Dramatic increase in demand for artistic talents

by Alex Chan

Kevin Thompson, director, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts

Hong Kong's emergence as an international cultural centre will create new opportunities in the performing arts

The arts and cultural scene of Hong Kong has rarely been as exciting as it is today. Not only is the government moving ahead with plans for the proposed West Kowloon Cultural District, but many more productions of international shows are being staged locally, and exhibitions are attracting record numbers of visitors.

These developments have created a whole new level of interest and, according to Kevin Thompson, director of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA), will also bring many new openings for professionals looking to pursue a career in the sector.

"In this part of the world there are now so many opportunities," Professor Thompson says. "Besides what is happening in Hong Kong, Macau is expanding all of its cultural facilities and other areas in the Far East, such as Vietnam and Malaysia, are really beginning to blossom in terms of the arts."

He believes the West Kowloon project has the potential to become a new symbol for Hong Kong and should demonstrate the city's ability to present arts and cultural events which match anything seen around the world. "The project can send a message in the same way the Sydney Opera House does about Australia or the Juilliard School about New York," he explains. "All these cultural icons help to determine how people perceive the city. If Hong Kong wants to be considered a world city, it has to do the same; West Kowloon is the key to achieving this goal."

World-class talent

Even without this, there has been a sharp increase in demand for HKAPA graduates. The academy's technical arts programme has seen exponential growth in the past few years, and the need for lighting and sound professionals, as well as event and hall managers, has soared. "We know, for example, that if we graduated three times as many technical arts students, they could all find employment," says Professor Thompson. In fact, the HKAPA has even started a "waiting list" of employers looking to hire graduates with the required skills.

It's a similar story for those studying other programmes, with Hong Kong Disneyland in particular contributing to the steady demand for talented and trained performers. In music, the academy has added to Hong Kong's reputation for training excellent pianists with 14-year-old Rachel Cheung and 16-year-old Lio Kuok-Wai winning several international competitions. In dance, Hong Kong is being gradually being recognised as having its own style, and is attracting interest for the way it combines different influences from around Asia.

When it comes to drama, Professor Thompson points to the work of one of the academy's former lecturers, Frederick Mao, and describes it as comparable to anything he has seen in the rest of the world. Meanwhile, in film, things may not be as strong as previously on the commercial front, but the talents of Hong Kong actors and technicians have won a deserved reputation and widespread recognition in the international arena.

In order to prepare students to make the most of the opportunities ahead, the HKAPA has developed over the past 12 months a plan call "Imagine". As an acronym, this stands for certain key characteristics of each programme: international, made in Hong Kong, advocacy, graduate education, institutional maturity, networking and enterprising. The intention is to create well-rounded students equipped with all the tools needed for success.

Institutional maturity, for example, refers to the academy's ambition to build a reputation equal to that of a university. Graduate education alludes to the importance of HKAPA students being as well qualified as their contemporaries in other parts of the world in their respective areas of study.

To train world-class performers, the HKAPA also intends to introduce master's programmes in the schools of dance and music in September. The two-year courses will be "practitioner-based", meaning that they will focus on improving the quality of each student's level of performance. Those teaching the programmes will be actively engaged in the profession and will use techniques designed to attain the highest standards of performance.

"Nowadays, standards keep improving and, to compete with the rest of the world, our students need the extra edge that the master's programme can provide," Professor Thompson says. Adopting the same principle, the HKAPA is in discussions with the University of Hong Kong to offer students an MBA in arts for financial practitioners. This programme stresses the importance of understanding the way the business world works in order to survive in today's arts environment. "It's very important for our students to be able to change hats and to have a balance of up-to-date skills," Professor Thompson concludes.

Ready and able

  • Proposed large-scale cultural projects will create new opportunities for professionals in the performing arts
  • Demand for talent will increase if Hong Kong can establish an international reputation for excellence
  • The HKAPA's aim is to provide programmes which rival the best in the world
  • New master's programmes in music and dance will focus on enhancing each student's level of performance

Taken from Career Times 10 February 2006
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