Bandung’s Creative City image grows stronger


With the support of its people and its government, Bandung builds on its existing dynamism to become a cultural hub.

I still remember vividly arriving in Bandung in the early 2000s, when I was just starting university. It was night time when I passed by Dago Street, which was packed with young people and students. Some were selling flowers to passing couples, some were singing and playing the guitar, while others were simply enjoying a meal from the street vendors. For one who was born and bred in Jakarta, the scene was fascinating – it showed how dynamic the city was.

It would be a decade before I returned to that city again, this time to do my PhD. By this time, Bandung had evolved infrastructure that was more metropolitan and facilities such as flyovers and high-rise hotels. More importantly, it was undergoing a Creative City movement – along with clusters of creative shops, and a sign proclaiming “Bandung Creative City” could be seen in the middle of Dago Street.

It all started with the arrival of the British Council in the mid-2000s, whose efforts directed Bandung’s pre-existing dynamic cultural and creative industry into a more organised city-level community. The Council organised events such as the International Young Creative Entrepreneur (IYCE) awards, creative entrepreneur networks (CEN) and creative workshops by British artists. These events provided opportunities for skill development, information exchanges and the networking of artists within the city. The Council also co-organised the first Arte-polis, a conference held at the Bandung Institute of Technology for academics, and scholars and members of the community who were interested in the study of creativity in architecture, design and urban studies.

The reputation of Bandung as a cultural and creative hub dates back to colonial years. The city used to host entertainment for Dutch tourists from Jakarta and plantation landlords from West Java. One of the most famous streets was Braga Street, where one could find restaurants, cinemas, jewellery and watch stores, and a feest terrain or fairground that held opera, drama and silat performances. The city was then known as Parijs van Java.

Since the 1980s, Bandung has changed quite significantly. Fashion and food tastes diversified, resulting in the conversion of historical houses on Dago and Riau Street into distros (small boutiques where unique clothing and accessories are locally designed and produced in limited numbers) and the establishment of restaurants, cake shops and cafes.

Unlike Jakarta, where the roads are wide and places are far apart, Bandung has narrower and mainly one-way streets. This has contributed to the intimacy of the city, where people tend to be relaxed and have more spare time for hanging out. Along with the distros and culinary cafes, the abundance of universities (there are about 149 institutes for higher learning) fulfils the needs of the young crowd.

In the past, it used to take four hours of driving through mountainous roads to get from Jakarta to Bandung. A new highway built in 2004 shortened the journey to two hours. With its cool weather, the city has long since been a draw for the Jakarta tourist.

“Bandung’s close proximity to Jakarta certainly has its perks. Jakarta is the market for my products, but Bandung is a small city that allows easy point-to-point. That is the reason why I base my business here,” explains Adi Panuntun, a new media artist.

Direct flights from Singapore and Malaysia have also increased the number of international tourists in Bandung. It was quite uncommon to see foreigners here as recently as 10 years ago, but now you can see them in tourist destinations in the city such as Dago Street, Cihampelas Walk and Paris van Java Mall.

The Creative City movement has transformed the cultural and creative community in Bandung. From IYCE, three prominent artists and creative people met, and in December 2008, co-founded the Bandung Creative City Forum (BCCF). Members range from individual artists and business people to creative communities and institutions, and the forum is supported by the Council and municipal government.

The forum has consistently organised cultural and creative events such as Helarfest, a festival featuring music, crafts, traditional children’s games and new media events; NGADUide, where business ideas are competed and discussed; KeukenBDG, a culinary festival; workshops on design thinking; documentary screenings and book reviews.

“We are a group of communities,” explains Fiki Satari, the chairman of BCCF. “People and communities come here and join us voluntarily. They volunteer their knowledge and time to support the city’s creative development.”

Adi Palesangi, a private university lecturer, says, “I teach management and entrepreneurship, and I also have a design company. I joined the forum to share my knowledge on entrepreneurship while expanding my professional network.”

Establishing the forum was not without difficulties – it is not easy to gather a group of unique and highly critical artists, and get everyone to agree to a single forum that represents all the creative and cultural communities. However, the Internet has certainly made this easier, as members can meet virtually through online chats and mailing lists.

A presentation at the BCCF.

On the other hand, certain communities are concerned with the independence and continuity of the forum as it involves donor agencies such as the Council and the municipal government. Furthermore, some felt that the concept of a Creative City, imported from the UK, might not be suitable – locals opined that the city should be “creative” in its own way rather than just copying an idea.

However, these concerns should not be necessary, as Bandung has always been a Creative City in its own right – for instance, Bandung’s unique style of clothing and music remains iconic till today. The growing number of design programmes in the universities also reinforces the strong image of creativity that Bandung has. It has been recognised internationally as an emerging Creative City, and it is also spearheading a new development paradigm.

Bandung is indeed a distinct and cultural city where artists and scholars alike gather. I hope that my children and their future generations will also be able to enjoy the dynamics of modern Bandung and experience the intellectual engagement just as I did during my time there.

Adiwan Aritenang, PhD, is an urban planner and has been doing research on Bandung and its Creative City movement for the last five years.

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