Nestled along the busy Hennessy Road in Wan Chai, the Foo Tak Building may just look like a regular Chinese tenement block from the outside. But behind this unassuming exterior is actually a vibrant hub for Hong Kong artists.
Built in 1968, the 14-storey tenement block was originally home to residential and commercial units.
But in 2003, the landlord of 20 of the total 28 units approached veteran art worker May Fung about helping artists after learning how many were having difficulties finding spaces they could afford. Fung then suggested turning the units into an artists’ village — which the landlord quickly agreed to — and to do so at a low rent. Shortly after, work began on revitalizing the units.
The arts hub is now managed by non-profit arts organization Art and Culture Outreach (ACO), which was founded by Fung. The organization exercises a low degree of management to leave more room for artists to create and experiment. And over the years, more than 30 groups have resided in the artists’ village.
Unlike its swankier, and perhaps more heavily managed, counterparts, the Foo Tak Building has an authentic and raw feel, which you can experience immediately upon entering. Posters and stickers are freely pasted on walls, notice boards or letter boxes, while pamphlets of upcoming arts events in the city line two cupboards under the letter boxes.
Perhaps the most eye-catching feature is the elevator. Covered with stickers, posters and graffiti from tenants and visitors alike on the outside and inside, it has become a place for many to express themselves.
On the first floor, you can find Word by Word Collective, a bookstore by the eponymous publisher.
Set up by a former editor of Eat and Travel Weekly, a now-defunct food and travel magazine owned by the Next Digital media company, the bookstore focuses on food and epicurean titles, but also features those relating to lifestyle, the arts and travel. Its collection is diverse, ranging from books about local produce and delicacies to those about food culture around the world and even some exploring the politics of food.
The bookstore also sells beautiful ceramic kitchenware sourced from around the world.
On the sixth floor is the ACO Art Space, which regularly holds exhibitions. There is currently one by art magazine Sample, which runs until Nov. 27. Titled “No Editor Here”, the exhibition allows you to experience being in a magazine’s editorial room (without the editors being around). It poses the question of how one should run a magazine (or if there even is a right way of doing so).
While you’re in the Foo Tak Building, don’t miss the bookstore run by ACO on the top floor. It has a diverse range of titles that deal with topics such as the arts, religion, philosophy and literature, as well as quirky stationery. It also has many seats for you to just grab a book and read or chat with fellow bibliophiles.
The space also runs exhibitions and holds events. For example, this one titled “Postcards to Hong Kong” is by Jui Liang, a travel writer and zine publisher from Singapore who wrote postcards to Hong Kong places, documenting his “admiration and affection” for the “complexities and contradictions” of the city from a tourist gaze. You can follow ACO’s Facebook page for the bookstore’s latest events.
There are also many private studios and workspaces in the arts hub. You can check with the tenants to see if they are free for a quick tour or chat, or check out the classes or workshops they offer. They include private studio Sai Sai Sing, independent media outlet inmediahk.net and Sankofa – Hong Kong African Arts & Culture Association.
But perhaps what I like to do most in the Foo Tak Building is just to wander around, not just in the individual units, but also outside and in the stairways, to see the remnants and beauty of how it has evolved through deliberate and non-deliberate interactions with the people who have passed through.
Foo Tak Building, 365-367 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong