Arts Innovation

    How developing art tech can boost Hong Kong’s cultural soft power

    12/03/2020 - 18:11

    This article appeared originally in the South China Morning Post on 3 December, 2020.
    Authors: Helen So, Lead of Arts and Culture and Yolanda Lam, Assistant Researcher at Our Hong Kong Foundation

    How developing art tech can boost Hong Kong’s cultural soft power

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    It's official: Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced in her policy address the government's first policies towards the development of "art tech" in Hong Kong, a much needed move for the cultural and creative industries.

    Art tech is essentially a global cultural trend driven by the growing convergence of arts and technology. Even before Covid-19, it had been disrupting cultural ecosystems worldwide.

    Some economies have already caught onto the trend: Britain, with its #CultureisDigital project; South Korea, with its Korea Creative Content Agency; Taiwan, with its cultural policy agenda. These governments have devised blueprints, dedicated funding and built experimental spaces to facilitate creative projects involving technology, such as using virtual reality in theatres or art galleries.

    Art tech is revolutionising how people perceive, consume and respond to arts and culture, creating new possibilities for artists, audiences and industries.

    In Hong Kong, the government will set up an inter-bureau task force to formulate development strategies for art tech - to be led by the Home Affairs Bureau, with support from the Innovation and Technology Bureau, the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, and the Education Bureau.

    In principle this makes sense, as art tech straddles the portfolios of these bureaus. We applaud the decision to bring the Education Bureau on board, for there is a need to connect educational institutions with the industry to better nurture young talent with the skill sets to sustain the new ecosystem of art tech.

    Also, HK$100 million is being set aside under various existing funds to support art tech projects.

    Notably, the supplement to the policy address includes an initiative for the East Kowloon Cultural Centre to focus on the latest stage technology, with perhaps a studio test bed that is equipped with extended reality technology and immersive audiovisual systems.

    These new initiatives are in line with the research report we released in June, "Innovating Creative Cultures - Arts Tech". But what's next? The devil is in the detail, as they say.

    The task force will surely be a key player in overseeing future developments in art tech. It is important, therefore, to think carefully about how to make it work. The team needs those with a strategic, long-term vision not only for art tech but for the entire cultural ecosystem. Membership would need to be cross-disciplinary, but also supported by experienced industry professionals.

    We hope the task force can effectively bridge the gap between the private sector and not-for-profit cultural organisations. Look at the role Samsung plays in Korea's arts and cultural scene, for example.

    The Samsung Foundation of Culture operates the country's leading private art museums, Leeum and Ho-Am, as well as the more tech-focused Samsung Innovation Museum. This enables joint efforts to promote the arts and culture that are cutting-edge and forward-thinking, but also relevant to the times.

    It's vital, also, that the HK$100 million is used wisely. In the grand scheme, HK$100 million is not a flashy sum, and supporting creative projects involving arts and technology would first require digitally competent and technologically capable infrastructure, ranging from equipment to venues.

    And substantive cultural hardware upgrades would be an extremely costly undertaking. Perhaps the initial funding should be directed to infrastructure upgrades, because this could best help accelerate the proliferation of art tech in the long run.

    Obviously, there is still much to think about in terms of execution, but recognising art tech as a "new impetus to the economy", as the policy address does, is an important first step. The government has finally come to realise the imminence and necessity of art tech. We now look forward to concrete action that will boost Hong Kong's cultural and creative industries and ultimately, its soft power.

    Helen So is the lead of Arts and Culture at Our Hong Kong Foundation. Yolanda Lam is an assistant researcher at Our Hong Kong Foundation and a recent graduate of the University of Cambridge, where she studied education with English and drama.

    Art tech is revolutionising how people perceive, consume and respond to arts and culture.