M+ to tick all the boxes as pride of HK

Fifteen years ago, I had the honor of chairing the Museums Advisory Group, under the Consultative Committee on the Core Arts and Cultural Facilities of West Kowloon Cultural District. The task was to propose what type of museum the district should have. After almost a year's intensive...

Victor Lo

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Fifteen years ago, I had the honor of chairing the Museums Advisory Group, under the Consultative Committee on the Core Arts and Cultural Facilities of West Kowloon Cultural District.

The task was to propose what type of museum the district should have.

After almost a year's intensive deliberations, we proposed a bold concept: M+.

The name conveyed our ambition to create an important cultural institution, more than a conventional museum, that would be consistent with Hong Kong's position as one of the world's great cities.

A truly great city needs to be more than a business powerhouse or a major tourist hub.

The world's greatest cities inspire and enrich their residents and visitors, provide new ideas and the environment for creativity and innovation to thrive.

M+ was our vision for what a 21st-century cultural institution in Asia could be, offering a Hong Kong perspective on global visual culture. That also meant creating a unique, world-class platform in Asia to foster exchanges between Hong Kong and the world.

Our mission was that it would also be a place to show our neighbors from the Greater Bay Area, southeast Asia and all international visitors that Hong Kong has a vibrant cultural life on top of its being a business metropolis.

M+ is now on the cusp of becoming a reality. This year we will have the pleasure of welcoming the public to experience its audacious and contextual architecture and exhibitions, which will hopefully redefine the city's aspirations and future as a cultural hub.

Visitors will explore the best artworks, design pieces and moving images created here alongside those from the mainland, across Asia and the world. Many are important collections of art, design and moving images that are perhaps not well known to the public and rarely displayed in other global institutions previously.

As we refined the concept, group members and I traveled extensively to understand how cultural institutions can impact public life. The Centre Pompidou in Paris, Tate Modern in London and MoMA in New York, to name a few leading museums of comparable scale, have demonstrated how cultural venues can transform and improve their immediate surroundings and the city at large.

Investments in culture produce qualitative benefits and economic returns. Cultural infrastructure is essential for cities to thrive. Beyond its role as tourist venues and platforms for creative endeavors, it is also integral to a city's ability to attract and retain talent and innovators who seek new expressions in cutting-edge fields.

The lesson from our travels was clear: Hong Kong, a city with global ambitions, requires a world-class museum. Research, education and audience building must all be part of our core mission.

We felt none of those model institutions met all our interests and ambitions.

M+ is devoted to the broad category of visual culture, which spans paintings, video and digital arts, movies to avant-garde installations. It shall embody the cultural fluidity that makes the city unique.

Hong Kong is the world's best example of global exchange. M+ reflects this identity in every way, from its collections and exhibitions to its staff.

From the start, M+ followed the highest international standards for museum operations and governance.

Its acquisitions committee and the M+ Collections Trust were set up in 2016 and 2017 to govern matters relating to acquisitions and protection of legal interest of the M+ collection. The legal ownership of the collected items would be transferred to the trust, which is overseen by a separate board.

The rigorous approach creates the environment conducive to long-term development.

The museum has been supporting local talents, artists and designers in multiple ways.

For example, since 2013, M+ and the Arts Development Council have participated in various La Biennale di Venezia editions to connect Hong Kong's visual arts with the world.

There are currently close to 8,000 items in the M+ Collections, of which nearly a quarter are by local artists, designers and makers.

In a matter of months, M+ will be integrated into the active daily life of the people of Hong Kong.

The true measure of its success will be in its influence on the community's embrace of arts and design, and its vital contribution to cultural exchanges in China, Asia and the world, and to social wellbeing and economic wealth. It will be up to the community to help turn M+ into a home-grown pride.

Let's reinforce its unique position and grow Hong Kong's influence as a hub for arts and cultural exchange between China, the rest of Asia and the world. We need visionary leadership, courage, professionalism and deep sensibility toward the development of arts, design and culture.

It will be up to the community to take this world-class museum - our "museum plus" - and ensure that it enriches and enhances the arts, design and related expressions in Hong Kong and reinforces its unique position as Asia's World City.

Last but not least, we need an international horizon and unwavering commitment for M+ to become world-class. We hope M+ can be developed into an important cultural institution that will help us cultivate our creative soft power for many decades to come. We are confident M+ will become a pride of Hong Kong.

Victor Lo is the chairman of the M+ board