There are cities, and then there are “art cities,” known for having a wealth of galleries and museums, along with citizens who are likely to appreciate artists and know some of them personally.

So how do these cities get that way? Can an art scene be “imported” via high-end art fairs, with their infusion of jet-setters who can afford to spend millions on a painting?

Andrew Hevia, GABELLI ’15, a documentary filmmaker, is spending a year in Hong Kong investigating that and other questions at the intersection of art, commerce, and identity, funded by a Fulbright that he won last year while earning his master’s in media entrepreneurship at the Gabelli School of Business.

His focus is Art Basel Hong Kong, the prestigious contemporary art fair that will bring more than 200 galleries to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre at the end of March. Through interviews with a cross-section of local artists, he’ll produce a documentary about the city’s evolving character, viewed through the lens of the fair, which first came to Hong Kong three years ago.

Given the transition from British to Chinese governance and the recent protests about democracy in Hong Kong, “it was a really ripe ground for an interesting project,” he said.

Hevia, an Emmy-winning filmmaker from South Florida, got the idea for the project last year after happening upon a Fulbright information session at Fordham.

He had produced a similar film, Rising Tide: A Story of Miami Artists, centered around Art Basel Miami Beach, the annual fair that began in Miami Beach almost 15 years ago, and wanted to further explore how  cities acquire their own version of the arts “branding” associated with cities like New York and London.

“In New York, everyone knows artists are doing things and what it means to be an artist, and everyone has that friend who has the gallery somewhere or that underground show in Brooklyn,” he said. “In a city like New York, there’s a broader understanding of cultural output, so how do you grow and develop that?”

In Miami, it seems to have rode in on the wave of money, artists, “pop-up” galleries, and economic development that attended Art Basel Miami Beach and the unrelated satellite art fairs that arrived soon after, Hevia said.

“What I noticed in Miami is that once the art fair arrived, there was this palpable change in how we perceived the city and our identity began to shift—just a little bit—into that of an arts city. I wanted to know if Hong Kong was experiencing that same shift,” Hevia said.

The fair brought plenty of spillover business for galleries selling less-pricey works, along with a social scene that sometimes delivered art appreciation via libations and nightlife.

While people may initially associate art galleries with free drinks, “at the same time, they’re in an art gallery,” he said. “It’s sort of a backwards way of teaching people about art, but they still learn about art.”

Hevia is based at Hong Kong Baptist University’s Academy of Visual Arts, where an economic art historian on the faculty—Emma Watts, PhD—has been helping him place his work into the context of the global art market. He’s been seeking out the artists he’ll follow during the fair, hoping to represent the many faces of the city’s arts community.

And he may mix in some of his own experience of the city and its lively and welcoming expatriate population.

“In some ways, the city is built for ‘orphans,’” he said, using a colloquialism for expatriates living in the city without family. “My second week in town, I met someone who invited me to an ‘Orphan’ Christmas,’ so I had Christmas dinner with a group of people from all over the world, most of whom I’d never met.”

He’s still amazed and gratified that he discovered the Fulbright option at Fordham and got so much support in pursuing it.

“Fordham absolutely expanded my world, gave me opportunities that I was completely unaware were options, and really helped me clarify and understand the things that I am best at,” he said. “Fordham was instrumental in getting this, and this is fantastic.”


Chris Gosier is research news director for Fordham Now. He can be reached at (646) 312-8267 or [email protected].