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Feature Stories

Arts and Culture in Old Urban Districts Strengthen Communities with Local Charms

H18 photo wallOriginal works courtesy of Vanessa Leung, Ruf Chan, Vincent Wong, Cynthia Lau, Brenda Hui and Josephine Leung.

As our society advances, people’s expectations of urban regeneration are continuously rising: apart from the provision of essential hardware including building facilities that meet modern standards supplemented by smart management systems, ample green and pedestrian space, and well-connected transportation networks, additional software or people elements are necessary for creating a liveable community. Besides cultivating neighbourhood bonds, the community is also in need of establishing its own identity with residents who recognise the local characteristics and culture.

As Russian writer Leo Tolstoy said art is “the mirror of life” and “the transmission of feeling”, it is believed that through the integration of arts and cultural elements in urban renewal, citizens could rediscover local characteristics, appreciate the details of their living environment and connect with each other thereby strengthening their sense of community belonging and enhancing their living quality. To this end, the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) has launched the “Arts and Cultural Partnership Programme in Old Urban Districts: Pilot Scheme” (ACPP) since 2011, and partnered with various non-profit organisations to host a variety of arts and cultural programmes over the years enriching the old urban districts with arts and cultural experiences. To date, the scheme has sponsored a total of 61 arts and cultural events, benefiting more than 670,000 residents in the old districts.

To add more colours and vibrancy to old urban areas, the ACPP Scheme is set to invite more partners in the coming years for hosting more exciting programmes for residents in the old districts! 

Appreciating the Beauty of To Kwa Wan Through Photographic Eyes

discussBruchi Nam, Director (Property & Land) of the URA (1st from left), teaches  photography skills and invites learners to appreciate the surroundings from new perspectives.

"When it comes to good photography, what matters most is to take pictures with your heart and emotions, regardless of your age, qualification and race. A photo that strikes a chord and touches people’s hearts is a great one," said Bruchi Nam, Director (Property & Land) of the URA, who has been deeply engrossed in photography for many years. In November last year he spent time coaching more than a hundred participants including some local residents on photography skills, as well as leading tours around To Kwa Wan and teaching them how to appreciate the surroundings from new perspectives.

Sponsored by ACPP of the URA, the programme, which comprises of photography workshops and in-the-field shooting, was organised by KUNST, a non-profit-making arts group, with an aim to display the unique landscape of To Kwa Wan through photography and place-making initiatives. The programme allowed residents to re-acquaint with and cherish the place where they live, in addition to strengthening their bonding with the community and injecting vitality to the old urban district through arts and cultural activities.

pplThe project leader Jeanne says To Kwa Wan is a unique place integrating both old and new characteristics.

Selected Works from the Programme

photo wallstudyParticipants listen carefully to David’s (the standing person) sharing on photography skills.

Jeanne Chan, the programme leader, said, "To Kwa Wan is a unique place with rich history and culture, integrating both old and new characteristics. We bring together people from different areas to To Kwa Wan where they can pay attention to the environment and express their feelings using photography as the art form. We hope that through these activities, residents of To Kwa Wan and beyond will deepen their understanding of the community."

While it may be challenging for newbies to take photographs skilfully instead of just casually snapping shots, special training sessions were organised for the participants before shooting in the field. From an introduction of the various functions of a digital camera and tips on choosing the right camera lens, to basic knowledge and skills of photography such as the "exposure triangle" (aperture, shutter speed and ISO), participants have gained a lot of knowledge including different rules of compositions, framing and lighting. David Lam, the workshop instructor, said, "People generally prefer using automatic exposure, but I would encourage shooting in manual mode. After all it should be us to manipulate the camera rather than the camera controlling us."

Participants were eager to put their knowledge into practice after grasping the skills. On the day of field workshop, they visited many scenic spots in To Kwa Wan, including the Grade Two historic site of Cattle Depot Artists Village, one of the landmarks of To Kwa Wan - Hoi Sham Park, as well as the Thirteen Streets area which has a history of more than 50 years.  While learners were busy framing for their pictures that day, Bruchi shared some of his tips, "Wide shots are good, yet don’t forget to take some close-ups. Photogenic objects are everywhere in To Kwa Wan, like the artworks in Cattle Depot Artists Village. If you are creative enough you’d be able to discover the various images of the same object that can be shot from different angles and positions."

For residents who have lived in the community for many years and become very familiar with the neighbourhood, there were new delights when they started to look at the surroundings through their photographic eyes. Mr Tse, who lives in To Kwa Wan, said, "I seldom take pictures, and haven’t been paying much attention to my community. Yet when I watched closely, I realised that there were many beautiful scenes in To Kwa Wan worth capturing with my camera."

Besides experiencing the joy of photography, by joining the workshop some participants who used to live in To Kwa Wan District were also able to return to where they grew up and re-establish their connection with the community. Clara, a primary student in To Kwa Wan more than 50 years ago, was busy taking pictures with her camera on the interview day. "The Cattle Depot was a slaughterhouse when I was a small child. Although I have moved out, I have always wanted to come back to check it out after the revitalisation. Today I finally have the chance to revisit the old place, and I will definitely come back again in the future!” said Clara.

Amidst the incessant sound of camera shutters in the shooting field, participants joyfully recorded different images of To Kwa Wan with their cameras. "I have never noticed those seemingly ordinary and subtle things in the community before, which through the camera lens, are in fact so beautiful!" one of the participants Ms Chan said with a smile.  

To allow these photos taken by the participants to be shared with the neighbours of To Kwa Wan, the organiser has held an open street exhibition at the junction of Kai Ming Street and Wing Kwong Street in To Kwa Wan District (which is the site of URA’s Kai Ming Street Redevelopment Project) from January to mid-May this year, displaying a collection of more than 80 works. Members of the local community were able to appreciate these ingenious photos on the exhibition panels as they walked pass, and enjoyed the distinctive scenery of To Kwa Wan captured with photographic eyes. 

take photoBesides photo-shooting, participants who used to live in To Kwa Wan district are able to return to the old community and re-establish their connections with it.