After bombs, Bali youth drives creative industry

Energetic: Bali’s Navicula band performs at a charity concert for the orangutan in Medan, North Sumatra, in July. The musicians are among many livening up the island’s creative industries. (Antara/Irsan Mulyadi)
Energetic: Bali’s Navicula band performs at a charity concert for the orangutan in Medan, North Sumatra, in July. The musicians are among many livening up the island’s creative industries. (Antara/Irsan Mulyadi)

In conjunction with today’s commemoration of a decade since the blasts of 2002, The Jakarta Post’s Prodita Sabarini and Agnes Winarti look at developments in Bali, particularly among the younger generation, and among survivors of the terrorist acts.

Days after the bombing in Bali 10 years ago, the vocalist of rock band Navicula, Gde Robi Supriyanto, was busy. Like many Balinese youngsters, he was part of the island’s tourism industry, working in a tour and travel agency, while playing music on the side.

After terrorists bombed Paddy’s Pub and the Sari nightclub in Kuta, tourists fled in the hundreds. The whole week after the bombing, Robi, 33, frantically worked to cancel visitors’ bookings. His boss had to hire more staff simply to cancel clients existing itineraries as they headed for home.

Some of his colleagues were laid off, while his working hours were reduced from six days a week to just three. The bombing and the turn of events later inspired a change in the path of his life. With more free time on his hands, he turned from his day job to focus on his music and social activism.

Indeed, the aftermath of the bombing became a turning point, a moment that the youth of Bali took and shaped into a life driven more by creativity rather than tourism. A decade after the first Bali bombing in Kuta and seven years from the second bombing, tourism has fully recovered and is growing rapidly. However, driven by the island’s young and interconnected with the indie movement in other Indonesian cities and abroad, another sector has sprung up: the creative industry.

The typical career or business path most Balinese youth embark upon begins with an entry into the tourist industry. With a thriving industry, the young can always make money, Robi said.

Like Robi, Navicula’s guitar player and founder of blues band Dialog Dini Hari, Dadang Pranoto, 33, went to tourism school after graduating from high school. “People can get a job in tourism while they’re still in college or … they can be a tour guide for two or three days,” Robi said.

But the bombings changed that. For one thing, the indie music scene in post-Bali bombing became livelier than ever. Bars that had once catered to tourists started to seek out a younger local crowd. “And if they wanted people from Denpasar to come, they had to bring in local Balinese bands,” Robi said. Local indie bands, such as Navicula and punk band Superman is Dead, started to get record deals with major labels.

Local punk aficionado Rudolf Dethu, 43, then the manager of Superman is Dead, later opened his clothing shop Suicide Glam as a meeting point for the indie community.

Young people started to meet up and exchange ideas. The music community worked together with the art community and people from design, clothing, filmmaking and other creative industries, including urban farming.

Small independent businesses started establishing themselves in the island and by 2008, the Bali Creative Community was founded.

Rudolf, one of the founders of the community, said that the emergence of Bali’s creative industry was nearly simultaneous with similar developments in Bandung, West Java’s capital, whose youth have developed their own music, clothing and design industries.

“The idea is to branch out from tourism so we’re not dependent on it and Bali would not be heavily affected by force majeurs,” Rudolf, who now resides in Sydney, said during a Skype interview. Apart from terrorist attacks, an outbreak of bird flu could also send tourists packing, he added.

Nina Hadinata, the 28-year-old founder of clothing label This is a Love Song, acknowledged tourism’s contribution to the island’s economy, but she added that she was sometimes saddened by current developments that “change the simplicity of the island we used to know”.

Nina believes that Bali’s youth are shaping the island with innovation and creativity. “Now more than ever, there is a force of young people striving to think outside the box, creating ideas that we have never seen before here on the island,” she wrote in an email.

The size of Bali’s creative industry has yet to be measured. Rudolf said the community is a fluid organization that was different from a business association. The leading industry in Bali is still tourism, contributing 30 percent of total regional revenue. The second-largest sector is agriculture, a fall-back in Bali if disruptions destabilize the tourism sector, according to the head of the Central Statistics Agency (BPS)’s Bali office, Gede Suarsa.

The tourist industry is undoubtedly growing strong, but those reaping the largest benefits come from mostly outside of Bali. Suarsa estimated that 75 percent of players in the tourism industry are from other parts of Indonesia or from foreign countries. This lopsided ownership poses risks of capital flight if tourism in Bali faces a time of crisis.

Some local entrepreneurs are concerned they will be marginalized by outside interests who do not share the same cultural traditions and responsibilities.

Suparta Karang is the owner of Mimpi bungalows and a native of Kuta. After the 2002 bombings, he initiated the Kuta Carnival Festival to attract tourists. He said people from outside of Bali had an advantage over locals, who are obliged to be involved in the planning and organizing of the numerous religious rituals, and less time to run their businesses than other investors.

Bali Tourism Board director Ngurah Wijaya said the unique Balinese culture is what makes the island such a special destination. So, the government should prevent Balinese business owners from being marginalized through proper management of the tourist industry. “You can’t blame the businesspeople … but the government should make sure that the development that’s underway matches with what Balinese need, and not with what national [business players] need”.

Ngurah wonders whether Bali actually needs as many tourists and as many hotels as it has today. The island welcomed more than 2.8 million last year, an increase from around 2.5 million visitors in 2010. Badung regency, home to Kuta, Nusa Dua and Jimbaran, has seen a surge in hotel rooms, from around 37,000 in 2001 to 78,000 this year.

At a press briefing on Wednesday, Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika acknowledged the problem of mass tourism in Bali.

“So many people come to earn their livings here, to get wealthy and to suck money from Bali,” he said.

While Bali was becoming more prosperous, he said, it was becoming overwhelmed with urban issues of traffic jams, garbage, water problems, accommodations, pollution and social disparities. Pastika attempted to call for a moratorium on hotel development in Badung, Gianyar and Denpasar, to shift development to the island’s less popular northern areas. However, the call was not compulsory and the southern areas were less willing to cooperate. Badung regent AA Gede Agung said he still welcomed hotel investment projects.

While creative Bali youth expand their horizons to other areas, local leaders remain fixated on tourism. All around them, other creative people are producing innovative products, such as Nina with her clothing label, and other youth engaged in film and design. It seems as though the regional leaders of Bali stand to learn a thing or two from the island’s youth.

The Jakarta Post | Reportage | Fri, October 12 2012

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