The Cultural Congress and the Fate of the Art Center
In its current fragile state, Bali’s Art Centre stands as a paradox on an island that is very proud of its cultural performing arts but is without a representative stage on which to present them.
Seen from the perspective street and stage culture (Kadir H. Din 1999), it can be said that Bali is rich in street culture, but poor in stage culture.
Street culture is defined as culture that can be enjoyed on public streets, not on a formal stage. This type of culture flourishes among the common people and is performed by those same people as a part of their traditional lives. To cite several examples of street culture in Bali: ogoh-ogoh, ngelawang and various traditional processions. Visitors to Bali often encounter parades and processions as they travel through the Island’s cities and villages.
Stage culture is, as its name implies, presented on a stage. While street culture operates independently of any stage, stage culture demands a stage and a performance venue.
In the past there were several formal, quality stages dedicated to Bali’s performance, such as Batubulan, Singapadu and the Denpasar Arts Centre for the presentation of kecak dances and barong performances. These venues hosted not only tourists but also State visitors who were all proudly invited to witness Balinese cultural performances.
These stages still exist, but have lost their shine due to a lack of tourist visitors and unprofessional management. Meanwhile, the Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park which was built 10 years ago remains uncompleted due to financial difficulties and internal conflicts between management and the owners.
With the exception of entertainment venues managed by hotels of private entrepreneurs, or palaces such as that found in Ubud, Bali is almost devoid of permanent performance stages of which the Balinese can be proud. If we Balinese or tourist wish to view a traditional arts performance, where do we go?
Renovation of the Art Centre
The renovation of the Bali Arts Centre is one solution that will address the dearth of suitable venues for Bali’s stage culture. Now more than 30 years old, the Art Centre can once again become a cultural landmark of which we can all be proud. The Ardha Chandra open stage with its tall ceremonial door still looks good in photographs. But, as the years have taken their toll the condition of the Art Centre is increasingly sad. Many buildings are in disrepair, roofs are damaged and leaking, walls are crumbling, temples are pock marked, and the stages are covered with dust and mold.
What does the Art Centre look like today? A trip to the Art Centre is like visiting a local bird market. There is no initial impression worthy of our admiration; there is no vibration of beauty from what should be a cultural landmark. We do not stand in awe but only shake our heads in disbelief. Is this it? The center of Balinese culture?While we may be proud that foreign artists, including gamelan groups from Japan and America, desire to perform at the Art Center during the Bali Arts Festival, we are compelled to ask: Is this a suitable stage for their performance?
Have we seen our artists perform at the Art Center under a roof made of coconut leaves, only to watch the performance abruptly end when it starts to rain? Ask the Balinese artists who have performed abroad and they will speak in praise of the quality of the foreign stages.
Therefore, there is little choice but for Bali to renovate the Art Center. In that renovation performance stages must be repaired and performance venues brought up to date. The Ksiranawa theatre needs new lighting, a new stage design and a modern sound system. Exhibition buildings must also be upgraded to an international standard and made suitable for the display of valuable paintings.
The renovation of the Ardha Chandra must not only be made beautiful but structurally sound. Use stones and good construction materials like those found in Japanese temples that are elegant and able to withstand weather and earthquakes. Let’s stop using inexpensive stone material (paras) that look good only at the grand opening but quickly deteriorate thereafter.
If three decades ago, under the command of the Director General of Culture and later Governor of Bali Professor Ida Bagus Mantra, Bali was able to build the then impressive Art Center with the Ardha Chandra stage, we must certainly be able to rebuild an even more remarkable facility today. Traditional Balinese architects (Undagi) working with modern architects and foreign consultants can work together to create a master plan for the renovation of the Bali Arts Center.
What matters is that the Art Center can become a cultural performance stage for the future, reflecting that Bali is not only a home to street culture but also to an impressive stage culture.
Any renovation must be accompanies by professional management. Performances and exhibitions can be held on a regular schedule in order to stimulate creativity. When a State visitor comes to Bali, they can be invited to the Art Centre, shown quality Balinese performances, exposed to fine Balinese paintings and be overwhelmed with the magnificence of Bali’s traditional culture. In this way the image of Balinese culture which has been developed since colonial times can be revitalized.
Is money a problem? Perhaps this is not really the issue. Every year Bali spends billions of rupiahs on the Bali Arts Festival, why are we unable to find the funds to renovate the Art Centre? If the Art Centre is allowed to fall into ruin we will have lost a source of Balinese pride in our native culture. Can the participants at the Cultural Congress prevent the ruin of the Art Centre?
* This is a translation of I Nyoman Darma Putra’s article published on the Bali Post, 14 June 2008. It was translated by Bali Discovery Tours.