University of the Arts London (UAL) alumni, students and prospective students joined a distinguished panel of creative industry experts as they took part in a lively discussion and networking evening centred on Hong Kong’s creativity, at Lane Crawford’s stunning Home Store & Showroom.

UAL’s Hong Kong Alumni Association’s inaugural Creative Debate was hosted by UAL Pro Vice-Chancellor and Head of London College of Communication, Natalie Brett, who chaired the discussion with five leading creative industries figures; Joanna Gunn (Chief Brand Officer, Lane Crawford), Aric Chen (Curator for Design & Architecture, M+), Johanna Ho (Founder and Fashion Designer), Nathalie Melville (Founder, Hatton Studios) and Leo P H Chan (Creative Director, On Your Mark Design Laboratory).

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When people think of Hong Kong they no doubt think of the glitzy lights of the colossal skyscrapers, the cosmopolitan population and high-end shops at every turn. All primarily thanks to its reputation as an international hub for the business and financial sectors. Underneath it all, does Hong Kong also have a creative heart?

2500 UAL graduates call Hong Kong their home and 500 current students at UAL have come from Hong Kong, which suggests that it does! Recent figures also show the number of creative start-ups in Hong Kong are increasing and many once abandoned buildings are turning into studios and co-working spaces for designers and artists. The government is showing signs of seeing the benefits of the arts as it is currently investing billions of dollars into the redevelopment of West Kowloon, turning the area into a cultural district to home various indoor and outdoor arts venues. It will also be the location of M+, a mega museum to show off the best of Asia’s design and architecture, not due to open until 2019 but already gathering a reputation as Asia’s equivalent of MOMA, V&A and Pompidou Centre.

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However, is this enough to encourage and develop a local creativity? Like in most cities across the globe, there are barriers deterring many young artists and designers from taking those first steps into the industry. Once they have started, is there enough continuing support from the government, big brands and funders? Does the creative community need to work harder together in order to flourish? These are some of the questions Natalie posed to the panel.

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The Panel: (L-R – Natalie Brett, Leo P H Chan, Johanna Ho, Nathalie Melville, Aric Chen and Joanna Gunn)

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Each member made interesting contributions based on their own experiences and shared solutions as well as some of the difficulties they have come across. Nathalie Melville herself has overcome the issues of finding space and increasing rent costs to establish Hatton Studios, offering fellow jewellers gallery space, bench and equipment rental and specialist courses.

Joanna Gunn gave examples of how big brands such as Lane Crawford have been nurturing emerging artists by bringing their designs to a wide audience. Johanna Ho told the audience about an exciting project she has launched with internationally acclaimed sports giant Puma. For this collaboration Johanna up-cycles vintage classic Puma tracksuits, allowing her to promote a subject close to her heart, sustainable fashion.

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Joanna Gunn (Chief Brand Officer, Lane Crawford)

Leo P H Chan emphasised the importance of cross-disciplinary collaboration amongst the creative community in terms of opening up support networks and sharing opportunities for promotion. Aric Chen brought his international experience working in China, Europe and the US to the discussions when asked what Hong Kong can learn from others. He also spoke about the exciting opportunities the opening of M+ can bring to Hong Kong’s creatives.

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Guests at UAL’s Creative Debate at the Lane Crawford Home Store & Showroom

Natalie Brett thanked Lane Crawford for all the support they have given UAL, not only for generously allowing UAL to again take over their Home Store & Showroom but for their ongoing support for our current students through scholarships.

Interesting conversations continued between guests and the panel over drinks and an interactive light display by Central Saint Martins alumnus Barney McCann, which you can watch via the Hong Kong Alumni Associations official Facebook Group.

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Guests at UAL’s Creative Debate at the Lane Crawford Home Store & Showroom

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Sarah Williamson, Co-President of UAL’s Hong Kong Alumni Association, with guests

The evening was a great opportunity to bring our Hong Kong based alumni together and introduce them to members of the Hong Kong Alumni Association Committee. Committee Members encouraged everyone to connect and come forward with their suggestions for future events and ways to collaborate and share opportunities. Get in touch via the Facebook group or email the committee at ualhk.alumni@gmail.com

See more photos from the night via our Facebook page 

Find out more about UAL’s international Alumni Associations