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The Headlines

Cultural Management?

Not a Contradiction in Terms at All!

Prof. Sidney C.H. Cheung

According to some statistics on programme choice modifications released after this year’s Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSE) results had been announced, Cultural Management made it to the five most competitive CUHK programmes (see table) for the first time and ranked second. Are there so many arts and culture aficionados among the millennial HKDSE candidates? What is cultural management all about, and why is it being so much sought after?


Number of Applicants

Intake Quota

Competition Ratio

P.E., Exercise Science and Health




Cultural Management




Liberal Studies




Japanese Studies




Fine Arts




*The five most competitive CUHK programmes in terms of Band A applicants after JUPAS programme choice modifications


Culture as Public Property

Prof. Sidney C.H. Cheung, director of CUHK’s Bachelor of Arts (BA) Programme in Cultural Management, said the study of cultural management is not confined to one realm of knowledge but is underpinned by the notion of ‘publicness’. ‘As human society evolved from a monarchical society with clear class distinctions to an open civil society, space and institutions such as finance have been opening up for public participation and management. Viewed this way, cultural management’s mission is to emancipate art from being a mere coterie interest and promote it to the public.’

Established in 2012, the University’s BA Programme in Cultural Management is an interdisciplinary discipline that encompasses commerce, fine arts, music, history and anthropology among other subjects. Professor Cheung explained, ‘Students are to take two introductory courses in management and marketing at the Faculty of Business Administration, then the remainder is devoted to the core subjects in cultural management. The curriculum comprises the management of museums and cultural heritage, art history and appreciation, and the management and promotion of arts and cultural events. Each area is taught by well-qualified teachers.’

Keeping Pace with Society

That the curriculum was born out of Hong Kong’s need to develop culture means that its content ties closely into society. Culture is not just knowledge in textbooks; rather it consists in the throbbing processes in society which require students to walk out of the classroom, roll up their sleeves and engage in them up close and personal. Professor Cheung added that the programme would furnish students with ample internship and cultural exchange opportunities. In the past, Cultural Management majors had gone to the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and Gwangju for cultural exchanges, where they got to observe the artists’ nurturing and tour around the performing arts venues to understand how art and society can relate organically to each other.

Cultural Agency

Amy Tong, a Year 3 student in Cultural Management, was in the arts stream in high school. She was introduced to the programme on the University’s Orientation Day. Its novel combination of culture and management made her, then a Form 4 student, determined to get into the programme. ‘The first impression I had was that this programme has a good mix of arts and business elements. Straddling the two fields made it look “safer” on the career path.’

After two years of study, Amy has gained a deeper understanding of the subject. She described cultural management as an enterprise that bridges the artist and the audience, and a labour of love that makes people’s dream come true. Cultural managers are frequently hailed as a ‘bridge’ or ‘mediator’, as they bring arts and culture to bear on all walks of life.

Same as Professor Cheung, Amy emphasized that it is a must for Cultural Management students to be in the world. While the programme can equip one with all sorts of cultural theories, one has to go into society to observe, practise and verify what one has learnt. ‘It is interesting to observe the workings of different cultural organizations. We can also compare them to what is laid down in the books.’ During her two years at CUHK, Amy earnestly participated in and organized various arts and cultural activities on and off campus, including I·CARE Hong Kong Cultural Tours Project, Lumieres Hong Kong Festival and HKwalls Festival, to name just a few.

Amy Tong <em>(left)</em> undertakes an internship with HKwalls Festival

She recalled a tour guiding experience at Art Next Expo, which opened her eyes to the difficulties a cultural manager may come across. ‘It was an art expo where the artist was present. As a tour guide, I had to talk with him and learn of his views ahead. However, the artist insisted that he did not want me to elaborate much, but rather let the audience experience the work for itself.’ During the tour, she had to perform a fine balancing act between the artist’s reticence and the audience’s hunger for information, and therein lies the fun and challenges a cultural manager would encounter as a cultural mediator.

Cultural Management as Vocation

In Hong Kong, pursuing a career in arts and culture is deemed by many to be noble but doomed. Amy admitted her family had suggested her to choose other programmes with more lucrative prospects. Yet she insists that interest should always come first, and that with interest, happiness would never be a question. The immense satisfaction Amy wore on her face proves it is a right decision: ‘Towards the end of an exhibition at Tai Kwun, my explanation for an artwork could easily last for as long as five minutes, at which the audience was all amazed. But my thorough knowledge was indeed founded on my conversations with colleagues and artists, as well as audience’s responses. The precious interactions between man and art and between curator and audience are what goes beyond money.’


Reported by Amy L., with interviews conducted by Christine H.

This article was originally published in No. 525, Newsletter in Oct 2018.

CUHK programmes undergraduate programmes JUPAS Fine Arts cultural management Sidney Cheung