Creative City, the greatest cultural challenge for Macau


Undoubtedly, António Conceição Jr is one of the most comprehensive and talented Macanese artists, as well as an unavoidable personality within Macau’s cultural panorama.
His creativity is well represented in Macau’s life over the last 30 years, be it through philatelic stamps that he frequently designed, or the logos that help identify diverse public services and institutions and even the pataca coins that still widely circulate in this territory.
Although he possesses an extensive and dynamic curriculum – and having already experimented in the Cultural field whatever there was to experiment with in Macau and abroad, Conceição Jr keeps a low profile attitude. Yet, he never withheld his opinion about Macau’s daily life and problems.
That is clear once again in the interview he gave to the Macau Daily Times. An interview where he stresses that Macau “is the Place where people are allowed the possibilities to live their dreams and aspirations, discuss their ideas, access all forms of information towards a deeper Education and even tell and relive their memories, because Man is Memory...”
While focusing primarily in cultural matters, António Conceição Jr also comments about the influence – and consequences – of the proliferation of casinos in Macau and presents in detail his concept of a Creative city.


Antonio Conceição Jr’s profile in arts and citizenship is too extensive, diversified and complex to fit into a daily news page.
The artist who will turn 60 in December this year graduated with distinction in Creative Arts and design at the prestigious Escola Superior de Belas Artes (ESBAL) in Lisbon.
Painter, illustrator, photographer, graphic designer, but also an interiors, exhibitions and fashion designer, Conceição Jr has held various offices since 1978, as a local cultural leader. He was the curator of the former Camões Museum – located in the now Casa Garden – and he was also an institutional consultant and advisor.
He organised and participated in individual and collective exhibitions in Portugal, Beijing, Hong Kong, Norway and also Macau and as a fashion designer he also held fashion shows at venues in Macau, Portugal, Beijing, Hong Kong, and also in Belgium.
Conceição Jr has designed uniforms for several institutions and companies, including banks and hotels and has even created academic clothing.
He also has extensive work as a Scenic Artist, and drew posters and logos, many of which were awarded and won top prizes in Design. Jewellery artwork and even shoe design also carry his signature as well as several of Macau’s philatelic collections, and the new series of Pataca (MOP) coins that we all got used to for so long.
Besides commemorative coins and medals, Conceição Jr lately has developed a special interest in the design of swords. Real swords cast in iron, mostly with an oriental touch.
Having left his intervention in civic matters in the Macau media as well as overseas, Conceição Jr has decided to push forward a very special project: to lead the board of Sporting Clube de Macau. Since 2009 he’s undertaking the task his father embraced with a lot of energy before him.

Macau Daily Times – Painter Konstantin Bessmertny, in a recent interview to MDTimes was quite critical of the lack of great cultural projects that would be capable of leaving a distinctive mark in Macau, now that the territory has enough financial resources. What do you make of this comment?

António Conceição Junior – I fully understand what Konstantin Bessmertny wanted to say with his comment and I agree that with the present financial resources which never before existed, Macau as a whole has the right to expect QUALITY as a distinctive mark in all areas, not only in the area of culture. I think that to reach that quality stage priorities are required.
Under such a context of superabundant economic resources, what I see as a great cultural project would be exactly undertaking the challenge of transforming the city that grew, as it grew into a well woven fabric where real development, which is the full advance of all social components, would exist exactly because of said economic abundance.
There is an urgent need to reorganize the city, change its patchwork configuration into a coherent planned urban pattern of development with full integration of all the components that would provide another kind of quality of life to its inhabitants.
When ethics for a city is invoked, we have necessarily to speak of an aesthetic for this unique place that Macau is.
As a citizen, I cannot ethically think only in terms of art or culture, so to speak, without acknowledging that a city is a living organism, a place of interaction between the existing physical frames and the people that inhabit it in a constant dialogue.
When a city begins to show signs of saturation, no matter if its cars or people, things begin to reach limits that are difficult to control if one does not go deeper into the real causes.
Civic responsibility is of tremendous importance. It means having the conscience that the city belongs to us all.
Bringing full development to all social fronts would be, in my opinion, the most important cultural undertaking that would leave a most distinct mark in Macau’s population which is, to me, what matters the most.
A great cultural project that would be capable of leaving a distinctive mark in Macau would be the capacity to combine efforts so that the city can become, in itself, such a cultural mark in this region of the Pearl Delta, where the people could feel motivated and happy for their contribution, be it of cultural, economic or civic origin in the reinforcement of the overall identity, when each individual can fully perceive the role he can have in this group we call city.

MDT – If you were asked to present one great cultural project, what would you suggest?

