The new Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts in Central has finally been unveiled. Encompassing a former police station, prison, magistracy and living quarters, director Timothy Calnin thinks "for most visitors, the big reveal will be how extensive it is"
What does Tai Kwun hope to achieve overall by blending heritage tours, contemporary and performing arts, F&B and retail?
It's an extraordinary combination where our primary focus is on heritage and the arts, as well as giving audiences wonderful experiences, but supported by a great range of commercial businesses including food and beverage styles at a range of price points. The idea is that we want people to come here frequently, which we would regard as a great indicator of whether we've really captured the imagination of the Hong Kong public.
For example, the Parade Ground is this generous space surrounded by a wonderful collection of different architectural styles from the 1850s to the 1920s. It's a beautiful space for people to wander through - something that's really unexpected in the heart of Central. Around it are three very casual and affordable places with outdoor seating: a Chinese tea house, a Hong Kong canteen and a French cafe. However, if you feel like something at the other end of the spectrum, there's Statement, a fine-dining restaurant operated by Aqua Group.
How is Tai Kwun funded?
From the commercial relationships we have with the tenants - a lot of which will be self-funding - and from our Jockey Club programming budget. The long-term goal is to cultivate knowledge and appreciation of arts and history in Hong Kong.
How did you end up choosing the commercial operators?
The tendering process was quite involved because we were trying to make sure every commercial operator had a distinctive reason for being here. Among the retail outlets, for example, there's a family tailor shop called Eunice Tailor, which used to make the ceremonial uniforms for the police. They were looking to find a new space in Central, so they're moving into the Barracks Block. It's a nice way of keeping that connection with when the site was a fully functioning police station.
What other nightlife will there be and how does it fit with the artistic programs?
We have Madame Fu, a restaurant with lounges, bars and private dining, on the top floor of the former Barracks Block, creating quite funky events involving performances or celebrities. Then there's Dining Concepts' Dragonfly, which is a live music club enclosed within the old Superintendent's House. They have an indoor space and a relaxed outdoor space with tables for live music. We hope they will bring a different kind of visitor again.
The late-night scene has so many possibilities. Music artists who may be doing a performance in the auditorium can go and do a late-night gig in one of the restaurants or bars, so there's a sense of an after-party or a late-night event.
In the galleries themselves, as part of our push to give new experiences to audiences, we're bringing Art After Hours on a Friday night - extending beyond the usual 9 or 10 pm - with some informal entertainment like live music or a relevant film screening, or you might be taken around by the curator or artist. I think that'll have a following of its own. It's that whole "night at the museum" concept - a little bit privileged.
Is symbiosis between art and commerce one of the goals?
We ask what each of these individual businesses can bring to the cultural life of the site to provide a deeper level of public activation. So there's a ceramics company that will hold workshops. There will be chefs holding cooking classes. There's a beautiful Taschen bookshop that will open in the Police Headquarters Building with a great wealth of art publications. They'll host talks by authors or artists as part of their program and we'll factor that into ours as well.
An exciting prospect is visitors coming in with the expectation that they're going to see a heritage site and getting distracted. It might be a film screening at the Laundry Steps' casual semi-outdoor cinema; they might drop into the galleries and see something unexpected; or somebody going to dinner might join a tour and hear some of the extraordinary stories told through the heritage interpretation around the site. It's those sorts of things that I think will make it a place that people will come back to, time and again.