“I imagine Tatler readers never would’ve heard of YAF.” This unassertive statement is far from characteristic of Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation (HKYAF) founder Lindsey McAlister.
Anyone who has ever met her, let alone worked with her, would be more likely to describe her as a force of nature, both in personality (loud, uninhibited, tactile, very big on eye contact) and physically, her somewhat unruly long, blond curls catching in her mismatched earrings, her wild gesticulations, her boldly patterned outfits giving the impression she’s much taller than she is.
Far more typical is the chutzpah with which she has approached individuals and institutions over the years for funding—entrepreneur philanthropist Robert Miller (and definite member of the Tatler community) is “amazing and very, very generous”; she calls Standard Chartered a “dream partner” and Swire “amazing”—or how she has run projects over the years, from taking over spaces such as Victoria Park and West Kowloon for entire weekends to hold Arts in the Park, to organising apprenticeships for those interested in the technical side of the industry, running intergenerational arts projects with the Hong Kong Jockey Club and staging near-Broadway-worthy musicals.
To call McAlister “passionate” doesn’t even begin to describe the depth of her commitment to what she does; she lives and breathes it. She founded the organisation in 1993, and since then has committed her life to organising projects that allow young people from all cultures, languages, backgrounds and abilities to be involved in something bigger than themselves, and something that reminds them life is about more than grades.
“The arts definitely change lives,” she says. “The kids who are at school in Hong Kong particularly are under such an enormous amount of pressure to be right, and to pass exams and to get qualifications. And I think when they get involved in these sorts of projects, it’s incredibly liberating for them.” And while of course the projects HKYAF runs are arts-focused, they foster life skills such as confidence, communication and creativity.
“The beautiful thing about getting involved in a youth project is we’re not only creating art, and we’re not only giving all these useful skills, we’re also creating communities— and families. We become such a tight-knit family, and those relationships are going to remain for the rest of their lives.”
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