Hey landlords! Take heed
We all know a serious art movement is starting to happen for Hong Kong, but it could be snuffed out very quickly if Hong Kong’s landlords are not willing to be more supportive in the government’s mandate and the community’s desire to see the sustainable development of a thriving arts scene in the SAR.
Truly, the landlords could kill the golden goose that is starting to lay big fat artistic eggs in our city. Pedder Building – which was once a rather backwater building filled with an eclectic (or some might even say a motley tenant mix) – has now become home to some of the world’s most interesting galleries. It started with Ben Brown Fine Arts just over two years ago in what was a rather ingenious move into a building which features incredibly high ceilings susceptible for creative reinvention. In other words, perfect for a gallery space. Then came Gagosian with an entire floor. And in the past couple of months other galleries including Simon Lee and Hanart have moved in – attracted to the unique, vastly under-utilised aspect of a building situated slapbang downtown.
Moths to a flame!
Last week, there were several openings including Shanghai art power-shaker Pearl Lam’s new venue on the sixth floor, and the building was suddenly awash with art lovers (real and faux) scaling the back staircases and packing the little elevators as they moved from show to show. Pedder is cool… the new tenants are helping to make it cool. And it will remain cool for as long as the landlord(s) doesn’t throw a spoke in the wheel and jack up the rent. Truthfully, between you and I, the rent is already astronomically shocking, and the influential New York and London art dealers know it too. We have to find a common ground, and fast.
Okay, so you don’t feel so sorry for the massive galleries with artworks with equally massive price tags. I hear you. But then feel sorry for the smaller start-up galleries that are trying to gain a foothold in the Central perimeter. Look at Sheung Wan. The rents have comfortably doubled in that neighbourhood in the past two years, and that is exactly the kind of enclave where an arts scene is expected to grow ‘organically’. What gives? The seeds are there with Para/Site Art Space putting down solid roots, but how will the garden grow with Hong Kong’s unregulated rent market?
One area we can hopefully count on, as in a ‘designated’ arts venue, will be the former Central Police Station on Hollywood Road. But that won’t be up and running until 2014. I feel it will be something like the new Gillman Barracks in Singapore that houses 13 pioneer galleries led by government-affiliated arts agencies. That’s positive government intervention, and it is great to have some rent relief. However, it would also be a plus if the new Culture Bureau recently floated by the former property developer and now Chief Executive-elect CY Leung could look for creative ways to help the arts-related commercial and non-profit organisations find solutions to deal with – how should I put this? – despicable landlords, most of whom demand nose-bleeding costs. After all, it’s not as if all of the buildings in Hong Kong are either just built or just being sold. Shouldn’t that be remembered when it comes to the longer game? But to return to Pedder, those galleries add to the cachet of that property and have turned it into a genuine tourist and community-driven destination.
So, dear landlords, what allowances have you made in your rent hikes? And, seriously, do you really want to kill the golden goose?