Interview: Eddie Lui steps down as JCCAC chief

Interview: Eddie Lui steps down as JCCAC chief

CNNGo chats with sculptor Eddie Lui who transformed an abandoned factory into a bustling arts hub
Eddie Lui and his sculptures fired in special kilns in Foshan that bring the clay's minerals to the surface.
The Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre (JCCAC) will be throwing the doors open to its artists' studios this weekend. For JCCAC Executive Director Eddie Lui, the open studios event will mark a countdown to his last day on the job on February 2nd.

Lui, 62, a prominent painter and sculptor, with a background in banking, was hired in 2005 to oversee the JCCAC's conversion from an old factory building to a bright, airy sanctuary for the arts.

After slowly building its events calendar over the past year, the JCCAC finally seems to have established itself as an indispensable part of Hong Kong's arts community, even after it was initially dismissed by many as out-of-the-way and underfunded. According to Lui, 6,000 people came to the last open studio event and on any weekend, about 1,000 people visit out of their own interest.

CNNGo chats with Lui to find out just what it's like to spearhead a huge arts project like the JCCAC.

CNNGo: Is the JCCAC today how you imagined it would become?

JCCACJockey Club Creative Arts CentreEddie Lui: There's a nice atmosphere here now. People yell at each other across the atrium -- we're getting back some of that old public housing feeling. When I started this I had a dream of artists collaborating with each other in a one-stop art-making centre, where people can help each other build things, photographers can take photos of the work, and the galleries downstairs can promote it to the public. That's already starting to happen. The artists here are starting to experience what it's like to be in an arts hub.

CNNGo: When the JCCAC first opened, it was criticized for the low rate of attendance and lack of promotional events. What was going on?

LuiThere was a mismatch of expectations. The reality is most artists have day jobs. When it comes to their art, Saturday and Sunday are their best working days. But the weekend is also when most of the public visits, so some artists got annoyed with all the visitors. But since then, the public has become more sensitive. They're aware that this isn't a shopping mall and they need to be respectful of the artists.

The tenants also realize that by being here and working in cheap space in the centre, they're obligated to connect with the community. I don't mean to preach, but it really is an obligation. We can't afford to be detached and live in our own world. Art needs to reach the public.

CNNGo: How does the JCCAC fit into the development of Hong Kong?

LuiThe potential of this place is enormous. Hong Kong is at a turning point when it comes to renovating old buildings. It's not always easy to use an old building, it causes so many headaches, but we need it to link back to the wisdom of the past. We need it to help us build something that can show people how Hong Kong is unique, how it has qualities that can't be replaced by other Chinese from the mainland, Taiwan or Southeast Asia.

CNNGo: Is there anything you still wish you could do for JCCAC?

LuiWe haven't yet been able to do a full range of artists-in-residence programs. We'd like to collaborate with overseas cultural bodies like the Alliance Française or the British Council to exchange artists between Hong Kong and those countries. But we don't have any funding for that -- 90 percent of our money comes from rent paid by the tenants.

CNNGo: So what's next for you?

LuiThe SCMP reported that I'm suffering from burnout, but I'm not burned out, I'm still alive and kicking. I'm looking forward to contributing to art as a producer rather than a provider. Nobody believes me when I say I'm going back to my studio. They think I'm going for a position with West Kowloon [Cultural District], Create HK, the Arts Centre. I'm not. Management is very demanding and I just wanted to get back to my artwork.

See all details for the JCCAC open studios event on CNNGo, and on

Christopher DeWolf is a writer, photographer and self-styled flâneur.
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