MUSEUM 2050 Dispatches

Updates from Asia Society Hong Kong Center

S. Alice Mong

After almost a year and half into this global pandemic, I am amazed that ASHK was able to be open for about 2/3 of the time, opened 2 beautiful exhibitions, welcomed over 17,000 visitors, over 500,000 online viewers and hosted 2 successful virtual galas! One of my mottos has always been when life throws you lemons, make lemonade. It has been a time of experimentation, especially as we migrated online in a big way. It started on Feb. 14, 2020 when we hosted our first Covid-19 update online inviting Prof. Ben Cowling, Head of the Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at The University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health. The goal of the series was to talk to local and global experts to learn about the evolving virus. 30 episodes later, we are still at it as this virus is not disappearing anytime soon.

ASHK, as a non-profit educational institution with programs focused on business & policy, arts & culture, it was vital on the business & policy front that we do our part to shed light of the evolvement of Covid-19 which has transformed our lives. On the arts & culture front, it was figuring out how to be of use to the Hong Kong community in uplifting people’s spirit and also figuring out how we can help artists, both performing and visual artists. Although we have a beautiful site with a gallery, theatre and multi-purpose hall, it was not easy sharing it with the ever changing social distancing rules and public gathering protocol. It was not enough just to have a plan B when planning exhibition or events, but there is plan C, D, etc. with the various waves of the pandemic. Although Hong Kong technically has had 4 waves of the pandemic, the number of cases and deaths compared to other similar-sized cities, has been minimal. However all the uncertainties of this past year is taking its toll on people’s mental health and with a low vaccination rate of less than 30%, it does not look like we will be traveling outside of Hong Kong in the near future. Hence we have all taken advantage of Hong Kong’s country parks and hikes and welcomed the recent reopening of arts & culture institutions like museums and performance venues. ASHK has opened up our venue to concerts for young people, welcomed local jazz musicians and performers, put on film screenings, site specific dance performances and more. On the exhibition front, we hosted a Hong Kong contemporary art exhibition entitled “Next Act” and currently “Extended Figures: The arts and inspiration of Lalan”, born Xie Jing-lan (1921-1995), nicknamed Lalan, who was a Chinese-French inspirational figure whose legacy lies in the art form known as integrated art, incorporating painting, music, and dance.

On a personal level, it was a very challenging year, not having been able to see my family in the US for over 14 months. When I finally got to travel back to the US in early April, it was to say goodbye to my ailing father. I, at least, got a chance to say goodbye to my father. I had so many friends who weren’t so lucky with quarantine rules in UK, Canada and Hong Kong. When returning to Hong Kong in late April, the 21-day quarantine, the longest anywhere in the world, was surprisingly easy thanks to the support of friends who made the quarantine bearable. Thanks to technology, I was able to host online programs and communicate with my colleagues easily and was actually quite productive. Coming out of quarantine in time for Art Basel HK and Art Central, it was great to see how the Hong Kong art community came together to celebrate the arts and the community. Hong Kong has proved itself to be quite resilient and although we may still have a long road ahead to get to herd immunity in Hong Kong, I am optimistic that we will come out of the pandemic stronger as a community and the renewed appreciation of the role of arts and creativity to get us through it all.

Last week ASHK held its first ever virtual arts & culture gala and thanks to the support of 45 artists, we were able to do an online auction of their art works with 50% of the proceed directly benefiting the artists. The auction was a success and it allowed us a new way to engage our friends and supporters, both locally and globally. Let’s not waste this pandemic and let’s use it to help us reframe and reimagine our world for a better future!

About the Author:

S. Alice Mong became the Executive Director of Asia Society Hong Kong Center (ASHK) in August of 2012. Prior to ASHK, she worked in New York for almost a decade in the non-profit sector in senior management position. While in New York, Mong was the Director of the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) from 2009 till 2011. She left MOCA in July 2011 after successfully transforming the museum from a New York Chinatown institution to becoming a leading national museum. She is a graduate of Ohio State University and received her EMBA from Kellogg and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

About the Series:

Museum 2050 has always been about bringing people together through our community’s shared passion for museums and institutional development. As the world slowly and carefully starts reopening, we are checking in weekly with various members of our broader network to share personal reflections, anecdotes and musings about how they and their institutions have been operating in the face of this pandemic. In these incredibly difficult times for all, we hope that these brief vignettes from around the world bring us closer together, and remind us that even when the world stops and museum doors close, we still persevere.