When the US-based Savannah College of Art and Design won a bid to convert the former North Kowloon Magistracy building into a new campus in February 2009, some critics opined that such a historical building should have been given to a local institution, which would have appreciated its heritage more.
But SCAD students have shown that they are aware of their privileges. The school launched Tilting the Lens: Telling the Story of Sham Shui Po at the recent Hong Kong International Art Fair.
A picture is worth a thousand words - and this book has more than 200 photographs. They are an artistic documentation of the people, architectural heritage and ever-changing cityscape of one of Hong Kong's oldest districts.
Year Three students of photography, historical preservation and graphic design courses came together to create the book.
"Given that the school is located in Sham Shui Po, the real impetus of the book was seeing how the students were influenced by the location itself," said photography professor Steve Aishman.
"The students would come in and tell these fantastic stories about the place and the people they were meeting."
What started off as an end-of-year project gained momentum, stimulated by the relationship that developed between the students and the local community. Photography became a form of communication as the locals cooperated with the students by allowing - sometimes even inviting - their photos to be taken.
"The entire institution was interested in showing off how interesting this community was, and sort of thanking them for being so welcoming to the school," Aishman said.
The campus is located on Tai Po Road in Shek Kip Mei, not too far from the hustle and bustle of Sham Shui Po.
"This neighborhood is really unique," Aishman said. "Everyone treats it like it's nothing, but this is a part of history, vital history that in many ways we would enjoy highlighting, and saying how important it is for us to be in a neighborhood that has architecture and a lifestyle that has been around for a century."
Sham Shui Po was one of the earliest developed areas in Hong Kong. With its history of being the commercial and industrial hub of the city in the 1990s, the district is very popular today with local traders and retailers.
"In the book, you can see how the students are looking at what they see around them and transforming, translating and highlighting them in an interesting and impactful way," Aishman said.
The entire process involved the photography students, who were responsible for taking the photos, the historic preservation students who captioned them - in both English and Chinese - and finally, the graphic design students who arranged all these elements on the page.
"The bigger issue that the students had to learn was how to put together such a large project," Aishman explained.
"They would take these really amazing photographs and they would have these great experiences with this community, and then they have to work with the graphic design students in order to tell the story in the richest way possible."
SCAD, a private, nonprofit, accredited institution has branches in Savannah and Atlanta, Georgia, and in Lacoste, France.
"SCAD already has this huge history in producing hard quality artists who can go out and function in whatever field they want. SCAD Hong Kong is mostly interested in participating in the entire growth of creativity across all of Asia," Aishman said.
With the territory stepping up its game in the arts field, more institutions are emphasizing creativity.
"Hong Kong has this incredible base of education and it's just in the blood," Aishman said. "The entire culture is about education - and that's so fantastic to see as an educator."
Apart from SCAD, several other establishments - including the Hong Kong Art School, Hong Kong Arts Centre and the Academy for Performing Arts - provide similar wide- ranging art courses.
"Clearly, Hong Kong is on the verge of busting open for creativity. We see how the government is interested in putting together art fairs, and how funding is going very well into this," Aishman said. "It's just an exciting time to be around arts and creativity."
The book is now available at select Bookazine and GOD stores throughout Hong Kong for HK$480.