Museums China

Rising costs in Hong Kong criticised

Government officials plans to try blocking additional funding for West Kowloon Cultural District

M+ is due to open by late 2017, but at what cost? Photo: courtesy of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority

A member of Hong Kong’s governing body, the Legislative Council, says he plans to try to block the HK$25bn ($3.2bn) in additional funding reportedly being sought by the West Kowloon Cultural District authority. Christopher Chung Shu-kun, a lawmaker from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong party, says he will oppose any calls for further funding for the planned culture hub, which includes M+, the museum of visual cultures.

The museum, which is due to open by late 2017, will be housed in a 62,000 sq. m building overlooking Victoria Harbour. Doryun Chong, the associate curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is due to join M+ this September as its chief curator. The institution is part of the hugely ambitious masterplan for the area, designed by the leading architects Foster + Partners. According to the website for the West Kowloon Cultural District, the complex will include 17 core arts and cultural venues and 30,000 sq. m of space for arts education; the project will be developed in phases, encompassing M+ and a centre for contemporary performance in phase one.

Revised estimate

In 2008, the Legislative Council approved a one-off up-front endowment of HK$21.6bn ($2.8bn), primarily to cover the capital cost of the planning, design and construction of the arts, cultural and related facilities, according to the cultural district’s website.

“I will not support any proposal for additional funding for the project, because the authority has not been cautious in the way it has used the original HK$21.6bn funding,” Chung Shu-kun says. “If the authority does not adopt measures for broadening sources of income, and to reduce expenditure, I don’t believe the entire project can be completed for HK$47bn in total.”

“The discussion hasn’t actually taken place as yet with the Legislative Council’s finance committee [which sets budgets],” says a spokeswoman for the district authority, who says that the committee is due to meet in July. She says that “revised estimated figures” will be submitted but would not comment on the amount.

The spokeswoman says that construction costs in Hong Kong have risen by “almost 100%” since the initial budget for the West Kowloon Cultural District was set. Meanwhile, the area earmarked for cultural and commercial use in West Kowloon is reportedly set to increase by around 7,200 sq. m by increasing the density of the development. If the extra space is sold, it would yield a potential profit of around HK$8.3bn.

The Swiss architectural practice Herzog & de Meuron has won the competition to design M+. Six high-profile companies were shortlisted last year, including Shigeru Ban of Japan and the Italian architect Renzo Piano.

Michael Lynch, the chief executive of the West Kowloon Cultural District, says: “There is a critical need for cultural investment in Hong Kong.” A recent exhibition of six inflatable sculptures by artists including Paul McCarthy and Cao Fei, held on the site of M+ and entitled “Inflation!”, drew around 150,000 visitors during its seven-week run, despite interruptions due to stormy weather.

The museum is on track with building a collection. Last year, the collector Uli Sigg donated more than 1,400 works. In May, 13 Hong Kong collectors and artists donated 280 works by Hong-Kong based artists such as Gaylord Chan, Chu Hing Wah and Liu Heung Shing.

Update: On Monday 15 July it was announced that following a financial review, the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority has no plans at present to seek further funding. “Past experience shows that, over a period spanning two decades, there could be changes of significant magnitude in the construction costs both upward and downward. We have no plan to seek additional capital injection to the endowment fund at this stage and will review in due course the need to seek additional funding in light of any changes in circumstances and our continued effort of cost containment,” said Carrie Lam, the chairman of the board and the chief secretary of Hong Kong.

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