For the past seven years, Julien-Loïc Garin has been spearheading the arts festival Le French May, making it one of Hong Kong’s most anticipated annual events. Garin arrived just in time to celebrate the festival’s 20th anniversary, and has spent the past few years ensuring that the two-month-long event appeals to people of all ages.
“I’d credit the success of the festival to the community,” he says, “since being able to partner with local artists and student programmes has attracted a lot of attention to Le French May because of the people of Hong Kong.”
For some, leaving the manic pace of the city is exactly what they need to feel recharged and energised. The opposite goes for Garin, who’s motivated by Hong Kong’s nonstop lifestyle. “Everyone is always looking for new projects, new ideas and new opportunities, so that’s really something that drives me — the pace,” he says. “Compared to the lethargy or the laissez-faire attitude back home, Hong Kong is so exciting and can-do.”
Now, he finally considers Hong Kong home. “The international, cosmopolitan aspects, where every week you meet people from all over the world for projects, for events, I think that’s something that for me embodies Hong Kong, a cultural melting pot … and hot pot together.”
He feels that the stars were aligned for him, as he arrived here at the perfect time: the arts and cultural scene was exploding, and new galleries were continually popping up, providing momentum that helped the festival become such a success.
“I arrived with the largest-ever Picasso exhibition to headline the festival,” he recalls. “It was a logistics challenge to bring 48 oil paintings and seven sculptures here. The insurance, the packaging, the shipping — do you know how difficult it is to carefully bring The Barefoot Girl, Woman in Red Armchair and Portrait of Dora Maar? I lost so much sleep, but it was worth it as the reception here was incredible.”
Le French May has been able to collaborate with a multitude of institutions and artists, and now receives more support than ever from corporate sponsors. “As with anything,” he says, “finding a venue suitable for all of the performing arts and the exhibitions is especially challenging, given Hong Kong’s competitive nature, the overwhelming costs of renting venues and spaces. I know I’m not alone in this. Rent here is … well, I hate to use the word incredible again, but… ”
He prefers, however, to focus on the positive aspects of the festival rather than the inevitable, inescapable challenges. How, for example, he’s inspired by the young generation that attends the shows. “I have a lot of people saying that they remember Le French May from when they were kids,” he says, “and that started to be the base of their education of art appreciation, so that’s really something we want to continue. For me, I want it to be associated with learning and discoveries and enjoyment, so let’s hope that’s the reality.”
Already preparing for next year’s festival, he has several surprises up his sleeve and plans to keep the momentum going. “I hope it becomes an annual rendezvous where, like other festivals, you really plan out your time come May and June, to make sure you’re here to see the major exhibitions — and some of the great collaborations we have in terms of the performing arts as well.”
Shirt: Garin’s own
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