Anita Chan, director of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York, spoke on Hong Kong's food, wine and arts offerings Sept. 13. 

The Savannah College of Art & Design has a key role in Hong Kong‘s aggressive play to become the arts capital of Asia

With a campus opened in the Chinese city in 2010, the private Georgia-based institution is training future employees to fill jobs at opera houses, galleries and museums set to sprout there soon.

“SCAD’s graduates will definitely fill a gap in Hong Kong. This gap is really a dearth of arts professionals,” Anita Chan, director of Hong Kong’s economic office in New York, said during a visit to Atlanta. 

The city’s most ambitious arts project is the $2.8 billion West Kowloon Cultural District. The 99-acre complex will house the M+ modern art museum, the Xiqu (Chinese opera) center and about 15 other venues when completed in 2016. 

Ms. Chan described Hong Kong’s emergence as Asia’s arts and wine capital during a lively speech at the Commerce Club. Attendees burst into applause when she mentioned that Hong Kong had abolished its import duties on wine in 2008. 

Hong Kong has become the No. 3 arts auction destination after London and New York, attracting the likes of Sotheby’sChristie’s and the mainland’s China Guardian

But the government is reaching deep into its coffers to support art at all levels, from new painters to seasoned fine arts groups. 

Hong Kong spends $380 million annually on arts promotion programs, excluding the new infrastructure spending. About $40 million goes to performing arts groups, about $5 million of which helps fund overseas performances; still more goes to fund the Arts Development Council, a statutory organization that supports arts projects, small and medium-sized arts groups and art policy research. 

The government has also launched a $3.8 million fund that provides 200 percent matching grants to encourage artists to raise private money to advance their projects. The grants apply to projects that attract funding of at least HK$1 million ($128,205), with 25 percent or more coming from non-government sources. 

At the highest levels, Hong Kong knows it has to have a workforce with the right skills in order to maximize all this investment, so it’s spending further on education. 

“Additional funding of HK$150 million ($19 million) will be allocated to strengthen the training of arts administrators with different levels of experience in the next five years, including internships, further studies and diversified professional training,” Hong Kong Chief Executive Chun-ying Leung said in his 2013 policy address in April. 

As a private, foreign university, SCAD won’t be eligible for that funding, but it has tweaked its educational offerings in Hong Kong to meet demand for creative programs in the city and across Asia. 

The campus started with a strong digital focus, offering 14 programs in specialties like animation, graphic design, motion media design and others. 

“Two years later, we added seven additional degree programs, including programs focused on sequential art, painting, interior design and the fashion and luxury industry,” Grant Preisser, associate vice president for SCAD Hong Kong, told Global Atlanta by email. “We chose these new degree programs in response to feedback from students, research from within the market and connections to industry leaders in Hong Kong that indicated great demand in Asia.”

Recruiting from all over the region, SCAD has had no problem filling its seats with quality students, Mr. Preisser said. 

“Hong Kong is really an untapped reservoir of creative talent. The students we enroll are eager for SCAD’s style of teaching, discourse and discussion, and the way they develop both as creatives and as professionals is a true reward,” he said. 

Being part of a global network has helped too. SCAD has campuses in Lacoste, France; Savannah and Atlanta, and students can transfer among them without losing credits. Many students have started their academic careers at one location, only to move as they desired more international experience. 

SCAD entered Hong Kong after being selected out of 100 applicants to restore the historic North Kowloon Magistracy Building, a former courthouse now home to the campus. 

Before the opening, SCAD received more than 1,000 applications from 18 countries as wide-ranging as Belarus, Zambia, France, Japan and Canada. Only 141 students were selected, 60 percent of them Hong Kong residents. This year, 510 students are enrolled at SCAD Hong Kong, including the first cohort that will have started and finished their degrees at the campus. 

SCAD was by far the only topic addressed by Ms. Chan, director of Hong Kong’s New York office, during her speech in Atlanta. 

She noted the strong economic ties between Georgia and the Chinese administrative region, especially on food products. 

Hong Kong bought $3.4 billion in U.S. agricultural products in 2012. Exports of pecans, a key Georgia crop, were up 64 percent, and Georgia wine exports to Hong Kong skyrocketed from $16,000 in 2010 to about $817,000 in 2012. 

“You have what we like, and we seem to have an insatiable appetite for more from you,” Ms. Chan said. 

While many of Hong Kong’s imports are re-exported to the mainland, that statistic doesn’t hold true for wine. Hong Kong has the highest per capita wine consumption in Asia, and about 78 percent of its imported wine was consumed locally.  

That’s partially because the mainland is now coming to Hong Kong. With a population of more than 7 million, Hong Kong hosted 48 million tourists last year, about 35 million of them from China. 

Ms. Chan also presided over the Atlanta Dragonboat Festival, an annual event sponsored by the Hong Kong office that draws thousands of participants and spectators to Lake Lanier in North Georgia

See the Georgia Department of Economic Development‘s Hong Kong connection fact sheet to learn more about the state’s business connections there. 

Click here to see Global Atlanta’s announcement of the SCAD-Hong Kong campus in 2009. 

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As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...