Following is an “interview” I did with my husband Paul about his work here with the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA). This job was the instigator of our great Hong Kong adventure. All punctuation is courtesy of the editor.
Describe your job and what you do.
At this point, the WKCDA is essentially a development company. The Hong Kong government created the Authority to develop a cultural district on Victoria Harbour. Currently, a large part of the organization is oriented towards construction, so we have engineers, architects, project managers, construction managers, urban planners. There are also finance, HR and IT people. But in the future, it will develop into an artistic organization with both performing arts and museum operations. Currently, there is a Performing Arts division with heads of artistic development, planning, operations, and technical development as well as the M+ Museum division. My role as Head, Technical Development for Performing Arts is primarily to ensure that the performance facilities are developed to serve the anticipated artistic needs. This means not only providing advice to internal staff, but also guiding the design teams which consist of architects, theatre consultants and acousticians in the development of our facilities. I am also responsible for developing the production team that will operate the venues.
Describe a typical day.
I go to meetings. We have three projects currently in design, each with a different architectural design team so I spend a lot of my time in design workshops and progress meetings. I also attend our own internal meetings on development, operations and so forth. In any given week, I might spend as little as 30 minutes at my desk. In a good week, it might be eight to twelve hours. Keeping up with email is a challenge. Generally, I start between 9:00 and 9:30, either at the office or just as likely at one of my architects’ offices, and my work day usually ends around 7:30.
Who do you deal with most in your work?
In addition to the architects and design teams for our three current projects, I work closely with my boss who is the Executive Director of Performing Arts. Internally, my team is three people and we are in the process of hiring two more. It’s a great group and we work very tightly and very well together. I work with the heads of artistic development in dance, theatre and Xiqu (Chinese opera). I’m also working with design teams on the planning of the fourth and fifth venues, which are the Centre for Contemporary Performance (three black boxes and rehearsal and development spaces) and a medium-sized theatre (600 seats).
What stage are your main projects at right now?
We are in the tender evaluation stage for Xiqu. This means that we have received tenders from construction companies and are evaluating their merit. We hope to award a construction contract by the end of the year. The Lyric Theatre and the FreeSpace (a large black box performance space in WKCD park) are in schematic design phase. That is when you put together pieces of a building without the detailed engineering. Mostly it is about making sure you have an idea of what the building will look like with all its pieces: the theatres, dressing rooms, janitorial closets, offices, toilets, escape routes, and so on, along with the first level of engineering detail and cost analysis.
What are the main challenges right now in your work?
The challenge is doing all of these projects at once. Building one facility is plenty, so building three and planning two more puts it on a different scale. I took this job because it is one of the largest single cultural developments in the world and the opportunity to be part of that is amazing. But it’s big and it comes with big challenges, both physically and organizationally.
There are obviously many benefits this cultural district will bring to Hong Kong. Tell me about one aspect that you feel is important.
Theatre venues in Hong Kong are way over-subscribed. It is practically impossible for performing artists and arts groups to find and book space here. Most venues are run by the government’s Leisure Services and Cultural Development (LCSD) Department, which is responsible for both rentals and programming. It is impossible to get a long-run booking and it’s all done on a first-come first-served basis. There are a few privately operated venues, but they also have limited capacity. So the need for more venues and capacity for longer runs is huge here.
One goal of the WKCDA is to provide not just more venues, but ones that are suitable for different types of performance and creative development, as well as with availability for long-term bookings. I think that will have a big impact on the cultural scene here.
How are you feeling personally about being here?
It’s an amazing challenge in positive and negative ways. There is never a dull moment and I’m never bored. The day starts late and ends late so I don’t have as much time as I would like to get out and explore the city, but I’ll be here long enough to make that happen over time. It’s a fascinating city that is so different from what we’re used to. I also look forward to exploring southeast Asia, something I had never expected to do.
After four months living in temporary apartments, I’m looking forward to our furniture arriving next week and having a place that looks and feels like home. For me, that is overdue. The place we have chosen will be a peaceful haven away from the city but is still only 15 minutes away from the core. But I will miss our harbour view!
As a footnote, our stuff is arriving from Canada early next week and should be delivered to our new apartment by the end of the week. Fingers crossed that it goes according to plan!