ACJ – To me, the greatest challenge as a great cultural project would be to understand and organize the city as a Creative City.
What in essence distinguishes the concept of the Creative City is the election of culture as the fundamental element for something that is vital: the clarified vision that culture, in its globalizing understanding, necessarily carries. It is the counter current that inevitably has to arise to respond to the Casino-culture.
Almost all of us, no matter how well structured the cities in which we live in are, legitimately hope for more.
We do not live isolated, nor is anyone the centre of the world. For this reason it becomes evident that one has to find in well succeeded experiences sources of inspiration, but not models. Never! It is very important to feed in our own environment and reality and elaborate a model for Macau.
Let us accept that there are innovative ways for the creation of jobs, for the usage of technologies, for the release of knowledge in all ages of man, where everyone is indispensable and there are not expendables.
All the stage for this adventure is the City, its total architecture that inspires and convokes, that surrounds the citizen and which should stimulate him to interact in a constructive way.
This leads to the ethic imperative of turning cities into places of already mentioned quality of life, recreating the values that people know that exist in small agglomerates: a sense of belonging, an exact perception of one’s place in the social structure, guarantees of continuity, of security and predictability, articulated with the possibility to enjoy urban facilities such as commerce, interaction, leisure and, above all, creativity…

[…But how do you manage a creative city?]

… The notion of creative city does not come by chance. The changes that occur in the world or the city are not predictable nor possess the regular evolutive order to which we became accustomed to.
It is important to reconvert our conceptual perception of city, which cannot be the post-industrial revolution era machine anymore, but rather a system, or even an organism that Confucianism describes as a weave of affections and mutual care, and I would call civic values in today’s language.
Cultural conscience is one fundamental added value and the driving force for the transformation of the urban space into a more imaginative city. This obviously implies a priority investment in education at all levels.
This approach of the Creative City is based in the idea of culture while a set of values in permanent evolution, in ways of life and forms of creative expression, becoming the field within which creativity emerges and manifests itself propitiating the dynamic for development.
In this context the process of creativity will be the group of means through which the cultural resources are identified, evaluated and invested with the necessary means, while one will say that the cultural planning will be the process of identifying projects, build plans and manage the strategic implementations based on said identification of resources.
Fundamentally, cities will need to interpret their destinies and the way they will unleash the creative forces within it. The capacity of a city to recognize, liberate, feed, strengthen and maintain its creativity will be determining for its destiny in a competitive regional and global scenario.
Therefore the creative city is a city of inclusion, never of exclusion. It implies the consolidation of a referential matrix that can agglutinate the different communities, in a process of full opening to the Other, both in what it is similar as well as in what is distinguishable.
It is in the weave of affections that Citizenship – while an identity reference as well – can be consolidated in its plenitude, allowing then the full usage of the cultural approach in the Creative City…

[… and how well would it fare in a city that faces frequent and widespread changes as we do in Macau?]

The Citizenship topic is very dear to me by what it implicitly carries of collective conscience, and because Macau, is an integral part of the “Second System”. The urban figurine of Macau changed drastically since its creation. However, the essence of the City-State remained unchanged, independent of its political status quo.
I have always said that Macau possesses the ideal dimension to be an excellent laboratory, a city of experimentation, under the understanding that, for experimentation to exist, it would be necessary for real exchange to take place.
Macau has always been a city of commerce, of traders. Let us take maximized advantage of that, and it is here that the Creative Industries enter in a most natural way. It is through the investment in Education, that the future can be planned.
It is through multicultural experiences, and an adequate and coherent educational system which should necessarily incorporate all forms of cultural education from the early stages to the highest academic levels, that we can see the fruits of a generation.
Viewed as a creative city, there is also the understanding that Macau has always had this vocation of being a Trading Post, a place of Exchanges.
Take the example of the most important change in Macau after the handover: the liberalisation of gambling. It brought a tremendous change to the city’s economic fabric. Today Macau is much wealthier than it was a decade ago. How to use this wealth in fostering the city’s quality of life for its citizens, making it compatible with a most wanted cosmopolitanism, the management of the natural contradictions of societies emerging into economic overabundance, these are all fantastic challenges requiring creativity and the participation of all sectors of society that cannot be segmented. Macau, as a place where cultures and races have mixed for so long should be that stage for all fictions that I have mentioned, the Place where people are allowed the possibilities to live their dreams and aspirations, discuss their ideas, access all forms of information towards a deeper Education and even tell and relive their memories, because Man is Memory…

[… Is this your great cultural project?]

This is the task that I consider a great cultural project because it should involve the entire population as its beneficiary. I think in this resides the moral, the ethical imperative of a natural wish of a deeper and better sense of belonging, of identity, of security.

MDT – “Macau City of Culture” was a slogan extensively used even during the times of the Portuguese Administration, even though the slogan raised some doubts among many residents here. Is Macau still a “City of Culture?”

ACJ – I think culture must be explained in a wider sense. Culture as the integrated common activities of a group of people (citizens) who share one or more languages, and the way they perceive the world, their common beliefs, festivities and celebrations, the ways socialization take place and interactions within a group or between groups. In this way, all cities are Cities of Culture. Generally culture is just associated with Music, Theatre, Art, and Literature, which, as cultural expressions, do not exhaust the concept. I know and remember when this redundant slogan appeared in the early 1990’s. Any city has culture, but to name it “City of Culture” would be, in my understanding, the acknowledgement that its main activity was related to cultural life, which has not been the case.

