Archives for posts with tag: China


Willow Neilson’s adventures as a Jazz saxophonist have taken him from Nimbin, to Armidale, Melbourne and the Sydney Conservatorium, to Jazz competitions from Brussels to Montreux and now to China thanks to Asialink /Australia-China Council funding. Willow chats to arts interview about the stresses of not only adjusting to life in China but also about juggling life as a professional musician.

Interview by Eliza Muldoon

How would you describe what you do? Does Saxophonist or Jazz Musician adequately cover it?

Saxophonist and jazz musician covers part of it. These days we can’t just lock ourselves in a room practicing and then step out into gigs anymore. My career requires me to be a promoter/personal pr person, writer/blogger, teacher and then I have had stints being a tv host, voice over person, and am about to go train to be a yoga teacher.

I have a lot of interests and feel that in order to evolve as an artist these days I need to become more of a renaissance man, both in terms of my ability to make money- earning from a variety of skills other than just those associated with performing and teaching music, but also learning new skills such as multi media software applications and visual art concepts. All of these are centred around my primary passion- music- and it is my hope that all of them feed into one another. The playing is the fun part, dealing with all the other stuff is the drag.

What are the most stressful aspects of working the way you do? Do you find that being stressed affects your work?

Some people think that being a musician is all fun and messing around but many aspects of the job are stressful. Dealing with abusive personalities on the bandstand (whilst still having to smile), dealing with terrible sound teams, terrible agents and all manner of people that often seem hell bent on undermining the effectiveness of your performance is a constant hassle. In China we have a thing we call “hurry up and wait,” where an agent who knows nothing about music asks us to be at a performance 3 hours early, rushes us around only to then have to sit and wait for everyone else.

The unpredictability of freelancing is also a stressful factor, it is hard to turn down work as you never know when a dry patch will arise, sometimes I will work a series of 18 hour days including multiple shows and teaching. Finding the right balance is a constant juggle.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced developing a career as a musician? Did you ever consider studying something else or moving into another career?

In Australia the biggest challenge was simply not working enough. I went back to school to study education but hated it, not the teaching but all the other stuff around it. That’s why I live in China now. If I could find something reliable that I loved I would do it but music is my passion and as much as I would like to find something else I will have to make this work because it is all I have.

What strategies do you use to keep life in balance?

I like to meditate, exercise (a huge part of my life now) and have started praying a lot recently, I never thought I would get into that but it has really been making me feel good. I also have a group of people I meet with regularly where we talk about life etc. at great length.

Visiting my friend’s kids also helps to feel more grounded- kids know how to enjoy life effortlessly. Lately I have been playing chess with an 8 year old that trash talks when he takes your pieces. Good fun.

How did you find adjusting to life in China? Has moving to China changed the way you deal with stress and anxiety?

Life in China comes with positives and negatives. Positives are cheap massages, cheap cost of living, easy work and good food (although the produce is not so great but it is cooked well). The negatives are pollution, cultural differences and very different ways of handling issues, pollution and noise, noise, noise, traffic, traffic, traffic, chaos.

Learning the language is always fun, Chinese people are really supportive of others learning Chinese and life changes more positively as your language skills grow.

I think Shanghai is a bit of an emotional/spiritual accelerator. Whatever your issues it will magnify them and you will either fall into a frustrated heap or you will deal with what you need to deal with. China has made me change in more ways than I maybe am even aware of, one of them is I’ve learnt to not freak out, to just stay calm and if you have done what you need to do then let other people do the freaking out.


The Fair Director since the inception of ART HK, Magnus Renfrew has over a decade’s professional experience in the international art world. Before joining ART HK, Magnus was Head of Exhibitions for Contrasts Gallery in Shanghai. Previously Magnus was a London-based specialist with the auction house Bonhams. During his seven years there he was responsible for sourcing works internationally for Modern and Contemporary sales, as well as having been instrumental in bringing to fruition their first sale of Contemporary Asian Art in London.

Interview by Shivangi Ambani-Gandhi

How does cultural difference impact how you direct Art HK?

It affects the way you behave with people. My character is suited to work in Asia – I was brought up to respect people and to give people time. You need to physically give people time – have conversations, make them feel that they are important and valued. You need to develop personal relationships and friendships – business is based on how people get along and so it is important to set the ground for trust.

It becomes difficult to implement an international standard for selection (of galleries represented in the fair), because people assume that since they have a personal relationship with you, they have a better chance of getting in. And when they are not selected, they feel personally slighted.

You also have to deal with the intimidation factor – people often do not ask the question because they do not already have the answer. They do not want to ask the price because they do not want to lose face or look like they cannot afford it. We encourage galleries to be as forthcoming and un-intimidating as possible. And the fair also offers different levels of education through programming.

What is the difference in leading people in Asia vs. Europe?

We have a cross-cultural team and a flat management structure. We are not big into hierarchy and everyone’s role is equally important. It is a high pressure job, so you need to have a supportive environment. I am constantly travelling and so my work is often in parallel with the team in Hong Kong.

We also have a diverse advisory team that we use to seek introductions and build networks. It is important to have people who are respected in their own countries. Introductions are very important in Asia, so that you connect with the right people.

In China, it was quite difficult to manage people. Sometimes as a foreigner there can be resentment or questioning of your position. It becomes important to get an understanding of the culture and to gain people’s respect by working hard, rather than just bossing people around.

Is there a personality type in the arts? Is it different in administrative roles as compared to artists? Is personality a consideration when you are recruiting?

There are many stereotypes of the art world. The galleriests I have met have been demanding, intelligent, sensitive and have high expectations of themselves and others. In any organisation you need show horses and work horses. There are the ambassadors who win business and become the face of the organisation, versus those who are structured in their thinking. When recruiting, it is important for us to know how they will get along in the organisation. People here have to work as a team.

What is the personality of Art HK?

Humility – you are only as good as the last fair and the galleries that participate, so you take nothing for granted. Geographic diversity, accessibility and quality are defining characteristics of the fair.

We are an art fair that reflects and celebrates the diversity of the region. In the West, fairs are showing works to match the western aesthetic sensibility and have been slow to adapt to the changing world. Art means different things to different people and the purpose of art is not a universal concept. We want to be inclusive of the arts scene here, but not ghettoise it into ‘Asian art’. Artists do not want to be pigeon-holed as ‘Asian artists’.

Many other fairs in the region are run by local gallery associations or by people who are very powerful within the scene without having international credibility. They are not able to get international galleries that do not want to be seen next to galleries that are not the best in the region. We have broken that spell through the selection process and by getting galleries that are doing interesting things. We are balancing the flavour of the fair with 50% from Asia-Pacific and 50% from the rest of the world.

More information on personality and cultural difference: