The fact that Connie Lam has already compiled a five-page CV packed with diverse professional experience at a comparatively young age tells you she is the sort of person who thrives on change and follows her interests. Her career to date has been far from conventional, taking in roles in marketing, administration, research and the media. But as the current programme director for the Hong Kong Arts Centre, she has finally found her niche.
Ms Lam admits to being rebellious by nature and thinks this was behind many of her early moves. "My parents sent me to study in Canada but I 'escaped' back to Hong Kong. Since I was interested in movies, I got involved in the production of independent films and, in 1986, that led to a job with Hong Kong Records Co Ltd, where I was responsible for marketing visual entertainment products."
Two years later, Ms Lam was headhunted by Intercontinental Film Distributors (Hong Kong) Ltd to become an executive secretary and, by 1990, found herself shooting an independent film in mainland China. Her next move was to complete a two-year spell as assistant manager for the Arts Centre, after which she decided it was time to go back to school. Armed with a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts and Comparative Literature, she rejoined the Arts Centre in 1997 and, since then, has made that her home.
If your job involves leadership, it is essential to have the same kind of interpersonal and management skills as someone in the business world
"I've settled in here, but my job changes every two years because I'm constantly on the lookout for something new," she says. "Part of my job is to look for new forms of art, which is what makes it so interesting. The energy this provides is very important because otherwise things can become too routine."
Overall, her success undoubtedly owes much to her passion for films. One independent video production, I Am a Woman, won recognition at the Hong Kong Independent Short Film & Video Awards (ifva) in 1999. "It's a personal video diary through which I project my experience with endometriosis and it was a way of exploring new media," she says.
In Ms Lam's view, exposure to different areas of work is an advantage for career development and helps in forming clearer opinions. She believes that doing well in the arts does not depend on what you study, but is a matter of passion and vision. The important thing is to work and learn simultaneously, while developing the ability to analyse situations and to deal effectively with other people.
She says that, in handling her day-to-day responsibilities, there is no room for an artistic temperament. "If your job involves leadership, it is essential to have the same kind of interpersonal and management skills as someone in the business world. This role is not just about creativity or developing talent. It is also about getting things done."
Now a role model for others, Ms Lam warns the younger generation that there is no easy way to break into the arts. "Personality and timing are crucial," she says. "If the West Kowloon project goes ahead, there may be more opportunities." She recommends that anyone wanting to get into the field should carefully consider each step they take, follow their intuition, and be prepared to keep battling.
As the person who manages the venue, programme development and marketing activities for the Arts Centre, Ms Lam finds that the autonomy and the chance to be creative are the most rewarding aspects of her job. Her daily routine will include inspecting facilities, ensuring events are on track, collaborating on projects with external parties and planning ahead for new programmes. In doing this, it is necessary to make sure that programmes are accessible and are diverse enough to attract a wide spectrum of the public.
The role of programme director requires a great deal of specific knowledge and general business sense. One key task is to maintain contacts with the business community to win their ongoing support for the arts. "For example, discussions about the West Kowloon project should not all be about the hardware, but should include the development of the infrastructure for art and the cultural scene. We need a long-term approach to popularising the arts and building up a culture which values them more," she explains. "Arts don't belong to an exclusive group. They should be part of everyone's life."
According to Ms Lam, there are openings on the mainland and a number of her acquaintances have already found work there. Many organisations are investing in programmes to promote the arts, which means the outlook for career development is positive.
The major cities are lining up more activities and diversity in cultural events is being encouraged. While there is definitely a demand for talent, positions are usually offered by invitation to more experienced individuals who also have a wide network of contacts.