4 Indonesian cities apply to join Unesco's Creative Cities Network

INDONESIA - Ninety years ago, the Dutch planned to move Indonesia's capital from Jakarta to Bandung. Their plans were aborted by the Japanese Occupation and later, Indonesia's independence.

So while Bandung may not have become the national capital, the city, with its vibrant art galleries, design studios and music festivals, has emerged as the country's leading creative centre.

Now, it is vying for greater recognition on the global stage.

The city of 2.2 million in West Java is one of four cities that Indonesian officials want included on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) list of creative cities. The others are the batik manufacturing base of Pekalongan, and the historical and cultural cities of Solo and Yogyakarta.

Unesco's Creative Cities Network has 34 members, including Nagoya, Shanghai, Edinburgh and Melbourne, which commit to sharing ideas and experiences among themselves.

Bandung and Solo have applied to be recognised for design, and Yogyakarta and Pekalongan as cities for crafts and folk art. "We expect the designation will help the cities boost their creative industries, which in turn contribute to our creative economy," Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Mari Pangestu said recently.

Dr Pangestu said such industries have a multiplier effect on the economy. Last year, they contributed nearly 8 per cent to gross domestic product and provided some 7 per cent of jobs. "We are teaming up with respective city governments to complete all the requirements," she was quoted as saying in The Jakarta Post.

Incoming Bandung mayor Ridwan Kamil told The Straits Times that he was excited about the prospect of being part of the network. "Some of Bandung's creativity needs to be appreciated at a global level... I think we deserve it."

Mr Ridwan, an architect, helped create the Bandung Creative City forum five years ago to bring arts and other creative groups together to organise festivals and initiate projects that have proven a hit, especially among its large student and youth population. Global design magazine Monocle profiled the city's creative streak in its July/August edition.

In Solo, streets have been closed, for instance, to allow residents to hold exhibitions and performances. These moves have helped spark interest in the city.

Bandung, as well as Solo and Yogyakarta, have seen more flights and visitors from Malaysia and Singapore in recent years. Pekalongan has no airport but attracts visitors from Jakarta and Semarang who are keen on its batik.

Some 91,000 tourists arrived at Bandung's airport in the first half of this year, up 23 per cent from the same period last year, official statistics show.

Solo's airport saw more than 36,000 tourists in the first six months compared with 25,000 in the same period last year.

Regional commentator Karim Raslan notes that each of the three cities is famous for specific cultural products: Yogyakarta for fine and visual art, Solo for dance and performance art, and Bandung for design and fine art.

"In terms of cultural and artistic creativity, they far surpass the capital," he added.

The Paris-based Unesco network, launched in 2004, looks at the role cities play in nurturing and supporting the creativity of residents, among other things.

Singaporean curator and photographer Zhuang Wubin, who has travelled across Indonesia and spent over a month in Bandung recently, believes the city's large graduate and youthful population has created a vibrant environment that nurtures experimentation.

But he also believes the compact nature of smaller cities like Pekalongan and Yogyakarta work in their favour. "This sense of cosiness and intimacy offers the perfect environment for creative pursuits to germinate," he said.


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.