HK’s creative industries: Too late to take off?

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A KPMG-Warwick seminar sparks thoughts on whether Hong Kong can compete in  creative industries when other major cities have a head start.

Photo: Professor Jonothan Neelands of the University of Warwick explaining why creative industries matter.

At a Tuesday evening KPMG-Warwick University seminar, a visiting UK professor told the crowd that cities should invest in nurturing and supporting creative industries for economic reasons. But, the floor was rather sceptical as to whether Hong Kong could catch up with other global cities.

“There is a very clear economic argument for why governments should invest, nurture and support the creative industries, not just the highly successful ones but also the cultural ones like galleries and museums that feed into the successes,” Professor Jonothan Neelands, Associate Dean for Creativity of the Warwick Business School, elaborated. “The creative industries will tend to flourish in urban spaces where there is a rich interplay between arts, culture and clusters of talent working together. But culture also makes these cities more attractive places to live, to visit, to invest as well as for globally-minded mobile talent.”

Neelands explained that public investments into creative industries should not be seen as a cynical and political maneuvers but efforts to develop  a delicate ecosystem that drives exchanges of ideas and talent on a global level, thereby enriching economies. He also highlighted a need for governments to divert more resources into the sector in terms of funding projects, promoting diversity and formulating a creativity-friendly education policy.

Citing a Deloitte report, Neelands noted that about 35% of jobs in the UK will be at risk over the next 20 years, with workforces in accounting, auditing and banking – the very fields in which Hong Kong claims a competitive advantage – facing the most serious challenge.

“We are going to a society of freelancers and SMEs and all our children must have the ambition and portfolios and skills and the desire to be a job-maker rather than a job-seeker,” he concluded.


Dying or dead?

Many of the attending experts were not optimistic about Hong Kong’s prospects in the creative space.

“This city is creatively dead,” Terry Waterhouse, founder of a consultancy specialising in retail design and implementation, proclaimed. “Shanghai is destined to become a cultural capital in Asia, and they are actively engaging in diplomatic exchanges with countries including the UK and France on cultural projects. What has Hong Kong done? Nothing!”

Dr Edmund Lee Tak-yue (利德裕), Executive Director of Hong Kong Design Centre, was more optimistic, expressing his faith in Hong Kong. However, he acknowledged that there would have to be a major change in the mindset of government and corporate leaderships.

“We are still emphasising efficiency when other places are already talking about human-focused and experience-focused development…. I was told by some foreign experts that there are many great administrators here in Hong Kong, and by that they meant something negative,” Dr Lee said. “We have the talent, just not the right mindset.”