By Lindsey McAlister, Founder of the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation
ArtisTree Voices features Hong Kong’s arts and culture experts discussing the most pressing issues in the city’s creative landscape. Here, HKYAF’s Lindsey McAlister talks about the importance of nurturing young artistic talent
Hong Kong’s school system is notoriously academically focused. Despite the arts being undoubtedly important to a child’s development, education in our city is often limited to passing tests and jumping through examination hoops. Space and time for creativity is often an afterthought. So what’s the answer?
When I first arrived in Hong Kong over 25 years ago, I started looking around to find arts organisations to get involved in. I started working at the English Schools Foundation but soon realised I also wanted to work with local children. Working with only expat kids seemed a bit limited and I wanted to empower and bring creativity to a wider range of young people. So I started the Hong Kong Youth Arts Festival (HKYAF), which later turned into a foundation. Today, we hold huge annual events like Arts in the Park.
The core principle behind HKYAF is empowering young people by helping them find their voice through creativity. I think many young people lack creative space and outlets for innovation. We need to create more places where it’s okay to get things wrong and it’s okay to experiment. Once children realise this and are given these spaces it’s incredibly empowering for them; that’s what HKYAF’s main mission is.
A lot has changed in these 25 years. Attitudes were completely different back then, especially from parents. Now, Hong Kong parents seem to increasingly want their children to be creative thinkers and problem solvers, and see the importance of learning about collaboration, leadership, and other life skills essential in forming a well-rounded person.
But there’s still a long way to go, and there remain many areas that we can still improve upon.
Firstly, as a community, we need to provide more opportunities for children to be exposed to different forms of creativity, and safe spaces to experiment. It’s extremely important to encourage different mediums and modes of experimentation; it creates diversity. At HKYAF, our projects have always been varied, everything from visual arts to performing arts to creative writing. For example, we recently ran a project where we commissioned young graffiti artists to create shutter designs for shop owners. They went out in the community and suddenly they had a different canvas to work with. It also helped participants celebrate local people and culture rather than, say, a famous person. We need to think more laterally when it comes to providing platforms for the arts, and on a much wider level.
Language is just as big an issue for young Hong Kong performers; quite simply, many training programmes and arts schools require a good standard of English. Even if a Hongkonger auditions for a role here, performances are often not in their native tongue. A good place to start would be expanding arts teaching to include things like voice coaching and vocal training. It’s incredibly frustrating for young performers to be held back by something that they can change; it’s about finding ways to help them change it.
And on the pathway from young talent to full-time arts career, there’s a final step that isn’t often discussed: the know-how on becoming a professional creative. This is sorely lacking in Hong Kong. How is an emerging performer meant to know what’s a fair fee for their time, how to work as a freelancer, or where to look for a job? Teaching aspiring arts professionals these skills and creating a support network is an essential part of artistic growth and is something we should focus on nurturing.
In Hong Kong, the raw talent is there. But the question is how we can provide the opportunities and teach the skills that will help refine that talent into something world class. Language training, industry knowledge and just providing as many opportunities as possible should all be of the utmost priority.
When we let them try, who knows where they might end up? They are responsible for the future of Hong Kong, after all, and we have to give them space to grow.
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