MDT – How would you define the creative arts panorama in Macau?

ACJ – I think there is plenty of room for improvement. The main issue for me is that all the arts need proper training, high quality training, since a very early age. It is a generational thing: you plant today but will have to wait for the fruits.
We are dealing with the three Ts: Talent, Technique/Technology and Tolerance.
Talent can be refined but one is born with it; Technique/Technology can be learnt or acquired. Tolerance is learned over existential experiences with different people. Hence I believe that everybody is in tune with the need to sponsor students, artists, musicians, dancers, to go abroad and learn from different sources. This, I believe, is of paramount importance. Go abroad and mix with other people, other cultures.

MDT – Considering your experience in fashion design – and since there is a market in Macau that can now afford to buy high quality and famous international brand products – is there room for local Macau fashion designers?

ACJ – Macau’s market represents for Chinese mainlanders the authenticity of the products against counterfeits of world renowned brands. This is a first, positive and immediate conclusion that we need to accept as obvious. Macau is mainly a showcase of luxury authentic products.
To more objectively answer your question it is important to encourage local designers, but as in any industry that is competing for a niche in the market, there must be a well established fashion business practice, which is something that is very rare if at all it actually exists in Macau. By this I mean fashion business as an acquired practice as you find in Milan, Paris, Tokyo and New York, as a train in movement. Starting from scratch means either a designer will have to accumulate with being an entrepreneur or will have to achieve the credibility to convince someone to invest. This is mainly part of the Creative Industries, and for me the main issue resides in added value achieved through quality design, adequate marketing and whatever features the creativity of the designers can add to their portfolio.

MDT – If you were the local responsible for the Culture portfolio, what would be your priorities and main objectives?

ACJ – I am not responsible for the Cultural portfolio, and I think that Mr. Ung Vai Meng is the right person to answer this question. I am sure that he has given much thought to this and has excellent ideas and projects. I can only contribute with my thoughts and experience as a simple citizen. And as a citizen I have already stated my priorities.

MDT – Apparently and although your real profile is of a multifaceted, talented and outstanding artist, you are also viewed as someone who keeps a low profile. Is it of your own choice or do the Macau official entities not give you enough opportunities to show your creativity?

ACJ – I am open and aware of what surrounds me, giving what I have to give or called to contribute with the sense of responsibility that I feel obliged as a citizen.

MDT – At this time in your career, what do you call your professional activity?

ACJ – I would still say creativity. All the drawers of my different areas of interest are kept open. And at this time of my “career”, my degree of self-demand does not match any requirements of displays or, if you wish, show off.

MDT – Do you feel this city integrates and coexists in a natural way with the huge profusion of casinos?

ACJ – I think that if they were all allocated at the Cotai Strip it would just be in compliance with the natural tendency of Macau’s businesses being aggregated in the same places. Take the St. Paul’s area for example. Antiques and Furniture shops are in concentration there. It is purely a natural movement of the city’s own impulses. There is no one like the citizens, the real city builders, to indicate the way. The tendency is to group. So we must understand and follow this tendency.
Actually I find casinos in Macau appealing for an interesting reason. They are the culture of illusion, of make-believe, of kitsch, which is required to preside over the ceremonial performance of the seduction processes in which the dream of getting rich is inculcated in potential gamblers who enter these neo-temples where you don’t know if it is day or night, with exclusion of the VIP gamblers.
Casinos became a very powerful part of Macau’s economy, which still mainly lives by this industry, a tremendously powerful, and therefore dangerous situation. It has always been so since the 1960’s, and I used to call it the one-legged stance. Therefore, once you become used to its presence, it becomes part of your daily life. But to be dependent on one industry has never been healthy.
The power of the casinos new economy overwhelmed a significant part of Macau’s small commerce, of the small shops of the little old ladies that conferred the scent of humanity to the city. The overwhelming size of some casino resorts are of such a scale that one is led to agree that their location at the Cotai strip is the most adequate. However I think we should also see the casinos as the primary force that changed Macau, and that it carries in its own right, a type of very specific creativity that one cannot deny.
With such powerful machines the city runs the risk of becoming almost an accessory to them, and the definition of development suffers from it.

MDT – Does living in Macau still convey to you the same feeling of homeliness and quality of life? Do you still enjoy it?

ACJ – Once you are born in Macau it is very difficult not to feel at home, even if the house has been changed into an enormous sky-scraper.

MDT – What would you single out as the best and the worst things that have happened to Macau in the last 12 years since the MSAR was founded?

ACJ – The best thing that happened to Macau in my opinion was the UNESCO inscription of Macau’s historic centre and other architectural ensembles as World Heritage. The worst thing is related to the lack of a minimum salary and property speculation.

Fonte: Macau Daily Times
Por: Rogério Beltrão Coelho

RBCM. Laboratório de Investigação do Espaço da Arquitetura. Departamento de Arquitetura e Urbanismo. Centro de Artes e Comunicação. UFPE . Recife — PE. (81) 2126.7362