Exporting Culture and Technology: Let’s Work in Hong Kong

Sophie Rochester, The Literary Platform

Understanding the value of our creative industries in the midst of a recession has been an ongoing debate for British politicians, creative industries, think tanks and economists in recent years. In their recent Manifesto for the Creative Economy NESTA states,
“The UK’s creative economy is one of its great national strengths, historically deeply rooted and accounting for around one-tenth of the whole economy. It provides jobs for 2.5 million people – more than in financial services, advanced manufacturing or construction – and in recent years, this creative workforce has grown four times faster than the workforce as a whole.”

The creative economy has not, however, escaped the strain of recession and although the sector appears to have weathered relatively well, it has suffered from continuing cuts in public funding for the arts and a dearth of big commercial budgets.

In order to survive, we’ve seen a boom in ‘partnerships and collaboration’ – a very British way to make cultural projects happen. From our own experience, partnerships and collaboration are fantastic mechanisms to move Literary Platform projects forward, but core funding – whether public or commercial – is still essential.

So in the current climate it’s no surprise that there were a few creative jaws dropping when Michael Lynch, CEO of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, visiting London this month, talked through some of the enormous budgets involved in this huge Hong Kong project. Lynch, best known in London for successfully heading up the South Bank Centre between 2002 and 2009, explained last week that while he was meant to be retiring, the challenge to head up this significant cultural project was too big an opportunity to turn down.

Directly financed by the Hong Kong government with an upfront endowment of HK$ 21.6 billion for construction, West Kowloon Cultural District Authority is a “strategic investment by the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to meet the long-term infrastructure needs of the arts and cultural sector, which is a vital part of any world-class city’s economic and social fabric.”

It’s one of the largest cultural initiative of its kind in the world and aims to establish a major centre for performing and the visual arts on a harbour-front site in the heart of Hong Kong. Consisting of up to seventeen new cultural venues including a 1,100-seat Xiqu Centre for traditional Chinese opera; blackbox theatres of various sizes for experimental music, dance and theatre; ‘M+’ museum of visual culture; concert halls; and a 15,000-seat arena with an exhibition centre; the district will support everything from traditional Chinese opera to classical music, dance, theatre and pop concerts.

The creation of these cultural buildings and the surrounding city park is already offering a huge opportunity for architects and other designers, with several contests already underway and more to come. British architects Foster + Partners’ City Park proposal was selected as the preferred option for the master plan for the cultural district over conceptual master plans proposed by OMA and Rocco Design Architects. As this project evolves there will be extensive opportunities across the UK’s cultural supply chain.

For those in the books and publishing industry, what is more intriguing perhaps is what will be happening within these new cultural buildings. Opera, modern art, theatre and music are high up on the list, but there will also be opportunities here for literature strands, literary festivals and author events; and although construction works have only just begun, during this building process itself WKCDA is already starting to programme a range of events and activities.

UK Trade and Invest is keen to ensure that British companies understand where the current and emerging opportunities are for creative industries and cultural organisations in Hong Kong, stating:

“Whether you are a new or experienced exporter, by using our in market, in depth knowledge and expertise we can help increase your prospects of winning business in Hong Kong through the provision of market research information, contacts for agents/potential partners, key market players or potential customers and arranging appointments. In addition, we organise missions, events, company launches and promotions for companies and their products/services.”

UK Trade and Invest and Hong Kong Trade Office in London also mentioned support for start-ups looking for opportunities in Hong Kong, explaining that they can provide a number of services for ‘new and existing exporters’ delivered through its network of regional trade advisers here in the UK. The UKTI team in Hong Kong is also offering advice to companies looking for partners in the market, etc.

Through briefing sessions, cultural trips and brokered introductions, the British Council is keen to connect British cultural talent with the new and emerging opportunities afforded by major cultural district developments worldwide. This includes British expertise in: cultural programming, audience engagement, staff development, venue operation, digital media, sponsorship, branding, marketing and art commissioning.  On WKCD directly they are working collaboratively with UK Trade and Invest  tracking the lifecycle of the project to ensure that both cultural and commercial opportunities can be marketed across the UK at the right time.

One of the recent cultural trips organised by the British Council to help British creatives get onto the WKCDA radar was ‘Crossing the River’. The Literary Platform was lucky enough to join a trip to Hong Kong organised earlier this year by the British Council’s Creative Economy team as part of this project – an initiative developed by the Creative Economy team at the British Council in partnership with Nesta and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Crossing the River’s aim was to demonstrate the ways UK cultural organisations are using digital platforms to engage with new audiences and share their creative output globally, and the research, which is informing activity and investment in this field and we joined representatives from organisations including Tate, Royal Shakespeare Company, Roundhouse, Sage Gateshead, Culture24 and Philharmonia Orchestra to talk about art-form innovation, audience development and new business models in the digital age.

One of the best illustrations of successful projects in this digital and cultural crossover is from the Philharmonia Orchestra:

“In May 2010 the Orchestra’s digital ‘virtual Philharmonia Orchestra’ project, RE-RITE, won both the RPS Audience Development and Creative Communication Awards, and after appearances in London, Leicester and Lisbon, toured to Dortmund in November 2011, Tianjin in China in April/May 2012, Izmir (Turkey) in June 2012, and in 2013 to Hamburg, the Salzburg Festival, and to Kazakhstan. RE-RITE, devised with Esa-Pekka Salonen, secured the Philharmonia’s position as a digital innovator and its follow-up audio-visual installation to RE-RITE, Universe of Sound: The Planets, premièred at the Science Museum from May to August 2012, receiving more than 67,000 visitors.”

It is expertise in this specific crossover between culture and technology that will, I hope, become one of the Britain’s greatest exports in years to come. We may not be able to compete on technology per se, with stiff competition from Asia, India and Silicon Valley, but the way in which our creative industries are using and applying technology, creatively and imaginatively, could fast become a cultural export of its own.

From a publishing perspective, this crossover expertise is also demonstrated in the work being done by British publishers and developers such as Touch Press and Heuristic in re-imagining the books of the future. Touch Press’s landmark The Waste Land app, was internationally acclaimed and reviewed, and Heuristic’s London: A City Through Time – a reimagining of Macmillan’s London Encyclopaedia for the iPad – gives a depth of historical content on London which is still not mirrored in the App Store by any other city in the world.

According to Gov.UK (Feb 2013), the UK creative industries are worth more than £36 billion a year; generating £70,000 every minute for the UK economy. Ensuring that our creative industries can continue to compete around the world, in projects as high profile such as the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, is crucial to the UK economy. How these creative industries – including publishing – make use of the intersection with technology is especially crucial to how the creative industries are perceived internationally, and it’s this growing culture and technology crossover sector that we should ensure we carefully nurture.

For more information about WKCDA contact UK Trade and Invest: duncan.hill@uktispecialist.com in the UK and tony.yu@fco.gov.uk in Hong Kong, and, British Council: kay.henning@britishcouncil.org in the UK and meijing.he@britishcouncil.org in Hong Kong.

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