Alex Tam

Alex Tam is Centre Executive of the Centre for Research and Development in Visual Arts, which was established by the Academy of Visual Arts in 2013. The Centre’s vision is to promote the advancement of visual arts development in Hong Kong and neighboring regions. One of the key focuses is to bring together various aspects of work at the intersection of academia, art, and society. Alex’s main area of interest is on art projects that engage with issues connected to the notion of history, memory, and place-making. In 2016, he co-founded Play Depot, a community art playground that explores creativity through play; encourages social interaction; enhances social engagement among themselves and with the public realm at large. He is concurrently doing research that examines the critical and creative relationships between built heritage and contemporary art, which explore experimental artistic approaches that promote active civic engagement in heritage sites.

Exploring forms of play in art to open up space for chance creation and interaction

The most pressing crisis facing humanity in the twenty-first century is the increasing tensions of difference. This paper explores the potential for artist-led community playground to generate a safe space and creative hub for creating intercultural and interclass connectedness. It draws on the work of an university-community socially engaged art project, Play Depot, as a case study. It demonstrates the role of socially engaged art in facilitating people’s creativity and dialogue and how it contributes to emergent collaboration towards building common goods. It advocates the importance of playful encounters with difference and examines the processes and strategies used in the project.

Play Depot is an open-for-all community playground based in the Cattle Depot Artist Village at To Kwa Wan, a used-to-be industrial district in Hong Kong, that encourages social interaction and creative play among local residents; enhance social engagement among themselves and with the public realm at large. It was found by a group of artists, art managers and academics in 2016 in response to changing landscape and demographics of the urban environment. The area surrounding the Cattle Depot Artist Village is undergoing redevelopment. Many new immigrants from Mainland China and Southern Asian countries, such as Nepal, Pakistan and India, have settled in the area because of relatively affordable rental rates. Most of them are low-income workers with unstable working status. However, as many new highrise residential and commercial buildings have been built, the problem of gentrification caused by urban redevelopment of the area is conceivable. Apart from that, lots of parks and playgrounds in the area have been turned into construction sites as the construction of metro in that area is still underway. It is noted that the lack of playground area and family friendly facilities is a big concern for the community. 

Through a rolling artist-in-residence programme, each taking 3-month with a different theme and artistic approach, it aims to inspire and motivate people to be creative and imaginative, and explore the potential for socially engaged art practice as a vehicle to generate new collaborations and social interaction. Each artist-in-residence explores new ways to interact with the community and the use of recycled wastes as creative materials for making playful objects through artistic engagement and experimentation. A key aspect of this project is to employ an inclusive approach so as to expand the target group to include participants as diverse as possible, particularly for those who do not have easy access to play or traditionally not been considered to be involved in creative endeavours, such as socially-challenged groups – the elderly, grassroots workers and members of the ethnic minority. Its goal is to create a caring, creative and convivial environment for all people regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, income and educational backgrounds to share the joy of creativity and socialise without a set agenda.

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