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Six Years of Service

Academy Council Chairman Professor Stephen Chow Chun-kay

1 Dec 2021

Arts and culture foster innovation in a city.  As a place that blends both Eastern and Western elements, Hong Kong strives to promote its distinctive mix of arts and culture. Professor Stephen Chow Chun-kay, who is about to complete his six-year term as the Academy Council Chairman, is a member of Hong Kong's election-committee subsector for sports, performing arts, culture and publication, and the former member of the culture subsector. He believes the arts can improve Hong Kong's international standing. "We should leverage Hong Kong's mix of Eastern and Western culture to innovate, and become a cultural hub with a global vision, and affirm Hong Kong's position in the international cultural arena," he insists.


Professor Chow is passionate about arts and culture.  As a young man, he loved to play the drums and guitar, learnt the guzheng (Chinese plucked zither), and became fascinated by Cantonese opera while studying at Golden Gate University in the United States. Upon returning to Hong Kong, he studied Cantonese opera under maestro Dr Lam Kar-sing. During Professor Chow's twenty-plus years of apprenticeship, he not only inherited the essence of his master's art, but also his pursuit of truth, kindness and beauty. "Dr Lam's artistic accomplishments, life philosophy, and the way he interacted with people and the world have had a huge influence on me and affirmed my commitment to arts promotion," he explains.


Over the years, Professor Chow has dedicated himself to promoting Cantonese operatic art. "My years of exploring and studying Cantonese opera made me realise that the arts can broaden perspectives and enable one to approach conflicts and problems with a broader mindset and higher tolerance," he says.


From 2004 to 2011, Professor Chow served as the founding chair of the Cantonese Opera Advisory Committee and the Cantonese Opera Development Fund, and a member of the consultative committee on the Core Arts and Cultural Facilities of the West Kowloon Cultural District. In 2009, in his capacity as chairman of the Cantonese Opera Advisory Committee, he assisted the governments of Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau in applying to have Cantonese opera cited on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.


Campaigning for Educational Resources


In recent years, Professor Chow has handed the reins of his electronics company, the Niche-Tech Group, to his son, Felix. Life has slowed down for Professor Chow, who now spends much of his time concentrating on public service. He has been the Academy Council Chairman since 2016, using his business nous to promote the arts. Those efforts include raising a record-breaking sum for the Academy – a total of HK$160 million under the government's matching grant scheme. He has also created a financial endowment to provide a solid financial grounding for the Academy's sustainable development.


Professor Chow believes that the key to the long-term advancement of the arts and culture lies in comprehensive education facilities and an effective training strategy. It is therefore important to campaign for government financial support to train arts workers. Last year's policy address mentioned support for the construction of a student hostel and teaching facilities. Professor Chow says his wish of many years has finally come true. He had earlier proposed that the government include the Academy in the matching grant scheme and treat it on an equal footing with the other universities that fall under the University Grants Committee. Professor Chow has helped to shape a culture of donating to higher education while opening up new resources in support of education. 


Sharing Plans and Ideals


Professor Chow uses similar skills whether turning his hand to business or while working with the Academy Council. In his time as Council Chairman, the Academy has been recognised multiple times by international academics. When he first assumed the position in 2016, the Academy was not cited in any academic rankings. But by 2019, the Academy ranked first in Asia among performing arts institutions in the QS World University Rankings. In 2020 and 2021, the Academy not only maintained its top ranking in Asia, but also made the top 10 globally.


In 2017, Professor Chow founded the Association of Past and Present Council Members of the Academy to exchange ideas, to share the latest developments at the Academy and to outline future projects. He points out that the Academy owes its success to the hard work and contribution of past and present council members. The pandemic posed plenty of challenges for teaching and performance. He is grateful to Academy Director Professor Gillian Choa as well as staff and students for their relentless effort and hard work to introduce flexibility into teaching and practice, so that learning and performance could carry on.


On July 1, 2021, the HKAPA flag was raised on the Academy campus alongside the People's Republic of China flag and the Hong Kong flag, marking the Academy's first flag-raising ceremony in 37 years. Professor Chow recounts that, as the Academy did not have flag poles, it spent half a year preparing to install the right facilities for the ceremony. Upon approval by the Buildings Department, the poles were finally in place before the July 1 ceremony.  Another flag-raising ceremony was held on October 1, National Day. Professor Chow says he hopes the ceremony will help to strengthen young people's national identity. "The employment market for Hong Kong's young people is huge and includes the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area. I hope they will capitalise on the opportunities offered by the 14th Five-Year Plan and seek to be part of the country's grand development plan."


Reinventing the City's Soul


In the past, the financial industry dominated Hong Kong; performing artists had limited prospects. The Mainland government stated in its 14th Five-Year Plan that it hopes to see Hong Kong develop as a hub of cultural exchange between the Mainland and the world. Professor Chow believes Hong Kong should continue to serve as such a bridge, showcasing the city's performing arts talent on the international stage, and introducing traditional Chinese arts and culture to overseas audiences. This, he believes, will establish Hong Kong's reputation.


"Hong Kong people are flexible and adaptable, and known for their global vision and capability for international exchange and communication," he says. "These advantages are common among different professions."


Professor Chow is of the view that arts and culture can strengthen Hong Kong's soft power and hopes that cultivation can start from a young age. That means there's a need to fortify education and promotion.


"For example, the Mainland has many newly-built professional performance venues that aim at attracting high-quality performances," he notes. "The Academy should capitalise on these opportunities to give students, graduates, and alumni ideal spaces in which to perform. Besides, the Academy should offer more support to learning and performance exchange between Hong Kong and Mainland students, academic exchange, and experience sharing among teachers, so they can inspire each other and create a virtuous cycle of development for the entire region and profession."


Professor Chow continues, "As Asia's top performing arts institute, the Academy shoulders the dual mission of nurturing performing arts talent and promoting the development of arts and culture in Hong Kong and the region." However, in this Asian financial hub, great weight is given to economic efficiency, often at the expense of arts and culture development. Professor Chow believes that the Academy will continue to complement the country's development strategy in arts and culture, and nurture talent that will impart a brand-new artistic soul to Hong Kong.


The article was published in the December 2021 issue of Academy NewsClick here to read the original story.)


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