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Arts Promotion is a Long and Arduous Journey

Academy Council Chairman Professor Stephen Chow Chun-kay

1 Apr 2021

Commerce and art may seem like two unrelated fields but a delicate balance exists between the two. Professor Stephen Chow Chun-kay, Academy Council Chairman since 2016, is a shining example of how business and art can engage in a relationship of mutual enrichment. A successful entrepreneur with a passion for Cantonese opera, Professor Chow has this to share: "Art can expand perspectives and act as a lubricant in a conflictual society, enabling people to approach problems with more vision and heart." Professor Chow has stepped back from the family business in recent years, having passed the baton to his son Felix. He now devotes himself to charity and community services, as he guides the Academy towards a new milestone.


As always, when asked about his path to success, Professor Chow says he has been "lucky". Coming from a modest background, Professor Chow is a man of strong willpower who ceaselessly looks for self-improvement. After graduating from secondary school, he went to the United States to undertake undergraduate and master studies at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. Upon his return to Hong Kong, he worked hard to gain experience and save money, which led to his founding of an electronic technology company. Meanwhile, he furthered his studies at the University of Hong Kong, eventually obtaining a Doctorate in Economics and Business Administration.


Underneath Professor Chow's academic credentials and business prowess is a burning passion for Cantonese opera. He is a disciple of late master Dr Lam Kar-sing, whose philosophy and way of life have had a profound influence on him and have given him the determination to promote the development of art and culture.


Linking up Six Academic Areas

Professor Chow describes his appointment as the Academy Council Chairman a few years ago as a serious and weighty responsibility. As one of Asia's financial hubs, Hong Kong values efficiency and economic results, often at the expense of arts development. His hope is that the Academy can continue to nurture performing artists and give more soul to the city and the region.


The Academy has six main academic areas - Chinese opera, dance, drama, film and television, music, as well as theatre and entertainment arts. Professor Chow hopes to strengthen collaboration among them and create synergy. Recently, several of the schools have been working together on a documentary about Dr Lam's school of art. As the master's disciple, Professor Chow was invited to take part and share his views. This interdisciplinary production not only documents the essence of Dr Lam's school of art, but also serves as teaching material for the School of Chinese Opera. Professor Chow is of the view that the work of cultivating the arts should proceed on all fronts, and balance should be maintained in the development of the six schools.


Professor Chow may look stern but he is a humorous man who mingles well with the students. "I was a student union president in my student days. I want to communicate with the students and try to see things from their point of view. I look forward to having honest communication." He advises the younger generation to pursue their dreams, to stay curious and adventurous, and bring ideals to fruition through the "four mores": More research, more practice, more performance, more innovation. Opportunities come to those who are prepared. If one has clear goals, and works towards them with full commitment, there is a good chance of succeeding.


Creating Fertile Soil

Seedlings need fertile soil to flourish. Decades of being in business have sharpened Professor Chow's ability to make correct assessments of the times and the situation. Under his leadership, the Academy has not only raised a record amount of funds, it has also set up funds specifically for the Academy's sustainable development. Professor Chow conveys the Academy's teaching needs to the government and campaigns for more financial assistance. In last year's Policy Address, the construction of new teaching facilities and a student hostel at the Academy was mentioned. He welcomes the support and would be delighted to see it materialise. "The objective is to build a creative hub that provides students with an environment conducive to learning that enables more creative and social interaction across different art forms, enriching students' personal development and learning experience." Professor Chow has proposed to the government to include the Academy in the Matching Grant Scheme, thus being treated on an equal footing with the other eight tertiary institutions. In the long run, he would like to see a culture of donating to higher education and more educational resources in place.


Since the outbreak of COVID-19 last year, Professor Chow and the Academy management have been concerned about the pandemic's financial impact on students' families. To this end, they proposed the 2020/21 COVID-19 Student Support Bursary and the HKAPA Scholarships 2020/21 to provide timely relief to local students experiencing financial hardship and to keep an eye on their future needs.


As early as 2017, Professor Chow initiated the founding of the Association of Past and Present Council Members of the Academy to strengthen the Academy's links with past and present council members. The association has had meetings with the Academy, discussing the latter's latest developments and future plans, and enabling all members to keep abreast of Academy updates, so that they can proactively share their views and give their support.


Lighting the Flame

Since his appointment, Professor Chow has brought the Academy many "firsts". One of these is the Academy Festival, an annual event that debuted in 2017. The Festival programme features performances and activities across the six schools, including musicals, operas, dance, drama, Cantonese opera, concerts, film screenings and exhibitions, some of which can be enjoyed free-of-charge. The Festival programme showcases students' talents while enriching cultural life in the city. The Festival attracts about 10,000 participants annually. Professor Chow observes, "The Academy has a dual mission. Besides being an institute of higher learning that nurtures performing artists, it promotes the development of art and culture in Hong Kong and the region. We hope to further popularise performing arts and let the public experience their diverse charisma alongside students and teachers of the Academy."


The Academy was founded 37 years ago. Over the decades, the flames lit by visionaries and idealists have not only illuminated Hong Kong; they have enabled the institute to win recognition worldwide. In the latest QS World University Rankings, the Academy ranked first among performing arts institutes in Asia for the third year in a row, and made the top 10 worldwide for the second time. Professor Chow believes this is the result of the hard work of the Council members, the Director, teachers, students, alumni and staff.


Confucius says in The Analects of Confucius – Tai Bo, "A scholar's ambition must be high and steadfast because his responsibility is heavy and the journey is long. He takes upon himself to be kind. Isn't that a weighty responsibility? And he has to bear it till the end. Isn't the journey long?" A mission means lifelong persistence, and Professor Chow's ambition is high. "I hope the Academy will continue to scale new heights and provide ideal growing and learning environments for students, so their talents can shine.


Click here to listen to Professor Chow's performance of Yuli Soul in Dr Lam Kar-sing's vocal style.


(The article was published in the Apr 2021 issue of Academy News. Click here to read the original story.)