Hong Kong’s West Kowloon arts hub ‘may cut museum open days’ if authorities fail to help fix funding crisis

Hong Kong’s West Kowloon arts hub ‘may cut museum open days’ if authorities fail to help fix funding crisis

Hong Kong’s premier arts hub will be forced to shut down its museums two days a week or reduce the number of days its Cantonese opera centre stays open if the government fails to help resolve its funding crisis, the district’s managing body has warned.

Henry Tang Ying-yen, chairman of the board at the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, issued an ultimatum on Saturday, saying the government had until August to make a decision as the site’s remaining funding would only last a year.

“If the government is late on announcing a plan to resolve the funding crisis, we have an urgent need to take relatively large action in terms of reducing expenses,” he said in a televised interview.

“For example, our museums may not be open for six days. They will have to open two days less every week,” he said. “Or our Xiqu Centre will open for fewer days each week.”

Tang said cutting opening days would reduce the authority’s financial losses, but he questioned whether this would be fair to residents as the district was meant for the public, rather than a commercial project.

Tang, who once served as the city’s No 2 official and sits on the standing committee for the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said such a move would also hamper Beijing’s designs on Hong Kong becoming a centre for international cultural exchanges under the country’s 14th five-year plan.

“If we slowly do fewer and fewer things, we will never be able to reach this goal,” he said.

The government granted the district’s managing body a one-off endowment of HK$21.6 billion (US$3 billion) for the whole precinct’s development back when it was formed in 2008.

While the remaining funds would last the authority a year, Tang cautioned that short-term loans accounted for a portion of its financial resources.

“If the bank knows that the government does not support our plans to extend our financial status, they will not renew our loan and they will ask us to repay the loan,” he said.

West Kowloon Cultural District Authority chairman Henry Tang says the district has been trying its best to “slim down” in terms of staff headcount and operating efficiency. Photo: Dickson Lee

The Post reported in March that the authority was waiting for a government decision on a proposed funding plan that involves selling part of the arts district’s 40 hectares (99 acres).

Tang said he understood that the government had already completed an independent study and was discussing internally how to fund the district’s managing body.

The authority was finding ways to reduce expenses and increase revenue, with the body trying its best to “slim down” over the past few years in terms of staff headcount and operating efficiency, he added.

The authority would also review its service charges, ticket prices and venue rental fees in a bid to increase revenue, he said.

The Post has reached out to the Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau for comment.

Lawmaker Vincent Cheng Wing-shun, a member of the legislature’s panel on Home Affairs, Culture and Sports, said he hoped the arts district would not reach a point where its facilities had to be closed.

Cheng noted that the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority had been putting a lot of effort to reduce expenses and increase the number of activities at their venues.

He suggested the arts hub explore more avenues to cut costs, as well as increase their profit by adjusting their entrance fees, rents and mix of souvenir products.

The lawmaker added the government could explore providing more publicity and better transport connectivity for the arts hub, in addition to funding and boosting revenue.

Separately, Tang reaffirmed that the recently passed Safeguarding National Security Ordinance had not affected the district’s operations, adding that no works of art had been taken off display under the new law.

Tang, who previously served as the city’s finance chief, called on Hong Kong to consider reducing the tax on spirits with an alcohol level of more than 30 per cent, saying create more local opportunities in terms of employment, exhibitions, wholesale and retail sales.



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