepted (or revised). In Zhanyanjigou yingyunjixiao guanli (Managing the Operation Effectiveness of Performing Art Companies) (2015), Taiwanese scholar Jerry H. Hsia analyses major art companies in Taiwan and is a good reference for the study of the evaluation mechanisms for those companies.

HAB does not require performing art companies to pursue the ‘way to cultural industries’. However, it launched the ‘Art Development Matching Grants Pilot Scheme’ in 2016 with the aim of enhancing the ability of local art companies/ organisations to solicit donations and sponsorship with the offer of matching grants. The Government envisages that the Scheme will expand financial sources for these art companies/ organisations and promote the practice of art sponsorship. The Scheme is a powerful driver for the nine major performing art groups and other local art organisations to increase their funding solicitations so that in the long run they can ‘reduce their dependence on the Government’. Funding evaluation and performance measurement mechanisms of art organisations are highly complicated subjects. My brief response here merely tries to provide more perspectives to readers.        

Given the 1st City Contemporary Dance Festival in 2017 was a momentous event, what Eveline Wong Chung-yu proposed in her essay ‘After the Festival—Insights for Hong Kong’s Dance Sector from the 1st City Contemporary Dance Festival (CCDF)’is worth exploration. Since this is the first edition of the Festival, there is a need for the presenter to clearly describe the purpose, positioning, and programme selection criteria. I agree with the writer that CCDF should have elaborated in what ways the Festival connects with Hong Kong. From the perspective of audiences, why should they pay attention to CCDF (beyond attending individual performances) ? Dance festivals are often more significant than a series of dance programmes because of their intensive timetables, attractive themes, and the diversity of programmes on offer (if they demonstrate these features). These features make them appealing to the media and the public. New audience members will therefore be drawn to these festivals while some loyal supporters will happily try something new (if they have developed trust in the presenter). Festivals can therefore exercise considerable impact on the nurturing of local audiences.  

Admittedly, a prominent feature of CCDF 2017 is the creation of a platform to showcase dance to international producers and presenters. CCDC has extensive experience in organising dance festivals and exchange platforms in the Mainland. It is also well connected with the international ‘traders’ of contemporary dance, whose presence raises the international profile of CCDF and Hong Kong dance artists. However, the nature of dance festivals and dance markets is different. While the latter serves the dance sectors, the former should have the entire society and its citizens as its target market. In Hong Kong, contemporary dance performances are presented not only by CCDC but also by the Hong Kong Arts Festival and Leisure and Cultural Services Department. How does CCDF differentiate from the others? It is fine for the Festivals and the market to take place concurrently, but they must be mindful of the distinctive target groups that they serve. When CCDF stated that its programme was ‘international’, one wonders why only Asian programmes were included in its first edition? For dance festivals or art festivals to have sustainable development, their goals and objectives should connect with the needs of the local art ecology whilst they win support from both the practitioners and the audience.


Professor Tseng Sun-man has been an arts administrator for over three decades during which he was directors and consultants of a number of arts organisations in Hong Kong. Tseng currently teaches the Practice in Music Management in the Music Department, the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

(Translated by Lee Hoi-yin Joanna from the original article in Chinese)

[1] The figures so far have been extracted from the Annual Reports or financial reports and have not been verified by the Hong Kong Ballet.

[2] As the Executive Director of the Hong Kong Arts Festival, I was a grantee; as the Secretary General of the Hong Kong Arts development Council, I was the executor; as Advisory Committee on Arts Development member, I was an assessor.

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