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SHA's closing remarks at ACCF 2004


Following is the speech by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Dr Patrick Ho, at the closing of the Asia Cultural Cooperation Forum 2004 held at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts this (November 17) afternoon: (English only)

Creative Society


Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

During the last four days of the second Asia Cultural Cooperation Forum, our distinguished speakers have shown us, each in his or her unique but equally impeccable way, how creativity and culture works in reality and the immense benefits, be it social ,economic or cultural, it brings forth. I started this forum with an open mind, and I ended up with much, much food for thought, so much that it has inspired me to have another round of deep soul-searching of what really makes a creative society.

At the beginning of this forum, I said that "creativity lies in culture" and that "creativity originates from the core values that a society holds". Three days ago, I thought I had grasped the fundamentals of what made a creative society. But that view of mine proved inadequate and a bit too narrow after I have had the chance of listening to and reflecting on the thought-provoking speeches delivered over the past few days, as well as the enlightening chats and debates that took place among hundreds of participants in this hall, over the dining table and in nearly every place where they met.

For creativity, what really counts, as I realise after much soul-searching, is people! And it is people, and people only, that ultimately makes or breaks a creative society. In a highly globalised world as we face today where the influence of physical boundaries fades away day after day, where capital, know-how and technology are increasingly people-specific, and where factories, infrastructure and great buildings do not necessarily add value to the competitiveness of a city, it is people, and most importantly creative people, that determines the fate of a city. Whichever succeeds in attracting, nurturing and retaining a critical mass of creative people, that city will survive. London, New York, Tokyo, just to name a few, are the best proof.

Then, the question is: how do we, on the one hand, provide an environment that is conducive to the development of creative people such that the creative genes of our society are recognised at the earliest possible stage and given the fullest support, encouragement and motivation, both socially and economically, for them to grow and flourish as well as to make their birthplace a permanent home in the development of their creative business and artistic adventure? And how do we, on the other, attract creative talents and creative enterprises from all over the world to come to our cities, make home there and develop their creative business there? To answer these questions, I think we should first ask ourselves how do creative talents behave and what are their preferences. Creative people are fluid people - they move around in search of places that suit them most; they are IT-savvy - so the availability of state-of-the-art IT infrastructure and services is indispensable; and they are pluralistic, and hence a society with a great degree of tolerance and a diversity of social and cultural activities are a magnet to creative people. What creative talents ultimate look for is a place with a creative lifestyle, a place which is constantly interesting and fun, and above all else a place where they can validate their identities as creative people.

In a nutshell, creative talents tend to be attracted to and stay in places with a set of characteristics, the most crucial of which include -

(a) connectivity, the free flow of information, capital, talents and goods, guaranteed by the presence of a free and open society underpinned by political stability and a high degree of transparency in public affairs;

(b) the rule of law and full protection of copyrights, as well as a clean and efficient government;

(c) an embracing society that cherishes tolerance, plurality and diversity, allowing divergent views to co-exist peacefully; and

(d) a rich and vibrant culture, encouraging different forms of artistic creation in various spectra of the community, and with openness to diversity of all kinds.

But you will ask: these descriptions are helpful, but they are too qualitative and lack the vigour of a scientific-based survey which gives more precise and accurate picture of how a city performs in the global competition for creativity. Indeed, economies around the world do make an effort to measure the creativeness of themselves. Presently, this mainly takes the form of baseline studies which map out the basic facts of an economy's creative industries. Measured in terms of gross domestic products (GDP), creative industries dwarf in the face of other heavyweight sectors. In Hong Kong, for example, creative industries account for slightly less than 4% of our GDP in 2001, a hardly impressive share. The GDP figure, however, only depicts part of the picture. Like I always said, like the delicate cream on a piece of cake, it is always the creative parts that add most values to services and products. A T-shirt, being a commodity, is worth only a few dollars. But the same T-shirt with the logo of, say, Hello Kitty, could worth far more.

The baseline studies that have been completed so far primarily zero in on measuring the GDP contribution of creative industries. While useful, this only surveys the downstream aspect of a creative economy. What we want to know more is what makes a society creative and hence enables creative industries to flourish? This calls for a scientific survey of the upstream aspects of a society - the values, institutions, practices and customs - that attract creative talents and creative enterprises to come to our cities, make home there and develop their creative business there.

On this account, we are inevitably let down by conventional studies of national competitiveness such as the World Economic Forum Growth Competitiveness Index, the Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom, IMD World Competitiveness Index, etc. They fail in fully measuring the features that characterise a creative economy. There is clearly a pressing need for developing a set of scientific tools to measure the creativity of our cities. Only by doing so could we disentangle the effects of various factors and draw parallels for comparison with our neighbouring cities.

Together with other major cities in Mainland, China, Hong Kong is ready to pursue a creativity agenda - the compilation of a Creativity Index that measures creativity fully, having regard to both the occidental and oriental aspects. Through a common creativity agenda, we believe that we can build up our creative societies and strengthening our creative alliance.

The conceived Creativity Index will be compiled by reference to a wide range of hard data -trade volumes and other statistics, for example - as well as soft, qualitative indicators which measure attitudes and values. In essence, it will consist of "Five Cs", namely, -

(a) creative outputs/outcomes: what are the products and services a city excels at? To what extent creativity and culture adds values to what would otherwise be commodity products? In what way creative approach transforms what used to be ordinary or uninteresting?

(b) human capital: what is the pool of talents of a city? Is there a wide spectrum of talents, each making his or her own unique contribution, that makes a city constantly interesting and full of excitement?

(c) structural/institutional capital: Is there free flow of information, capital and people? Is there solid institutional protection for individual rights and freedom? Is rule of law enforced to the fullest extent? Is there clean and efficient government?

(d) social capital: Is there sufficient stability in a city, both socially and politically? Is there enough respect for people with different tastes and background? Is there peaceful co-existence of people with sharply diverse views and ideas? and

(e) cultural capital: Does a city have a rich and vibrant culture? Can a city be embracing enough to accept and appreciate cultures of different nature, and eventually absorb them, where possible, into its own mainstream culture?

As I said at the beginning of this forum, creativity is not the monopoly of the western world. In designing the Creativity Index, we have, therefore, taken into account the distinct features of oriental values such as harmony, co-existence, discipline and respect for collectivity. This, I believe, will give a fuller picture of creativity, especially for cities in this part of the world. Of course, the underlying values of creativity in its western sense - tolerance, freedom, emphasis on the rights of individuals, etc - are also duly attended to. Through the compilation of the Creativity Index, we aim to measure the upstream values of what makes a city creative in a more balanced manner.

Ladies and gentlemen, in the long history of our humanity, we have gone through various stages: from the initial period when the physically fittest and strongest survived and ruled, then to the age when those who were best at creating wealth surpassed the rest.

But, my dear friends, after these few days of discussions, it has become quite obvious to everyone of us and I can proudly conclude that the 21st century and beyond belongs to you, the creative people among us. You are the ones who know no limits. You are the ones who dream the impossible. You are the ones who venture into the unknown territories of the universe and discover its truths and beauties. You are the ones who, purposely or unknowingly, give rise to ways and reasons to sustain the legacy of our humanity. You are the ones who dare to fly high, reach out your hands, and touch the face of God.

Thank you again for coming to Hong Kong and to this forum. I wish you all a very safe trip home.

Thank you.

Ends/Wednesday, November 17, 2004


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