Under Financial Pressures and New Leadership, More Than Half of the Hong Kong Arts Centre’s Staff Has Departed

The center has also been the target of censorship after the implementation of 2020's national security law.

Hong Kong Arts Centre. Photo by Flau2018, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Over the last year, upwards of half of the staff of the Hong Kong Arts Centre (HKAC) have reportedly left the organization, mostly voluntarily, leaving the 46-year-old nonprofit in a state of flux.

The mass walkout follows the August 2022 departure of former longtime executive director Connie Lam Suk-yee, who had been with the art center since 1997, and at the helm for 13 years. Prior to her resignation, the center had 63 direct employees, according to the organization’s annual report.

Recent departures include program director Teresa Kwong, senior program manager Ian Leung, and Kattie Fan, director of HKAC’s Ifva film and video festival, the South China Morning Post reported. In total, nearly 40 staffers are no longer with the institution, sources familiar with the situation told Artnet News.

Things have changed in Hong Kong since the implementation of a new national security law in 2020 that could be responsible for perceived censorship at the center, including the cancellation of concerts for pro-democracy singer Denise Ho Wan-see in 2021 and a musical from a local theater group this June. Hong Kong’s film censorship board also decided to cancel screenings at the 2023 Ifva festival that it felt contained politically sensitive work.

Connie Lam, former executive director of the Hong Kong Arts Centre. Photo by Edward Wong/<em>South China Morning Post</em> via Getty Images.

Connie Lam, former executive director of the Hong Kong Arts Centre. Photo: Edward Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images.

But the larger issue at the HKAC appears to be the new leadership.

Lam’s successor, Rebecca Ip, comes to HKAC after a stint leading a private education company that operates nursery schools and kindergarten, and was previously executive director of the Hong Kong Ballet. Sources connected to the institution are critical of her lack of art world experience.

The HKAC generates much of its income from renting out parts of its 19-floor building, as well as rooftop billboard, but has found itself under increasing financial pressure. The advertising company has terminated its contract for the building, and rental income has dropped 10 percent from 2020 levels, thanks a downturn in the property market since the start of the pandemic.

“To facilitate sustainability of its income streams, HKAC needs to review and enhance its areas of operations, including diversifying activities and courses to include art programs for children,” HKAC told the SCMP in an email.

The Hong Kong Arts Centre under construction in May 1977. Photo by C. Y. Yu/South China Morning Post via Getty Images.

The Hong Kong Arts Centre under construction in May 1977. Photo by C. Y. Yu/South China Morning Post via Getty Images.

But there are increasing concerns that HKAC isn’t doing enough to compete with the visual arts offerings of newer competitors such as the West Kowloon Cultural District and Tai Kwun.

“Many are leaving because they cannot bear to stay on and just do programs with little meaning. And because the new management seem to have little respect for the center’s strong ties with the local arts community,” a recently departed staff member told SCMP.

That jives with what Artnet News learned from sources close to the situation who claimed that external partners who have recently collaborated with HKAC on individual projects were unhappy with the current management, which did not act professionally and did not respect people who were involved. 

As of press time, HKAC had not responded to inquiries from Artnet News.

Additional reporting by Vivienne Chow. 


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