Our series of online people profiles covers a wide range of backgrounds, careers and personalities of individuals in Hong Kong. In this instalment, we chat with the founder of the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation (HKYAF), Lindsey McAlister, about her love of the arts and her latest creative venture.
Tell us a bit about your background – where you’re from and what led you to HK.
I’m originally from Southport in North West England. I was the child who sang in front of the mirror with her hairbrush, choreographed dance routines with her dolls, and cut out magazine images to create characters and dialogue. But as I came from a family of non-artists (Mum was a civil servant and Dad was ex-military and ran a plastics factory!), my “talents” were ignored, ha!
At age 11, I was given a little more independence and used it to secretly audition for a local am-dram musical. I was given a role in the chorus – and that was it; I was hooked on theatre! After doing appallingly at school, I went to Art College and took theatre as a side subject… and I thrived.
I’ve always liked starting things, and straight after graduating with a BA Hons in Creative Arts, I formed a theatre company called Talking Pictures. This led first to me working for 489 Theatre Company in Liverpool, and then to joining Cheshire Dance Workshop as an Arts Animateur. A year later, I moved to Anglesey to become an artist-in-residence at the Menai Centre. That’s where I met Peter, my first husband. At the time, I was also working for the Gulbenkian Foundation and the Arts Council of Great Britain as an arts educator.
When did you move to this part of the world?
In 1985, we left the UK to travel in Southeast Asia. After the most incredible year of adventure, we arrived in Hong Kong in 1986, with the intention of going back to resume life in the UK. But the moment my foot touched HK soil, I had the “angel choir moment” and a voice told me that I’d been brought here to make magic. So I immediately called the Arts Council and told them I wasn’t coming back!
What was it like starting out in HK?
In the early days, it was hard making ends meet. Peter began his photography business (which is still going strong today) and I taught English and choreographed fashion shows… not the magic I envisioned! Once we were on our feet, I started looking for arty opportunities and was offered an Artist-in-Residence role at Quarry Bay School.
I loved working there but felt that I was missing out on the “real” HK. I wanted the chance to work with local kids as well as expats, so I gave in my notice and started a number of youth projects including the Scrambled Legs dance company!
This opened my eyes to possibilities and to where the magic might be hiding; in 1993, I started the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation (HKYAF/YAF).
What is HKYAF?
It’s a charity that provides high-quality, non-competitive and free-of-charge arts experiences for young people aged 5 to 25. We organise inclusive and inspirational projects that reach out to young people of all cultures, backgrounds, languages and abilities, and we create opportunities for disadvantaged and underprivileged young people.
What came next?
At the same time as creating HKYAF, Peter and I created Sam, our son. My relationship with Peter sadly ended but we remain good friends and he is still in HK.
In 2002, I met Donald. I fell through a trapdoor in a theatre and he was the surgeon who mended my face – it was “love at first stitch”! We married in 2014.
And now you’ve started a new venture?
I continue to work with the Foundation but have now reinvented myself in my early 60s as a visual artist. I actually started out as a visual artist making 2D and then 3D works, and then I moved onto kinetic sculptures, and then dancers and actors. My HKYAF work is mainly in the Performing Arts; I write, direct and choreograph. But now I’ve gone full circle back to my roots and have launched my new brand, Crafty Bitch.
Sam recently vacated the family home “to adult”, which meant that his bedroom became available. It got transformed into my art studio within days! With Crafty Bitch, I’ve been drawn to explore mixed media creation. For me, this is the visual arts equivalent of creating a piece of theatre by layering elements and combining textures and images. Creativity is about the way in which we interpret the world. It’s about how we think. And what we do with that information.
I’m a mixed media/collage artist – I blend multiple genres of visual art to produce exciting combinations of images, materials, and textures. I use motivational and inspirational quotes and text in my work to empower and inspire. My current work is based on a series of small pieces using tarot and playing cards as a canvas. The beauty of the arts is starting with a blank page (or stage) and filling it with ideas and creativity. By experimenting and exploring, we create magical and emotive accidents.
What have been the surprises and challenges of doing business in HK?
I’m very early into my Crafty Bitch business, so I’m still learning lots. People have been super supportive and helpful. I’ve used my learning from HKYAF to some extent but have had a few major learning curves. These have included creating a website and online portfolio, for example, leaning how to create digital as well as handmade collage, marketing myself on social media… I love learning new things!
Give us an insight into a typical working day for you.
A “typical” Crafty Bitch day wouldn’t be a whole day as I balance my HKYAF work with my “bitchyness”. I wake at six-ish as Donald leaves for work at that unearthly hour! I usually exercise by walking up a steep hill outside our Sai Kung home. I may work on some art before leaving home around 10 or 11 to go into the office. Then it’s all about HKYAF until around 9.30pm – particularly at the moment as I’m directing “I’mperfect”, our big end of year show. When I get home, I will work for an hour or so on my art. I usually have time on a Friday in the studio, which is when most of the artwork gets done.
What neighbourhood do you currently live in, and why did you choose it?
We live in Greenfield Village, Ngau Liu Village, Sai Kung. We chose it because our house had so many possibilities.
What are some things you like about your neighbourhood?
Our neighbours, our neighbours and … our neighbours! Also, the fact that it’s so green and the air is fresh. I also love Sai Kung town, especially our temple!
Describe your home to us.
It’s a village house with a façade that’s painted bright orange, and blue roof tiles. The neighbours call it “The Carnival House”, allegedly! Every room is a bright clashy colour combination and all the walls are festooned with art and objects we’ve collected on our travels. It’s VERY eclectic! Our bedroom is bright orange too, and I have all my crazy jewellery displayed as wall art. you’d either love it or hate it!
Outside of work, what are your hobbies in Hong Kong?
My work is my hobby: I love creating theatre and visual art. I have been incredibly fortunate to make my passion my profession!
Quick questions about Hong Kong: what is your favourite …
Casual restaurant? Bones & Blades in Sai Kung
Date night restaurant/bar? Café Gray Deluxe at The Upper House (sadly no more)
Bar? The Feather Boa
Local food? Dim Sum!
Thing to do with visitors? Tram ride
Thing to do with kids? My son’s 31, so probably not the right demographic to answer this one, ha!
Nearby holiday destination? Bali, for sure!
See more of Lindsey’s work at craftybitchhk.com.
Like this? See more people stories in our Living in Hong Kong section!