‘Chubby Hearts Hong Kong’ art installation’s HK$7.8 million government handout sparks calls for more transparency on how public cash is spent

‘Chubby Hearts Hong Kong’ art installation’s HK$7.8 million government handout sparks calls for more transparency on how public cash is spent

The organiser of the “Chubby Hearts Hong Kong” art installations is in line for a HK$7.8 million (US$997,170) government handout it was revealed after the mega event was launched, which sparked a call from a lawmaker for more transparency to ensure taxpayers’ cash was well-spent.

The amount, revealed on Friday, two days after the launch of the heart-shaped floating balloons, was about half the government cash promised to luxury lifestyle brand Tatler Asia for a friendly football match where Argentina star Lionel Messi controversially failed to turn out for his Inter Miami side.

The Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau said the HK$7.8 million the Mega Arts and Cultural Events Fund awarded to event organiser the Hong Kong Design Centre covered curation, exhibition production, security, market research and promotion.

The categories contained no details on how the money was spent, but a spokesman for the bureau said there were rules that had to be followed before money was handed over.

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A pop-up “Chubby Hearts” balloon art installation by British fashion designer Anya Hindmarch attached to a classic Mini car floats over Flower Street in Mong Kok. Photo: Elson Li

“The applicant must carry out the proposed project and perform relevant responsibilities in accordance with the provisions of the funding agreement, and must submit a report after the activity is completed,” the spokesman explained.

“Only after the report is accepted can the corresponding funding be obtained.”

The Post has asked the bureau and the design centre for more information on the deal.

The “Chubby Hearts Hong Kong” exhibition by British designer Anya Hindmarch features a 12 metre (39.4 feet) diameter heart-shaped balloon, which went on show in Statue Square in Central on Valentine’s Day and will remain until next Saturday.

Displays of smaller versions of the heart can also be seen across the city, in places such as the Peak Galleria, Tai O, Temple Street and the Clock Tower in Tsim Sha Tsui.

The organiser said on Friday that the number of people who viewed the balloons in just four locations, Lam Tsuen in Tai Po, the Mong Kok Flower Market, Central Market, and Belcher Bay Promenade, on Wednesday reached more than 65,500, 20 per cent of them tourists.

UK-based big data analysis company Brandwatch said the event had gained huge traction on social media in its first two days. There were more than 180,000 engagements on major platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Xiaohongshu, a mainland Chinese Instagram-like service.

‘Chubby Hearts’ arrives in Hong Kong on Valentine’s Day as couples tie the knot

The installation, however, also sparked criticism and allegations of a potential conflict of interest.

Corporate governance campaigner David Webb highlighted that Hindmarch was a tenant at the K11 MUSEA shopping centre, owned by New World Development, where the government fund committee’s chairman, Adrian Cheng Chi-kong, is vice-chairman and CEO.

But the bureau said that Cheng had already declared an interest as required in the established mechanism.

The property tycoon was appointed in January last year as chairman of the newly formed Mega Arts and Cultural Events (ACE) Fund, set up to advise the government on strategies to boost the attractiveness of the city.

The fund committee under the culture bureau has approved 13 events, including the annual Art Basel and Art Central, the ComplexCon pop fashion gala and a kung fu carnival.

The Post has asked the bureau about the amount of cash approved for other events.

The funding limit for each project is HK$15 million, but adjustments can be made based on the requirements of individual projects if needed.

‘Chubby Hearts’ organiser says it hopes art project can spread love in Hong Kong

Applicants must detail production costs, staffing, venue rental and other related expenses for the committee’s review.

Lawmaker Doreen Kong Yuk-foon said the fund committee had to set out guidelines to give the public an account of how the money was spent.

“There should be more transparency, instead of speaking out only when some incidents happen,” she said.

“Only then can the government reduce the public’s concerns and speculation and gain their trust.”

A recent mega sporting event became embroiled in controversy earlier this month after superstar footballer Lionel Messi sat out a match between American football club Inter Miami and a local select team, which sparked anger among fans of the Argentine player.

Organiser Tatler Asia was given HK$15 million in funds for the match and a HK$1 million venue subsidy after the Major Sports Events Committee, a government advisory body, gave the friendly “M” Mark status.

Tatler Asia, however, later withdrew from the fund application process.

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