How to build a bridge between the business and art worlds

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Art World Forum gives us some good advice as Hong Kong Arts Month draws to a close

So today marks the end of Hong Kong Arts Month, a month we’ve been celebrating at theDesk just like the rest of our city. We’ve had the exhibition ‘Hong Kong Reflections Through Time’ up on walls throughout the month and we’ve featured talks, workshops and even an art jam, organised by some of the most prominent and up-and-coming artists in the city. But one thing we haven’t done is tour Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town in a bid to find out more about these potential ‘art hubs’ and how they could grow in the future.

The director of Art World Forum, Anni Oates, did just that, though. In fact, during March’s month of art she toured the whole city to understand the scene here as she launched the Hong Kong arm of her emerging global platform, based in Singapore, that builds networks between art professionals and businesses. She organised two events in Western District which were aimed at providing information, marketing strategies and networking opportunities to art investors, collectors, dealers, insurers, academics, practitioners and enthusiasts. It was basically a drive to help companies from all sectors and sizes to understand how the art market can interact with them in a bid to build future projects, knowledge and strategic alliances that could lead to future business opportunities and even a social impact.

Art World Forum is now expected to have an annual presence in our city throughout the year, as well as host events in Singapore, Europe and other destinations in Asia. But, for the minute, Anni Oates answers questions on her global platform, her vision for art and business and how Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town could, just maybe, become Hong Kong ‘art hubs’ in the not-too-distant future…

Hi Anni! Tell us about Art World Forum…
Art World Forum came in response to a niche within the art market. The marketplace has notoriously been known for its opacity and rather tight circles. Through conversations with key players, however, we found that what was missing was the availability of platforms which allow art business professionals to expand their network, branch out into new geographies and openly address current issues affecting the art marketplace. We therefore promote on-the-spot content as well as international networking.  

‘New Ways of Seeing’ was part of Hong Kong Arts Month, as was another event you organised at the Ovolo, Southside hotel in Wong Chuk Hang a few days later. How did these events go?
They were both really successful! ‘New Ways of Seeing’, in particular, tackled innovation and challenged the ‘new’ in the art market. It sought to address the ways in which the art marketplace and its professional players have shifted focus, changed tactics or reconstructed their roles in the game. Up until fairly recently the art market has followed a rather traditional model and has found stability in conventional methods. Nowadays, however, it’s no longer good enough to only offer the first five things on show. With a growing number of participants and followers, people are approaching their involvement differently. They’re taking a much more entrepreneurial leap and challenging new ways of fitting in. We are infused in this millennial environment, so learning to see things in new ways is precisely how the industry will grow, or rather expand.

It’s a shame that Hong Kong Arts Month is now over for another year, as is the flagship event, Art Basel Hong Kong. What has made Art Basel HK so special for Hongkongers?
Art Basel Hong Kong is a significant staple in the global art scene. Other than the typical following of local professionals, the reach extends to the greater region and way beyond. It’s been an ideal time of the year to get involved with the multitude of art that’s available and reach out to people who travelled the world to get there.

In Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town we have a few excellent art galleries. How do you see our areas developing as art hubs?
I think both of these areas have the potential to become great art hubs. I’m looking forward to getting more familiar with both Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town but, overall, the arts tend to pop up organically and sporadically if the conditions are right. The next step is to simply pave the way for a good following…S

How important is it, in fact, to have emerging art hubs away from the city’s business centres?
Artists are very rarely based in the centre. It’s the dealers, investors and patrons who circulate the business centres. Therefore, it’s only natural that new hubs emerge further out. In all fairness, it’s typically a more suitable environment for the creative process given that rent is more affordable, spaces are more lenient and distractions are less regular.

Art World Forum’s remit is to ‘build valuable networks between art professionals and business leaders’. Why is this crucial in the art industry?
Art is a subjective asset. It’s a luxury asset. It has the power to attract professionals across all industries, add context to its surrounding and impose itself in any given situation. Building networks between art professionals and business leaders encourages greater discourse and more applicable, or perhaps alternative, problem-solving approaches. It also naturally nurtures new ideas and working strategies. Having a cross-industry dynamic encourages people to think outside the box and step away from conventional methods. Nowadays, the art scene is a sector that a lot of firms are delving into. Not solely for decorative purposes within communal and office spaces but for investment, client relations and the wellbeing of staff.  

How do you go about building effective networks that yield results?
As a startup, building a network is an essential task. It is a timely matter and a requirement that demands consistent effort to maintain and grow. The key lies in the strength and confidence of your brand and service. As with every newcomer, there will be challenges to face and hurdles to overcome, but trial and error is what stabilises your presence in the scene. Grabbing opportunities that come your way should be instinctive. Should you be open-minded and remain true to your brand, then results will surely follow…

How would you build these networks in, say, our small arts hubs in Sai Ying Pun and K-Town?
As with every network, the immediate step is to include all the people you know. From there on, it is simply a habit of sourcing for new personas to add to your list. Given the available resources now at our fingertips, the availability of information is endless. Online channels and social media platforms have made reaching out to people so much easier. Most surprisingly, though, I would say that word of mouth continues to perhaps be the strongest and most reliable way of promoting your brand.

SEE ALSO: The fashion designer who helps homeless people and drug addicts in Sai Ying Pun

Art World Forum is also a web publisher, carrying features on the art market and professionals. How does this approach add to your business?
Our features help gain traction on points made by our speakers, supporters and collaborators. It’s important that we provide a platform which extends beyond the day events that we host and allow for flexibility of dispersing information nationwide. It adds to our aim and ethos of providing content which targets issues currently affecting the market.

What advice would you give to startups who want to launch an art-related business in Hong Kong?
I would say ‘just do it’. Wanting to launch a venture of any form takes courage and is constantly susceptible to risk. Having said that, the rewards are so much greater and worth the challenge. If you’re keen on doing it, don’t dwell on it. At the end of the day, when starting from scratch, there’s little to lose and so much to gain.

For more details and to look out for future events in Hong Kong, see

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