Michael Lynch, chief executive officer of Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA) announced his resignation on February 10, cutting short his second-term with the organization, which would have held him at post until mid-2016. He is set to leave his position on August 3, 2015.
At the press conference in West Kowloon, the 64-year-old Australian cited that his decision to take an early retirement was made so that he could spend more time with his family and his wife—arts administrator Chrissy Sharp—who has been ill.
Since first being appointed CEO of WKCDA in 2011, Lynch has successfully pushed forward crucial stages of the cultural district’s development—foreseen to be one of the largest art precincts in the world at 40 hectares—from securing budgets to spearheading the building construction. In 2013, under Lynch’s leadership, the Xiqu Centre for traditional Chinese performance art was the first building to commence construction within the WKCD, despite cuts to its original budget. The long overdue M+, Hong Kong’s visual culture museum anticipated to be on par with London’s Tate Modern and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, also started foundation work in August 2014 and is slated to open at the end of 2018.
Sharing the podium with Lynch during the conference, chief secretary and WKCDA chairman Carrie Lam praised Lynch for his accomplishments during his four-year tenure: “The WKCD is a highly complicated and unique project, reflecting the HKSAR Government’s commitment to arts and cultural development in Hong Kong.” She added, “Mr. Lynch embraces fully the project’s vision to create a vibrant cultural quarter for Hong Kong where the local arts scene can interact, develop and collaborate.”
On the same day, WKCDA board member Tsang Tak-sing, who is also Hong Kong’s secretary for home affairs, congratulated Lynch on his initiatives to support cultural programming for the community in parallel with his role in establishing infrastructure: “Mr. Lynch, though an expatriate, fully and passionately embraces Chinese culture, as seen in the promotion of Cantonese opera. The West Kowloon Bamboo Theatre and the Rising Stars series, spearheaded by Mr. Lynch in collaboration with the industry’s stakeholders, have developed into flagship programs of the WKCDA and an important platform for nurturing young talents in Cantonese opera.”
Lynch’s ambitions led to the creation of outdoor programs such as the Bamboo Theatre (which features Chinese opera) and Freespace Fest, a free music and arts festival, which are a few of many notable contributions he made to WKCD. In an interview from 2011, just a few months after his initial arrival to Hong Kong, Lynch stated: “I want to really build the idea of doing things outside, which seems to be a difficult problem in Hong Kong. I really want to establish on the site the sense that things happen in the daytime, night time, inside, outside—and that’s what I mean by creating a place that’s for everyone.”
Previously the chief executive of the Sydney Opera House (1998–2002), London’s Southbank Centre (2002–09) and director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (2009–11), Lynch assumed his role in Hong Kong after two WKCDA executive officers stepped down prematurely: Angus Cheng Siu-chuen, former Disney executive, who notoriously left after one week on the job in 2009, and Graham Sheffield, previously of London’s Barbican Centre, who tendered his resignation after five months.
WKCDA has already begun its recruitment for the next CEO and is set to create a committee to help sift through the selection process.
Sylvia Tsai is associate editor at ArtAsiaPacific.