Cover An installation view of "Curtain", an exhibition that ran from May 15 to July 25, 2021, at Para Site. (Image: Courtesy of Para Site. Photo: Samson Cheung Choi Sang)

Para Site has launched a series of new grants for artists in Hong Kong and the Philippines

Contemporary arts centre Para Site is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, but the organisation is devoting as much time to looking forward as it is to reflecting on the past. “We have an overall umbrella programme for the anniversary year entitled 25+25,” says Cosmin Costinas, executive director and curator of Para Site and a Gen.T honoree. “It is equally—if not more—important to focus on the future, on how we can continue to serve Hong Kong in the next quarter of a century.”

Para Site is best known for its ambitious exhibitions, which range from in-depth solo shows of local legends, such as its 2019 retrospective of video artist Ellen Pau, to sprawling projects including dozens of artists from around the world. An example of the latter is A Beast, a God and a Line, which featured more than 50 artists from around Asia and was first held in Para Site’s Quarry Bay space before moving on to the Dhaka Art Summit in Bangladesh, the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, Poland, The Secretariat in Yangon, Myanmar, and MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum in Thailand.

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But the organisation supports artists and the art community in other ways, too, including with a string of new grants that it has established as part of its anniversary celebrations. The first of these, the NoExit Grant for Unpaid Artistic Labour, was introduced last year when the organisation gave HK$20,000 each to 25 artists in Hong Kong who were not receiving a stable income from their art or from academic work. “This grant is not focused on tangible outcomes,” says Costinas. “Even prior to the pandemic, crucial parts of the artistic production process went unpaid and unacknowledged. The grant is [intended to support] those sides of artists’ lives that are often overlooked, such as the time to think, to dream, and to trial and err.”

Whatever its original goals, the grant has made concrete, lasting changes in some artists’ lives. “The grant helped me to rent a studio space on Shanghai Street in Mong Kok,” says artist Yiu-wing Kong, who otherwise would have worked in limited space at home.

This year, Para Site is awarding the NoExit Grants to artists in the Philippines, giving 27 artists in the country HK$20,000 each. “We want to acknowledge the deep historical and social connections with one of our closest neighbours and the home country of one of the largest non-Chinese community in Hong Kong,” says Costinas.

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At home, the organisation has created another grant, the 2046 Fermentation + Fellowship Grant, which is aimed at Hong Kong artists who have graduated in the past five years. The “Fermentation” part of the programme pairs these recent graduates with established artists, curators and writers from around Asia who will provide advice and support on how they can develop their work. After that, the grantees can apply for individual fellowships of HK$20,000.

But, of course, Costinas and his team are celebrating how far Para Site has come, too. The ongoing The Archive Project is digitising tens of thousands of images and documents from Para Site’s history, many of which are now available to view for free on the organisation’s website. And on November 25, it is hosting its annual fundraising gala and auction at the St Regis hotel. “There will be amazing artworks generously donated by artists and galleries, a strong sense of community among patrons and arts practitioners, and a genuine passion for creative freedom,” says Costinas.

In 2046, when Para Site will mark its 50th anniversary, Costinas hopes there will be even more reasons to celebrate, and even larger celebrations. “I want people [then] to say that the organisation has just had the best 25 years of its history,” he says.

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