Hong Kong gallery founder lets artists blossom
Many Hong Kong people consider a career in art to be an uphill battle and opt instead to put their interest aside in favour of jobs that actually make money.
Tree Tree Tes, founder of the Hong Kong Independent Dreamer (HKID) gallery, however, refuses to let the passion and talent of local artists go unnoticed. Her gallery is an art store that exhibits and sells the works of local artists, making it a vital platform for artists to showcase their talent. Having started out as a tiny gallery in Tsim Sha Tsui, HKID now has six outlets at major shopping malls in Hong Kong.
Why do you call yourself Tree Tree?
I think my diverse interest in art is like the branches of a tree stretching out in every direction. I enjoy drama, paintings and various aspects of art. I also like my name to be simple, with only one syllable.
How did you come up with the idea for the HKID gallery?
I worked as a graphic designer in the publishing sector for a number of years before my husband urged to me open an art business with him. He doesn’t like me working night shifts, which happens often in publishing.
My husband and I went to a trade show in Thailand and bought some products to sell back in Hong Kong. We went from shop to shop, asking if they were interested in letting us sell our products. The results were dismaying.
Finally, LCX in Tsim Sha Tsui agreed to co-operate with us, but it turned out to be a disaster as our costs were so high and we were losing money every month. We had to terminate our contract with LCX early because we were losing so much.
Then a local artist asked to collaborate with us at a shop in another mall in Tsim Sha Tsui. The place was huge so we still had lots of space to fill after displaying our products from Thailand. I knew several passionate artists from a drama group who often displayed their works in flea markets, so I thought: why not invite them to display some of their pieces?
What impact has the success of the gallery had on the local art scene?
There is no doubt that local artists get minimal support from the government. Local artists can be quite helpless but HKID shows that if you stick to your dream and are persistent, opportunities will present themselves. HKID stands for Hong Kong Independent Dreamer – you must dare to dream big!
We started with a shop in Tsim Sha Tsui with works by 50 artists. Three months into the business, the Peak Galleria contacted us in the hope of collaborating in opening a gallery to display local art. We now have six galleries around Hong Kong.
Local malls are filled with mass-produced work. But I want visitors to see something unique. Handmade “Made in Hong Kong” products are amazing.
How can local artists get involved?
We do not have a high entrance requirement for joining the gallery. If you are able to convince me that you are creative and have a passion for art, we will display your work.
Another criterion is that it has to be handmade. The idea is to attract people from all walks of life to showcase their talent. Some are amateur artists wanting to have fun, and some are people in full-time employment hoping to switch to art one day. We have an 80-year-old lady displaying paper dolls. We basically welcome anyone who shares our passion for art.
Since most artists are amateurs, we provide support for them to better promote their products and advise them on how to display and package their art pieces.
We now have 300 artists working with us and another 100 on our waiting list applying to collaborate with us. To cater for the demand I plan to open three more galleries this year.
What have you learned though your transition from designer to businesswoman?
I now spend most of my time managing shops and doing promotion work.
My husband and I are hands-on when it comes to setting up shops. We do all the renovation work ourselves.
I also pay regular visits to shops. I make it a commitment to bring my staff some snacks whenever I visit shops. It is nothing fancy but I think it is a nice gesture to show staff that their efforts are being appreciated. This is my way of managing people.