HK government can boost blossoming arts tech discipline
This article appeared originally in the CHINADAILY on 26 Aug, 2020.
Author: Amy Liu Mei-heung, Managing Editor at Our Hong Kong Foundation
In this age of internet and internet of things, technology has come to impact and improve every aspect of our lives, and its application in the arts is particularly interesting — with the creation of the new discipline of arts technology. In Hong Kong, stakeholders including local arts groups, the education sector and the business community are already embracing the trend and working on interesting projects. But to make it sustainable, it is important the government should take a more proactive role.
One of the pioneers of cutting-edge arts tech in Hong Kong is the multimedia director and producer Mathias Woo, whose theater company Zuni Icosahedron had previously experimented in the collaboration of comics, visual arts and photography. In 2017, Woo headed both the planning and artistic design in a groundbreaking project called “Freespace”, which was a three-year joint effort by Zuni and the West Kowloon Cultural District. The project provided an exchange platform for tech experts and performing arts talents to introduce new technical possibilities for the stage. In 2018, its Z Innovation Lab project turned the Hong Kong Cultural Centre into a lab where the Hong Kong stage performance was conducted in sync with its counterpart in Zurich, Switzerland. The collaboration between performers across half the globe provided an unforgettable experience for the audience.
In our recently released report titled “Innovating Creative Cultures — Arts Tech”, we proposed that government attribute more resources to digital cultural industries, and we also advocated the building of a cross-sector platform. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it is encouraging that the Hong Kong Arts Development Council launched the Arts Go Digital Platform Scheme in early July to support up to 68 digital projects at a total cost of HK$22.4 million ($2.9 million), with funds of up to HK$300,000 for each “general” project and funds of up to HK$500,000 for each “elevated” project. The council aims to inspire arts practitioners to deliver innovative content in response to lives under the pandemic, create innovative online arts content that can interact with the audience, and promote social inclusion. The council also hopes to bring the arts closer to the general public through the setup of a digital platform.
In secondary education, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) has always been in the curriculum, but an intriguing new trend is STEAM, which also includes arts. With the intense interest in arts tech, teachers are now putting more emphasis in this direction, resulting in better-equipped secondary school students and eventually a growing talent pool.
In the tertiary education sector, many universities are developing future arts tech talents with a multi-disciplinary approach. City University’s School of Creative Media, established in 1998, is renowned for application of interactive media and computation, with courses that span computer science, arts, visual design, creative writing, cultural studies, and digital technology. Baptist University set up cross-discipline research in 2018 to promote the innovative collaboration among creative media, traditional craftmanship and digital technology. It is now building a new block as a “creative center”, expected to be completed in 2023-24, which will strengthen the facilities for such research. Hang Seng University has launched a new honors degree in art and design for this academic year, which provides advanced computing and audio-visual facilities for students to work on 3D graphics and animation, augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence, which are all important in the global commercial market.
In business, arts tech is taking marketing and promotion to the next level. In the art and tech summit Mixed Reality held by auction company Christie's late last year, the role and impact of immersive experiences through augmented, virtual, and mixed realities in contemporary living were explored. Artists shared their experience of connecting their works with digital technology, while creative and technology experts talked about how digital platforms elevated the visual experience in the global arts market. In Hong Kong, many shopping malls are using animation and installation art for promotional purposes. Arts tech is also actively explored by advertising and design companies to create new appreciation angles for their target audience.
Arts tech is a powerful tool that is helping to bring the creativity of artists to new horizons, as shown by the collaborative work of the local arts, education and business sectors, as well as the emphasis shown by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council. The global trend is clear — the United Kingdom and South Korea, among others, have announced their respective blueprints for developing arts tech. It is important that the Hong Kong government takes the issue seriously in order not to be left behind — that means setting out a blueprint for the city, while providing proper support in terms of funding, infrastructure and policies.