Rising rents at factory buildings are pushing artists out
TWO ageing thespians dressed head to toe in black gesture to the audience in one swift move. Their leveled voices project across the theatre, echoing faintly.
Black box production "Occupy San Po Kong" is playing in the humble but creative community of San Po Kong in New Kowloon. Performing are members of We Draman, a drama group funded by the Hong Kong Arts and Development Council. The play centers on two new hotel buildings in the neighbourhood and paints an apprehensive and hopeless picture of artists fearing their creative sanctuary would soon become a commercialised district.
The play highlights dissatisfaction with real-life 2010 policy measures to redevelop and convert old industrial buildings, resulting in rent increases and forced removal of artists and art groups.
The government plans to pull the plug and withdraw the policy in 2016, according to an announcement by the Secretary for Development Mr Paul Chan Mo-po in November last year.
The revitalisation plan came about because an increasing number of artists were illegally running studios out of industrial buildings.
The HKADC called for the amendment of the revitalization policy, hoping to include art creation under the category "industrial usage" to enable local artists to keep their studios legally.
Four years have passed and 90 revitalization cases have successfully been approved by the Land Department, yet the amendment is still in limbo.
In hindsight, the local art community thinks little of the revitalization plan and believes the policy didn't help the arts and culture sector much.
"I could say it's a total mess," said Mr Honkaz Fung Hing-keung, a freelance artist and creative director. Mr Fung recalls renting a 1,000 square foot apartment that has doubled in rent over the past eight years. "The policy had good intentions, but it didn't help, and instead left us in a bigger struggle," he added.
At Midland Industrial, real estate agent Mr Wong Siu- wai also reported the same rental increase among industrial buildings in the San Po Kong district.
Hong Kong was once dependent on industrial development in the 1970s and 1980s, but as it transformed into an international and commercial city, old industrial buildings clustered in San Po Kong, Fo Tan and Kwun Tong districts are abandoned.
A 200 net square foot unit in the Wong King Industrial Building in San Po Kong rents at $2,900 a month. District councilor of San Po Kong, Mr Lee Tat-yan said the price is "unreasonably high".
Mr Lee and district councilors in Kwun Tong say the revitalization plan ineffective and didn't support it from the beginning. Mr Lee also said it is a skewed policy that favors corporations rather than small enterprises and hopes the government would "stop messing around with the art sector."
Mr Fung has been running his studio "One By One Studio" in Fo Tan for eight years, and said he has witnessed how the policy has altered the ecosystem of the art community and has stirred quite a storm among the group.
"I just wish the government would leave us alone. It would be the greatest help they could offer," said Mr Fung, now speaking about the withdrawal of the policy. He sees little hope that rent hikes would be alleviated in the near future.
by Amie Cheng
edited by Tsau Jin Cheng
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