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Tuesday, November 29, 2016, 00:11

Think tank pushes for museum management reform

By Chitralekha Basu

HONG KONG - London has done it with the British Museum, National Gallery, Tate Modern and Victoria and Albert Museum. Paris did it with the Louvre. Japan and Singapore too adopted the publicly funded, autonomously managed model in running their national museums.

Segregating museum administration from financing, putting a line between the curatorial and the entrepreneurial seems to have worked for the world’s finest museums. Should Hong Kong follow suit? Should the local government be asked to bankroll museums even as these are made free from bureaucratic intervention and red tape?

Our Hong Kong Foundation (OHKF) — a think tank formed in 2014 on the initiative of former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa with a view to building a more inclusive, economically prosperous and culturally sensitive society — certainly seems to think so.

In a paper titled Unleashing Our Museums: Toward a New Governance Model, published on Monday, its research team proposed a gradual, manageable shift from government control on museums to autonomously managed governance. The idea is to “set up a statutory, governing Museums Board with diversified funding and a departure from the civil service system”.

In the aftermath of inconclusive debates on the issue in the Legislative Council, now, more than ever, is the time to introduce museum administration reform, according to Pauline Yeung, who presented the research paper at a forum on Monday. This was well-attended by people who work in the arts, both in government departments as well as non-profits.

“It is timely to revisit the issue as the government is pouring resources into upgrading the physical infrastructure of our museums,” she said, adding, “This investment would only be more fruitful and effective if it were accompanied by improved governance of our museums. The establishment of a statutory Museums Board, accompanied by the enabling legislation, would enliven our public museums, open doors for management discretion and breathe new energy into the entire sector.”

It would make sense to seize this moment to foster the spirit of greater arts awareness among the public, bring culture to the center of the city’s consciousness and foster understanding in society, said Chang Hsin-kang, the convener of OHKF Task Force on Arts Innovation, who led the research. A recent survey, he pointed out, shows employment in the cultural and creative industries accounted for 5.7 percent of total employment in Hong Kong in 2014.

This was the time to build on the existing resources, raise these to standards that might attract the world’s cultural cognoscenti, so that Hong Kong can evolve into an international, vibrant metropolis that is part of China, Chang said.

Ada Wong Ying-kay, member of the Art Museum Advisory Panel under the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), however, felt it would make sense to continue to use the highly qualified team of civil servants who now run Hong Kong’s museums even if these eventually come to be self-governed. While the LCSD curators are made to function within the obvious bureaucratic constraints, they would probably do much better in “a more open system which brings a new future and vibrancy to the cultural scene”.

“They should really be able to make a smooth transition to a corporatized set-up,” she added.

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